Giving Back to our Community through Service

Since 2021, the Institute has provided paid service days to our staff and encouraged everyone to use those benefit hours to volunteer with a nonprofit organization or government agency of their choice each year. Here are some of the creative ways that this benefit contributed to our local community, from working on a Skagit Valley farm, animal shelter and preschool, to flood relief and volunteering with Skagit Audubon, the Bellingham Circus Guild and the American Red Cross….

On National Bird Day and the last day of the annual Christmas Bird Count, Kim Nelson — our Development and Executive Coordinator — spent the day at Washington Park in Anacortes counting feathered friends. Her highlights included 10 Marbled Murrelets, 100+ Common Murres, a White-winged Scoter and 4 Brown Creepers!

Our Finance Director Jason Ruvelson volunteered for the Bellingham Circus Guild doing photography and editing for the nonprofit to use in promoting future events.


“It is a wonderful thing that they offer to the local community,” explains Jason, “and both they and myself appreciate being able to offer my professional skills.”

Evan Holmstrom answered a last-minute call to lend a hand during the devastating floods in Sumas and Everson in 2021, when many homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Working alongside Institute graduate and staff alumni under the direction of the Riveters Collective, they helped people shovel river silt and mud out of their yards and rebuilt a fence.



Alexandra Kahn used their hours to clean up several backcountry camps that they visited throughout southern Oregon and northern California. Over six days, they spent an hour or more gathering trash and recyclables that had been left behind. “Dispersed campsites are notorious for being left in poor condition because they are so unsupervised,” Al explains, “so this was my attempt to remedy the situation in a small way.”


Chris Nelson volunteered time with Because We Care Rescue. “This is run by Natalie Walsh and is a foster-based 501c3 nonprofit that re-homes dogs from high-kill shelters in Texas and California,” shares Chris. “Her organization has placed over 400 dogs so far this year and I was happy to help her out!”

Associate Director Jeff Giesen has been giving back to our community by serving on no less than three different Boards of Directors, including two in Whatcom County: Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, ReUse Works and Association of Nature Center Administrators.

Several Mountain School instructors dedicated their service hours to volunteer at Blue Heron Farm in Rockport in Skagit County supporting the owners of the farm that has provided so much fresh, vibrant produce for meals at the Environmental Learning Center for many years.

Chef Charles Clausen also attended and shared this reflection: “Anne Schwartz, a long-term partner of the Institute’s Foodshed Initiative, met us in one of her fields to give us some education and training about her farming methods, the history of the valley, and our jobs as volunteers for the day. We worked in a two-acre blueberry field removing thistles, bindweed, quack grass, and sorrel.

It was a beautiful autumn day, and though we ended up wet, muddy, and tired, I think all present would agree that it didn’t feel like work, but more like contributing to an essential part of our community.”




In 2021, the Mountain School team volunteered at the Upriver Discovery School, owned and operated by Kimber Burrows, a Mountain School staff alumni.

“It was pouring rain, with no blue skies in sight” recalls Sammy Porter. “We helped build an agility course — but really, it was a pirate ship that would be sailing across the sea in search of friendly mermaids! Kimber’s eager preschool students made sure we were clear on this. Tom Borst, who makes the wood cookies for Mountain School, was there to lead the project. Tom was drilling in the plywood that would be used at the barrier for the structure, while Kari Paustin and Talia Schmitt were digging holes for the remaining poles.

Hannah Black, Mia Munoz, Alexa Brandt and MK Kirkpatrick-Waite were taking turns hauling wood chips and spreading them out. Before we knew it, the ship was ready to set sail! We finished quicker than we expected, and had a blast while doing it!


Mountain School Instructors Elisha Klco and Theodore Hass used their service day benefit working at Camp Indralaya on Orcas Island. Indralaya is a non-profit organization which in the summer hosts retreats, but in the spring and fall builds community by hosting volunteer work parties which lend to the maintenance of their facilities.

“In October, I attended the fall Apple Harvest work party,” Theo explains. “There I spent much of Saturday picking and preparing apples which were processed into cider, applesauce, and slices to be stored and used as food in later programs. I also performed some tree maintenance, a project sharpening and removing rust from the camp’s hand tools, and rebuilding compost bins.


Hannah Black used a service day as part of her weekend chaperoning the “Fall Survival” trip for Post 84. “In my role as chaperone I supported high school staffers who were facilitating a skill-building weekend for their peers,” she explains. “I specifically worked with the Naturalist Station supplying field guides, facilitation tips and a chanterelle I found earlier that day.

Catherine Endicott joined the American Red Cross as a Duty Officer volunteer. This position is part of the Disaster Action Team for King County. As a Duty Officer, Catherine is the point of contact for any natural disasters that occur in King County where the resident needs financial, health or mental care services.
“Here are some interesting facts I’ve learned since signing up to volunteer: 98% of the American Red Cross work is done by volunteers and they have over 330,000 active volunteers; all of their work is funded by private donations or government contracts; The American Red Cross provides the following services: Disaster Relief, training and education on fire prevention and first aid, blood bank/delivery, and service to military families.”

Darcie Lloyd offered her community service with Skagit County 4-H at the Skagit County Fair. “4-H has become a big part of my life as a cat superintendent and this year at the Fair I was in charge of the cat show, finding the cat judge, running events and also participating as a judge during the small animal round robin event,” Darcie reflects. “I have learned so much and still have so much more to learn. I am so proud that I can assist them and help them ‘Make the best, better’!”

Jodi Broughton volunteered with North Cascades National Park, working with biologist Roger Christophersen on a national Bald Eagle count They surveyed by foot and by car, on both sides of Highway 20 between Howard Miller Park and Marblemount. Jodi was the primary recorder and noted whether the eagles were flying or perched, adult or subadult, and which river mile they were located. “It was fun to add to the bank of knowledge for both this park and larger conservation efforts,” she reflected.


Thank you to all of our staff who contributed time, energy and sweat equity towards bettering the world around us through service!

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