Meet Lori Higgins, executive director of Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve. The nonprofit is located in Southlake on almost 800 acres of preserve land that is also part of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. Higgins oversees a multitude of regular classes for children and adults, hiking trails, a native-plant garden, indoor exhibits and an eco-summer camp. She also supports education programs that stress outdoor activity for children who too often fall prey to spending too much with social media and video games.
Higgins brings a rich background of helping others to her post at BJNC. She has worked in the social service industry more than 15 years in a capacity of different jobs. When Lori isn't working, she enjoys spending time outdoors, with nature. We wanted to know more about Higgins and the Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve and she was kind enough to answer our questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Bob Jones Nature Center.
Lori Higgins: The Bob Jones Nature Center is a 501c3 nonprofit located in the City of Southlake and beautifully nestled on almost 800 acres of preserve. We are also part of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. The Nature Center is named after John Dolford “Bob” Jones who was born a slave, was freed after the Civil War, and became one of the largest land owners in the area during the early 1900’s. Bob Jones and his wife, Almeada, were big on education; they built their own school-house which the current Walnut Grove Elementary school is named after. The Bob Jones Nature Center has a RICH history. In fact, NBC 5 ran a story a few years ago on the Bob Jones Legacy during Black History month. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpRidJOCQTk. There are plenty of opportunities at the Nature Center year-round for the whole family, including children’s classes, photography classes, special programs like Geocaching and Stargazing, hiking, bird watching, and simply relaxing on a bench. We are also very are excited about our annual Naturally Sweet fundraiser presented this year by Grubbs Infiniti. On Saturday, November 1st at 7:00pm. For more information: http://www.bjnc.org/events-naturally-sweet.php. Christina and Michael Young are co-chairing the event. Mr. Young is a former Texas Ranger infielder and 7-time All-Star.
DT: What are your duties at Bob Jones Nature Center?
LH: As Executive Director, I am responsible for the day- to-day operations of the Nature Center; while fulfilling our mission “To restore and preserve the Eastern Cross-Timbers Ecosystem through environmental leadership, education, and compatible outdoor activities”. This means securing resources, operating strategically, thinking innovatively in the ways we engage people (children, youth and adults) about the importance and significance of preservation.
DT: How did you become involved with Bob Jones Nature Center, and why are you so passionate about the work being done there?
LH: I was introduced to the Bob Jones Nature Center during my time as Associate Director, for The Salvation Army DFW Metroplex Command in Dallas. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for the past 20 years in a variety of capacities. My career has primarily consisted of providing programs and services to individuals who span the life cycle, from cradle to grave, and meeting the needs of individuals experiencing very difficult life circumstances. I have always been a big believer in professional development. When the Bob Jones Nature Center Executive Director position was presented, I was excited to take my career into a new direction. Experiencing nature as a full-time job is a wonderful blessing! It’s a privilege to be part of the Bob Jones Legacy, restoring and preserving a portion of the Cross-Timbers ecosystem, and enhancing the educational focus of the Nature Center. I envision a Nature Center that is a unique destination in the Metroplex, with a sustained funding base, excellent educational programs, and an active volunteer corps. I’m passionate about preserving and enhancing this special location to ensure that everyone in the area has the opportunity to experience and learn about our natural environment.
DT: There is a wide cross section of activities for adults and children of all ages. In your opinion, why is it important for the community to feel a connection with nature and the ecosystem?
LH: In my opinion finding harmony in nature is a fundamental principle we should all embrace as a matter of ensuring our natural resources; ensuring our survival. The community has to understand the impact our decisions have on our natural resources. The way we live today affects our soil, water, air, animals and plant life. If we don’t make good choices in our daily life, what do we leave the next generation? I read an article recently that National Geographic published titled “Connecting with Nature Boosts Creativity and Health”. The article was an interviewed with Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods Mr. Louv coined a term called "nature-deficit disorder" to describe the loss of connection children increasingly feel with the natural world. He argued this disorder affects the "health, spiritual well-being, and many other areas, including people's ability to feel ultimately alive." I agree with this theory as demonstrated with the loss of accessible open space, increasingly busy families’ schedules, and the over-emphasis on team sports over individual outside play and exploration, not to mention the amount of time spent on electronic and/or social media. Studies have shown that children and adults who spend time outside are healthier physically and mentally, have a higher self-esteem, good self-discipline, feel more capable and confident, are good problem solvers and the list of benefits goes on.
We are in an era of change as people experience the impact our neglect has had on the natural environment. The Bob Jones Nature Center is in a position to support the change through providing tools to understanding an alternative way of life. Our motto “Educate, Conserve and Preserve” will become the mantra of the next generation. Baba Dioum, an environmentalist once said "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught."
DT: A big part of what BJNC does involves nature education and conservation. Can you talk about the importance of instilling those concepts in the younger generation?
LH: The Bob Jones Nature Center hopes to instill in the younger generation a greater awareness and a deeper appreciation for our limited natural resources. The Nature Center provides opportunity for children and youth to engage in an alternative outdoor environment that not a ball park or driveway. At some point environmental education has to be taken from the classroom (books) into the field (nature). You can only learn so much about a butterfly looking at a picture of its life cycle. You have to have the opportunity to experience a butterfly in its natural environment, the way it was meant to live not caged. There is also something to be said for the ability to sit still in nature or the calm created in observation. We are in such a high-stress, fast-pace and media saturated generation. The importance of slowing down and, to use an old cliché, “smell the roses” is a lost art we cannot afford to lose. Observation and listening skills are timeless and form the base of all wisdom.
DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
LH: The people of North Texas and beyond can support the Nature Center in the restoration of the Cross-Timbers ecosystem, while preserving the Bob Jones Legacy.
- Our biggest need is community awareness and financial resources.
- The Nature Center has a comprehensive master plan http://www.bjnc.org/documents/2011BJNCPMASTERPLAN-COMPRESSED.pdf we are in phase 1 of bringing the plan to life starting with raising funds at our Naturally Sweet fundraiser, Saturday November 1st at 7pm on the grounds of the Nature Center. It will be a fun-filled evening with live music, samples of specialty foods from dozens of local restaurants, a silent auction, and more!
- North Texans (and beyond) are formally invited to attend! Proceeds raised this year will allow the Nature Center to fund a new beautiful Pollinator Garden. This inclusive habitat is specifically designed to sustain pollinators such as honey bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife in the area, and also serve as an educational venue. By creating a habitat that supports local wildlife the garden becomes a living, interactive classroom where children and adults can learn about the roles of plants, pollinators, and other wildlife in a sustainable ecosystem.
- Adequate educational and Nature Center signage would be a huge asset.
- Known by the photography community for our beautiful, historical red barn we would love to secure the resources to reconstruct the barn to house exhibits.
- We’d like to restore our Natural Water Hole that will also function as a habitat for local wildlife and aquatic learning lab.
- The need to restore our Prairie, creating wildlife diversity, is some of the project in our master plan.
The Bob Jones Nature Centers needs are great, and we know with the support of North Texans and the community at large we can preserve this treasure.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Bob Jones Nature Center?
LH: My most memorable experiences have come from engaging the public. When people visit the Nature Center for the first time, it’s exciting to share the Bob Jones story, take the visitors on a trail walk, talk about the classes and special programs we offer, and explain our vision for restoring the preserve. It’s a joy to share my passion for this hidden jewel!
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.