Michele Altherr had no idea how PEEC would change her life when she attended a meeting at Fuller Lodge in the fall of 1999, calling for anyone interested in having a nature center in Los Alamos. According to Michele, there was a good turn out at the meeting and much interest when there was a call for volunteers. Michele herself felt compelled to become involved because she cares about children’s futures and feels that kids can’t grow to care about something to which they feel no connection. She thought having a nature center would be an excellent way to help foster that connection with nature among children. And with that, she became one of the founding members of PEEC.
To this day, Michele continues to volunteer regularly for PEEC. She has previously served as President of the Board, and has worn many hats at the organization. She lives in Los Alamos and enjoys visiting her children – a daughter age 27 who currently lives in Zambia and works with the UN and World Food Program, and and a son, age 24, who works in pharmaceuticals in San Diego but is taking a break to follow his passion for the outdoors and become a snowboard instructor.
PEEC sat down with Michele to learn more about how PEEC has changed over the years and what she enjoys about volunteering there:
PEEC: What was it specifically that compelled you to get involved with PEEC all those years ago?
M.A.: I loved the idea of instilling in kids a love of nature. Furthermore, I have always been attracted to “underdog” causes, which I felt this was. One of my favorite quotes is by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
PEEC: What was it like in the early years? How were you involved?
M.A.: I did a little bit of everything! I designed the first website, wrote grants, served as the first education programs director (because I was an elementary school teacher at the time), hosted the first Eco Clubs, painted murals, created forms, wrote press releases, talked to people about ideas – the list goes on. Oh, and I helped put together our first signature event, which was on Earth Day in 2000. It has been a great group of people to work with, because everyone who started PEEC held the same beliefs that education is invaluable and that the environment is worth caring about.
PEEC: How has your involvement with the organization evolved over the years?
M.A.: Well, now that we have a part-time staff, I can choose to work on the things that particularly interest me. I have been volunteering as part of a committee to create an Interpretive Plan for PEEC, and along with Selvi Viswanathan, I have been working to get Los Alamos County certified as a National Wildlife Habitat. I also started and remain involved with PEEC’s Nature Odessy program. And, I continue to serve on the Board.
PEEC: What do you like most about volunteering for PEEC?
M.A.: Definitely working with children (Nature Odyssey). It’s always been nature and kids for me. You can see the difference you make in their enthusiasm!
PEEC: What would you say to someone considering volunteering for PEEC?
M.A.: It’s a wonderful, welcoming place to be. You will meet extraordinary people who have amazing knowledge about nature. You will learn a lot, but it’s also a place to make good friends.
PEEC: Can you tell us one interesting thing about yourself?
M.A.: I have always wanted to see the mountain gorillas in their native habitat. This dream came true when I saw them in Rawanda in summer, 2012.
PEEC: Do you have any parting words you would like to leave us with?
M.A.: I’m very pleased – wow, this really did happen! It’s very exciting and rewarding to see it come to this point. In the early days, we looked at different options for a physical location, because we always felt like we had to have a place. For the first 5 years, we ran things – published a newsletter, had website etc. – all without a place. In 2005, during my presidency, we negotiated with the schools to secure our current location. Now so many people have worked hard to get the County to build a building for the new Nature Center. Without a grassroots effort, we would not have gotten this nature center. I’m so pleased to see that it will finally come to fruition in spring, 2015.