UNCW and North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Launch Valuable Ventures Program

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

UNCW’s Recreation Therapy program and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher are working together to engage the community in accessible and affordable nature-based activities through their new program, Valuable Ventures. Supported by a Community Engagement Grant, Valuable Ventures seeks to connect participants with their environment while enhancing their overall sense of wellness.

 “Creating a connection with nature and the environment can facilitate new kinds of exploration or escape from the day-to-day responsibilities we all have,” said Cara Gray, assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Services. “It can help participants see themselves, their environment, others and/or problems in a different way. There is also growing evidence indicating the positive effects on health and perceived wellness for individuals and communities when exposed to natural environments.”

Community Engagement Grants come from the Office of Community Engagement and provide financial support for collaborative partnerships among community partners and student, faculty and staff teams. Fostering collaborative community partnerships is a priority identified in UNCW’s Strategic Plan.

Gray says that she sees nature as a beacon, a reminder about humanity’s interconnectedness, which is especially important during a pandemic. Uncertainty can often lead to anxiety and fear, and connecting with the familiar or somewhat predictable can help ease these feelings. To Gray, it was no surprise that there was an increase in outdoor leisure and recreation pursuits when the majority of the population began teleworking.

“Being in nature provides a sense of familiarity and common ground,” said Gray. “Nature provides an accessible, inclusive stage and space, where conversations, collaboration and unification can occur.”

Gray’s program partner from the aquarium agrees. Erin Gross, N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s lead special activities instructor, thinks reconnecting with nature is especially important when so many are feeling so helpless.

“Being in nature reminds me of what is really important in my life,” said Gross. “One of the simplest joys we remember when spending time outdoors is that happiness can come from simply connecting with each other and our natural world. Nature is for all humans, and using nature to connect humans to each other is a great solution for these current times.”

The Valuable Ventures program began June 4. New activities will be added every week until July 31 and are all being delivered digitally. 

-- Christina Schechtman