As our native plants bloomed and the summer sun lined the gravel road to the McDonald Farm, we had the pleasure of welcoming new summer interns to The Conservation Foundation. These six fresh faces were enthusiastic to get outside and use their skills to better the environment while also embracing the opportunity to learn hands-on at a working nonprofit organization.
(Pictured above, L to R: Interns Erin Rhodes, Shirley Sallas, Diana Mondragon, Juliet Mathey, and Austin Beaulieu. Pictured below in the article: Danny Cronin)
Juliet Mathey is not exactly a new face to this operation. She has been working as a Mains intern with The Conservation Foundation since October. She is an upcoming senior at North Central College studying Environmental Studies and Chinese with a minor in Global Studies. From working with the Advancement Team on events and marketing, helping with the McDonald Farm Plant Sale, and volunteering with Green Earth Harvest, Juliet has contributed to many facets of our work in the community. However, her favorite part of the internship so far has been accompanying staff on Conservation@Home visits. She even believes she could see herself making a career out of it! Even though her internship is coming to an end this fall, Juliet hopes to volunteer for The Conservation Foundation in the future. “I learned a lot during the internship, especially on how nonprofits work from the advancement side from fundraising to having members. A lot of upper-level classes talk about more of how different conservation organizations and groups work to get these things done, so I’ve been able to make those connections with TCF,” she said. “It’s pretty neat to find an operation as big as this that promotes being outside and protecting our lands and waters right in Naperville. It’s been nice to be part of such a cool work culture. I feel everyone is genuinely very passionate about being here and the work that they do. Pulling up to the farm, I think, this seems like a positive place to be, and I always leave feeling good.”
When researching internships, Diana Mondragon knew that finding an organic farm that practiced sustainability was a priority. Diana remembered visiting the TCF table at a local suitability resource fair and was grateful she kept the farm brochures from that day. Thank goodness she did because Diana serves as a Green Earth Harvest Farm Intern. An Aurora native, Diana is working toward her master’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainable development and policy. She spends the day planting, harvesting, and preparing organic vegetables for shareholder pickups, the Wednesday Farmstand, and farmer’s markets. Her favorite internship activity was taking soil samples. Even though it was a tedious process, Diana says she enjoyed exploring the McDonald Farm and just being outside. Her passion for organic farming has strengthened through her work with the farm team, as she has learned a lot.
She said, “I hope to gain more knowledge of how to grow crops and the different things that contribute to a healthy crop. I’m not a gardener myself; I’m hoping to learn through this experience and maybe have my own little farm one day. This way, it will empower people to be self-sustainable, learn about the land where their food grows, and connect with the people who grow their food. We get all of that here at TCF.” Besides working toward her master’s degree and interning at TCF, Diana is also a high school counselor. As life can get crazy, Diana said, “When I’m having a rough day, I get such comfort in the idea that the crops here take weeks… months… to grow. It reminds me, especially when I need to slow down, just to take it easy and take in the moment. Nature is so simple but so complex. I love being out here and I urge others to spend time outside too.”
The element of surprise is what intern Danny Cronin looked forward to upon arriving at McDonald Farm each day of his internship. When not training for his upcoming sophomore football season at Dartmouth, Danny could be found doing just about anything that needed to be done around the farm. From helping monitor and maintain our bluebird boxes, cleaning up the tree nursery, taking water samples with our watershed protection staff, to just cleaning up the landscape of the farm, whoever needed help Danny was there. His hopes for his internship were to soak up the summer sun and get a hands-on experience with conservation and the environment while getting his hands a little dirty.
In the midst of his internship experience, Danny reported, “My favorite part so far has been checking out the bird boxes. It was interesting to learn about invasive species of the land and how they affected other birds and the environment where they live.” Even though he is thus far an undecided major, Danny is interested in the environmental science industry and how he can fit into it in the future. On the first day of Danny’s internship, our President/CEO Brook McDonald gave him a farm tour. Danny remembers being struck by the pictures on the Clow House wall of how McDonald Farm and its surroundings have changed over the past decades. “Sixty years ago, this and the surrounding land was all farmland. Now, it’s surrounded by houses. It’s crazy how our world is moving away from our environment. Conservation and the work TCF does is a good image within the community. We are still here and working toward the future. Hopefully, I can help play a part in that,” Danny said.
Austin Beaulieu and Erin Rhodes serve as watershed interns for the summer as they share their passion for a better earth and healthy waterways with the watershed team.
