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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

Connect with nature: Play in the dirt

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In a small, sterile office at Lourdes College in 1988, the idea for an earth-friendly group was firmly planted.

Since then, Sister Rosine Sobczak, co-founder of the Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment, has nurtured it, watching it bloom into an educational organization that reaches out to thousands of area residents through lectures, science camps, scholarships, newsletters, bake sales, awards, and other efforts.

SAVE was created by a group of concerned people who wanted to make a difference and promote a love and appreciation for the natural world.

Its mission: Bring environmental education to residents in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan; develop nature programs, and connect with people, locally and globally, as part of lifelong learning opportunities.

"We've really lived that mission," Sister Rosine said. "We want to help people appreciate nature."

Although it's a separate entity, SAVE is closely tied to the natural science laboratory at Lourdes College in Sylvania. The lab and SAVE were created at the same time, and at first were so closely connected that life lines blurred.

However, each has its own personality today, Sister Rosine said.

Key connections remain - SAVE provides scholarships to underserved youth to attend summer science camp at the Life Lab, for instance.

In addition to providing camp scholarships, the nonprofit group hosts public lectures on various environmental topics, such as on the emerald ash borer, wind turbines, and composting.

"I Love the Earth" bake sales, raffles, and walk-a-thons raise money for SAVE's programs and activities.

The third annual walk-a-thon is scheduled for 9 to 11:30 a.m. May 6 in Sylvania's Olander Park.

On May 9, SAVE will host its 14th annual dessert buffet and awards reception at the Franciscan Theater and Conference Center at Lourdes College.

During the event, SAVE will present several awards, including:

●Eco-Friend of the Environment Award to Sylvania United Church of Christ for incorporation of solar panels on the church;

●Eco-Friend of the Environment Award to John Witte, founder of Advanced Distributed Generation which specializes in solar and wind energy systems;

●Eco-Community Award to North Star BlueScope Steel for development of an educational wetlands near Delta, Ohio;

●Eco-Service Award to Nancy Simon of Sylvania, who is active in SAVE;

●Eco-School Award to St. Jerome School, Walbridge, where a garden is tended to by students;

●Eco-Educator Award to Christine Smith, a teacher at Wayne Trail Elementary School, Maumee, for developing seven environmental programs;

●Earth Sensitivity awards to Megan Bodie, a student at Sylvania Franciscan Academy, and Tara Moses, a student at St. Joseph's School in Sylvania, in recognition of their entries at the Northwest District Science Day in March.

The various awards honor "people who do great things for the environment," said Sister Rosine, an associate professor of biology and director of the Life Lab at the college where her office serves as the SAVE office too.

As part of hands-on learning programs, students, teachers, and others visit the lab, where birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles, and other creatures live in a variety of environments, such as a coral reef and rainforest.

Youngsters can touch the feathers, beak, and feet of Angel, a domestic dove, said Marge Malinowski, living display specialist and technical coordinator for the Life Lab.

The Life Lab features native species, such as the American toad, too.

Because of soccer, ballet, computers, and other time-consuming activities, many children no longer spend free time outdoors exploring the world, Mrs. Malinowski said.

Through experiences at the Life Lab, youngsters are being encouraged to spend more "green time" outdoors, playing in trees, climbing rocks, or checking out creepy-crawlies along riverbanks.

It's important to get young people involved with nature and with efforts to preserve the planet, Sister Rosine said.

Through the years, it's been a struggle at times to drive home SAVE's message, and to keep the organization afloat financially.

"It's been exciting. It's been discouraging. It's been energizing, and it's been tiring," Sister Rosine said, but she pointed out the organization now has about 100 members who support it.

Contact Janet Romaker

at jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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