Mandi Whiting Volunteer Profile
by Carol Clark
This volunteer credits her employer for making it possible to help an organization she is passionate about – that’s Elachee.
Introduced to Elachee in 2015 through her job with digital marketing firm Full Media, when the Nature Center launched a new web site, Mandi Whiting today has two additional ties here. She chairs the volunteer host committee for Elachee’s 2020 Flights of Fancy Benefit & Auction. Plus, Mandi’s oldest son attends Elachee Nature Academy (ENA).
Full Media has been a sponsor of the Nature Center’s annual fundraiser, held each April on Elachee’s outdoor patio. Mandi and her husband, Adam, first attended the 2017 Flights of Fancy Benefit. While at Elachee they toured the ENA classrooms and learned more about this nature school that today offers licensed and accredited Preschool and Kindergarten-1st Grade programs.
“Elachee Nature Academy is something unique and wonderful,” she says. “We were really impressed by the idea of an alternative classroom that engages children with the outdoors.”
It wasn’t long before the Braselton couple and now their three children — five-year-old Brady and 16-month-old twins Davis and Owen — became regulars at Elachee. The family participates in guided walks and events like September’s Snake Day. Brady went to Camp Elachee this past summer and was thrilled to play in a creek. This fall, Brady joined ENA’s Kindergarten class.
Her son’s love of Elachee spurred Mandi to serve on the 2019 Flights of Fancy organizing committee this past spring. That evolved into her becoming the chair for the 20th annual event, set for Saturday, April 25, 2020.
“The owner of Full Media, Kris Nordholz, is very big on giving back to the community and allowing employees time to volunteer for an organization that they’re passionate about,” Mandi explains. “For me, that’s Elachee. It provides a great educational experience for children. I believe in the importance of Elachee’s mission — to educate people about nature and to provide a beautiful place for families to enjoy it by preserving the Chicopee Woods. In addition to the Nature Academy, Elachee serves students from 22 public school systems that come for field trips.”
This Mission is Now Personal
Brady is a constant reminder to Mandi of Elachee’s value. “Every day when he comes home from school he’s so excited to talk about what he saw and what he did,” she shares. “The children are learning what they would learn in a traditional classroom, like science, numbers and letters, but what’s different is the way the teachers get the students excited by incorporating nature into the lessons.”
In Mandi’s opinion, “It genius.”
For example, ENA teachers often lead students on a hike and have them use sticks found on the trail to make letters and spell words they have learned in the classroom. ENA students spend three or more hours of each school day outdoors in creative discovery, benefiting from place-based learning to reinforce a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum.
Brady retains both the traditional lessons and special insights into nature. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been outside and he’s pointed out a tree, or a bug, and told us its name and its role in the ecosystem,” says Mandi. “This summer, he explained to his grandpa that the spider on his pool deck was an invasive one from Asia, the Joro spider. He’s just five, but he’s saying, “See Grandpa, the big ones are females and the smaller ones are the males.”
Brady and classmates are among thousands in north Georgia who have been participating as citizen scientists in a collaborative university research study. Researchers are learning more about this arachnid species that data is strongly suggesting made its entry to the U.S. less than 20 miles from Elachee. READ MORE ABOUT THIS STUDY
Brady is also setting a good example for his brothers. As his mom explains, instead of begging to watch TV or play a video game, Brady prefers to go outside and find an insect or a bird that he can identify.
“He’s not afraid of nature now, but he’s also learned what to be cautious about.” Mandi recalls, “We recently went on a moonlight hike for ENA families with a guide, who talked about the owls indigenous to this area, what they sound like and what they eat. We were just picking up bits of knowledge about nocturnal animals along the way and Brady said, ‘Watch out, Mom, that’s poison ivy! Don’t step there.’”
Mandi confesses that she is “not a huge snake fan,” but she found it interesting to see all the different types on display during Snake Day. This Elachee seasonal festival brings together herpetology experts from around the region that combines nature education with other family-friendly activities, live music, face painting and food trucks. The Whiting’s invited a teammate from Brady’s baseball team to the event and the boys loved getting to actually touch the reptiles. They are all now looking forward to Raptor Fest, another Elachee seasonal festival, held in March.
Helping Elachee Reach New Heights
The annual Flights of Fancy Benefit & Auction is Elachee’s main fundraising event and a Gainesville tradition! It is a fun social occasion geared for adults to celebrate spring and see what is new at the Nature Center. Some 250 Elachee friends and supporters turn out for a casual evening with friends to enjoy lively entertainment and a farm-to-table dinner under the trees and the stars – and raise vital operational funding for Elachee Nature Science Center.
Mandi stresses that businesses and organizations can get involved with the 2020 Flights of Fancy as event sponsors and by donating nature-themed or outdoor-oriented items and experiences for the live and silent auctions. LEARN MORE: elachee.org/flights-of-fancy
“It’s a great way for businesses to spend some of their community outreach dollars and each sponsorship tier comes with marketing perks,” Mandi explains. “Elachee includes sponsors’ names in digital and printed marketing and provides them with seats at the event.”
Sponsors and auction donors will receive even more visibility for their support of Elachee when the 2020 Flights of Fancy silent auction goes live to the public online and through a mobile-bidding platform prior to the April event. One of Mandi’s goals as volunteer chair for Flights of Fancy is to introduce as many new people as possible to Elachee “so that they can also benefit from this incredible resource.”
Proceeds from Flights of Fancy support Elachee’s mission to promote environmental understanding through education and conservation. Funds raised enable Elachee to continuing critical programming for school-age students to participate in field trips, as well as important work in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, one of Georgia’s largest protected green spaces that also comprises about 13.5 percent of the City of Gainesville’s total land mass!
Brady, meanwhile, is also spreading the word. “He tells everyone he meets that he goes to ‘nature school,’ and how much fun it is,” Whiting says. “So many of my friends who don’t live in the area are amazed when I post pictures of him at Elachee on social media. They’ll say, ‘Where is that beautiful school? What a cool place!”
About This ‘Nature School’ for Young Children
Elachee Nature Academy is a SACS/AdvancED-accredited private school licensed through the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s Bright from the Start program, managed and operated by Elachee Nature Science Center. Our Director of Schools is scheduling tours and interviews prior to enrollment opening for the 2020-2021 school year. ENA 2020-2021 ENROLLMENT PACKAGE AND TUITION for Preschool and Kindergarten-1st Grade