Sugar Grove native Austin Beaulieu’s first word was “fish.” Growing up in an area without a ton of natural space, he fell in love with fish and water through retention ponds in his neighborhood. After high school, he worked as a fly-fishing guide. He has always believed, “The more eyes on the river, the healthier the river will be.” So, he decided to split his relationship with local waterways in half, 50% benefiting from them and 50% enjoying them. Austin starts off the week working with the watershed team on fieldwork, where his job is measuring total organic compounds. He can also be found doing an inventory of the entirety of upper Salt Creeks, visiting anywhere from Busse Woods to a neighborhood detention basin, pinning the locations, and grading the quality of the resource. During his internship, Austin has gained a bigger and better understanding of the watershed restoration process. “I’m seeing more of the insider’s view of all the background work that has to go around prior to the actual watershed restoration projects. I enjoy seeing it from a variety of angles. It’s always been something interesting to me, but I didn’t really know all that went into managing a watershed prior, so being able to help out with that, seeing it firsthand, and asking those more detailed questions has been all I could have hoped for,” he said. Watershed restoration, clean water, and the work of TCF have greatly affected Austin and his passion for the outdoors. He said, “TCF has very powerful eyes that are actually keeping watch on the rivers that run through my hometown. Seeing TCF buying land and preserving it has even helped save one of my favorite fishing spots. It was very cool to see. This shows direct action that made a massive impact on my season.”
Erin Rhodes was constantly exposed to the outdoors as she was raised in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She then relocated to Illinois to attend Wheaton College, where she recently graduated with a major in Environmental Science and a certificate in Human Needs and Global Resources. She never considered herself an environmental person but valued caring for the earth. During her time at Wheaton College, she realized many people don’t think about environmental issues and their effects. She wanted to be someone that people could talk to, to help educate them on how natural resources work and the different landscapes they live in. As a watershed intern, Erin checks on and downloads data from the probes that the watershed team deplys into our local waterways to measure water quality. During fieldwork, Erin’s job is to scrape algae off rocks and collect physical samples to send to a lab. “I do this so the lab can find the correlation between the water quality and the chemistry in it. This shows how it impacts algae growth. Algae growth shows how it impacts the dissolved oxygen that’s available for different insects and animals,” Erin explains. Erin may not have the Shenandoah Valley here in Illinois but has found appreciation in a new landscape. She said, “I really appreciate having the forest preserves and that’s not something that there is in other places. If you go to other cities, there aren’t large and frequent areas in actual good ecological health that are free and open to the public. I am grateful for TCF and how they do research, ecological restoration, buying property, and preserving it. During my time here, I have found it interesting to see the different people working here, their background, and how they bring their skills to the table. It’s cool to see how everyone fits into that puzzle and it helps me get more of a landscape of how I can fit into that in the future.”
My name is Shirley Sallas and I am from Naperville. I have been assisting the Advancement Team as a Marketing Intern and have gotten a new outlook on marketing through this experience. I am an upcoming junior majoring in Public Relations and Advertising at Chapman University in California. I can be found at the ranch house conducting marketing research, writing articles (like this), organizing the photo pool, or sitting in on different team meetings. I am glad to learn and strengthen my skills in marketing and communications by actively helping and applying what I learned in class to TCF. I always loved exploring the local parks and getting my hands dirty outside. However, I knew there was a whole operation behind the beauty of these parks and protecting them. It was cool to find that in Naperville. It’s been fascinating to see how a nonprofit works because I learned more about campaigns for big global companies in my classes. It’s been interesting to see the difference between them and I can’t wait to apply what I learned to my future work. Even though I am not studying anything environmentally related, I have found time to experience TCF’s overall work for the local community. I have assisted with Summer Camps, helped the Green Earth Harvest Farm Crew, and participated in a guided bus tour of native plants in the area. I entered this internship not knowing a lot about conservation or the native plants in my area. Through my time at TCF, I have learned about different sustainable ways to help the environment, as it all starts with me. Even though I can’t create a huge rain garden in my yard or install a green roof on my house, it’s my future goal. I leave TCF more appreciative of the outdoors and with a stronger awareness of my actions, keeping in mind how they may affect the land in the future. With this, I will contribute to helping nature as the land I love the most will be preserved and shared for a long time.
I feel I can speak for all of the 2021 interns that it has been a privilege to learn from the passionate people who are the working minds behind The Conservation Foundation. I plan to take what I learned during this experience and use it to better myself and most importantly better the environment.
Written by Shirley Sallas, Marketing Intern