Engagement is no simple task. To engage is to connect with someone in a way which they are persuaded that your passion is worth their energies. Better yet is to engage another whose own motivation and interest soon matches your own, if only in a narrow sense. We are part of an exceedingly disengaged society. College flyers plea desperately with students to “Get Engaged!” and “Get Involved.”  Teachers struggle to reach pupils. Even relationships within the home struggle with our increasingly isolated and busy lifestyle. However, it is this same engagement that can lead us into great things; collaborations, new directions, powerful movements, change. The soul of engagement lies in one person reaching another.

At yesterday’s Learning Community workshop sponsored by The Community Foundation of the Ozarks, our speaker emphasized this interpersonal process. For too long we have learned the inefficiencies of the “spray and pray” tactics of mass marketing, emailing, Facebooking, Tweeting, and flyer hanging, particularly in the non-profit world. The modus operandi of a grassroots movement tends to focus on the mobilization of many passionate people to convince other people they need to also be passionate by distributing handbills and petitions. Please, do not confuse my criticism with disdain; I get a thrill canvasing a neighborhood with door hangers promoting a cause I feel strongly about. Our error is in using this sort of approach to handle all of our engagement practices. We must retrain ourselves to connect on a personal level with conversation. For example, if printing and distributing one thousand brochures yields three or four new volunteers, but talking to ten college students in person, one on one, gives me the same result, isn’t my time more effectively spent in conversation? Don’t those new volunteers have a better feel for what their role will look like? Aren’t there fewer unanswered questions? The personal touch is key.

In our current fundraising campaign, we have had the chance to utilize both strategies. Through advertising and guerilla marketing, we have gotten the message out that we are raising funds, and we have met some return. However, most of the footwork, and most of the success, has been coming from those phone calls to friends and relatives, the personal emails to professional contacts, and the sit-down meetings with peers. Much of our support is coming from people we truly know.

At the Watershed center, I experience the same issues in education. No amount of declaration or zealous speech will convince more than one or two students of the importance of protecting and cherishing our natural resources. My curriculum and wordsmithing are lost on the wind but for the experience and engagement that accompanies them. If every child had the chance to hold a crayfish in their hands, feet in the clear water, grin reaching one ear to the other, we’d live in a much different world. Nothing can supplant an experience

and encouraging word in changing a person’s attitude. Knowledge takes hold when beyond hearing, a child can also see the world through a naturalist’s eye. An what a grea

ter blessing it is for that naturalist to see the forest through a child’s eyes. This level of engagement holds the power to change perceptions and to motivate action.

If you are taking time to read this, Thank you. You are likely engaged on one level or another already. If you value the experiences children get to have out here at The Watershed Center, check out our fundraising page. We have a couple of days left to raise much needed revenue to continue these programs. Thanks for reading.


Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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