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2 the Outdoors: A walk on the wild side

Wild Spirit Education brings nature into the classroom, and beyond.

DELEVAN, N.Y. — Wild Spirit Education has been in flight since 1989. Founder Paul Fehringer began as a wildlife rehabilitator, while also doing some outreach.

Over time the focus of the organization shifted to bringing nature to the classroom.

"Our board got together, and we decided we could better our mission by doing environmental education," Fehringer said. "The rehab took so much time, so much effort, money, and so we concentrated, we slowly did the switch over to education."

Wild Spirit now presents more than 300 programs a year, reaching about 30,000 people.They visit schools, sponsor public programs, and even conduct citizen science projects. They use hands on experience to reconnect kids and adults alike to Mother Nature.

"I see a definite need now to get kids especially but even adults out into nature," Fehringer said. "You know, our lives get busier and busier, and we've lost the connection with nature. Wild Spirit believes in getting people back with that connection, understand that we are part of the natural world."

Credit: Terry Belke
Wild Spirit uses its animal ambassadors to inspire students

One of their most effective tools are their animal ambassadors. Among them are many wild birds that came to Paul to be rehabilitated. Though they can no longer live in the wild, they now serve a very important purpose.

"One of our beliefs is hands on nature, so we've found that if we go into a school with live animals, a lot of these kids that we go to have never seen these animals that close, so it does make a difference to have the live animals with us," Fehringer said.

Wild Spirit not only guides the young, it reunites the not so young with past experience. They are one of the few to take their knowledge into senior homes.

"These are people who can't get outdoors anymore. They are in wheelchairs and use walkers, so their experience of the outdoors is sitting on the patio," Fehringer said. "So many stories come out, 'When I was a kid, I used to go through the woods,' so it's fun to interact with them in that way."

Credit: Terry Belke
Another of the group's many animal spokesmen.

In a time when our society has become so distanced from the planet that sustains us, Wild Spirit is like a cry in the wilderness, calling people back to our true nature and inspiring those they reach to once again care for our Mother.

"It's so rewarding to see other people connect with nature and build a bond with nature," Fehringer said. "I've had students that I've taught at programs year after year, and they come back to me as young adults and told me, 'You know, you made a difference.' "

To learn more about Wild Spirit, click here.


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