Jane Goodall inspires all ages at Felix Neck

Nature lovers of all ages gathered at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown to hear Jane Goodall. Photos by Susan Safford
Nature lovers of all ages gathered at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown to hear Jane Goodall. Photos by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - August 17, 2006

There was a flurry of excitement among the little Fern and Feather campers clustered not far from the butterfly pond at the entrance to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown on August 4. Young counselors, brimming with energy, kept the children occupied with nature guessing games. A wooden bench was nearby, beneath a simple makeshift tent to soften the bright mid-day sun. Another small group of children and adults converged near an exhibit showing the activities of their Island Roots and Shoots groups. A couple of dozen adults - parents, Felix Neck staff and volunteers, and several Island conservation leaders - gathered in a loose semi-circle around the youngsters. An air of happy anticipation filled the warm summer air because Jane Goodall, the world-famous environmentalist, ape researcher, and author, was on her way.

Attentive listeners. Photo by Ben Scott
Attentive listeners

The night before, Ms. Goodall had delivered her message of hope and the need for everyone to pitch in to preserve the environment to a large crowd at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. This morning she would speak in a far more intimate setting, and she would speak to a constituency that holds a special place in her heart and philosophy: young people.

The heavy heat, the bright sunshine, the green expanse of meadows and trees, the wild birds swooping and calling, set the perfect stage for the respected environmentalist. Her entrance, though noted by all, was quiet and unassuming as she slipped beneath the tent and greeted the small crowd.

Young climber Eben Peak appeared fascinated as Jane Goodall spoke. Photo by Susan Safford
Young climber Eben Peak appeared fascinated as Jane Goodall spoke.

Felix Neck's Fern and Feather day camp, now in its 42nd year, makes environmental learning fun for Island children and visitors. It offers several sessions each summer packed with nature activities for children from four-year-olds to eighth graders. According to new Felix Neck director Suzan Bellincampi, many of the camp's counselors are youths who enjoyed Fern and Feather years earlier. "We hope we are growing the conservationists of tomorrow," she said.

Roots and Shoots, a youth program on a vast scale with more than 8,000 chapters worldwide, operates under the auspices of the Jane Goodall Institute. The environmental and humanitarian education program supports the development of local groups of youngsters who choose their own projects aimed at making a difference in the world.

Suzan Bellincampi, Felix Neck director, and Elke Tuck, a local Roots and Shoots member, joined Ms. Goodall on the bench. Photo by Susan Safford
(From left) Suzan Bellincampi, Felix Neck director, and Elke Tuck, a local Roots and Shoots member, joined Ms. Goodall on the bench.

Before Ms. Goodall spoke, the children presented her with a colorful mural with the slogan, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints," and showed off their nature diorama of sea life and T-shirts sponge-printed with fish and wildlife patterns.

When Ms. Bellincampi introduced Ms. Goodall to the children, many of them were already aware of her work. "She lived with chimps!" cried one little camper.

"She's creating a better future for our kids, our environment, and our world," said Ms. Bellincampi.

Ms. Goodall geared her story to young ears, telling of her farm childhood, her fascination with worms, hens, eggs. And at last - her travel to Africa: "It was a huge adventure!"

She recounted chimp stories, demonstrated ape body language, and delivered an authentic chimpanzee greeting, all to the utter delight of the audience.

Ms. Goodall described the activities of several Roots and Shoots chapters in countries around the globe. Two high-school age Roots and Shoots leaders from off-Island outlined work they had done with their young members, one creating a garden in an urban setting, another working in ocean research on a whale watch boat.

Two local Roots and Shoots groups are small but thriving. One parent leader, Robin Tuck, said that years ago when she discovered that her daughter, Elke, had developmental challenges she was reassured by Ms. Goodall's book, "A Reason for Hope." She entered into a correspondence with Ms. Goodall and established a Vineyard Roots and Shoots chapter, realizing to her delight that there were many activities that Elke could participate in. "Elke cares, Elke can care," Ms. Tuck said.

As Ms. Goodall spun her extraordinary tale in her gentle, quiet voice, the message came forth loud and clear - everyone, young and old alike, can make an important difference in the world.

"We've messed up your planet, you guys, in very many ways," Ms. Goodall told the children regretfully. "But it's not too late! There's lots we can do. And Roots and Shoots is about taking that action.... Young people can break through and make this a better world. You make a difference, every single day of your lives."

For more information on Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Fern and Feather, call 508-627-4850. For information on Roots and Shoots, visit rootsandshoots.org.