“I was four years old when I first fell in love with nature."
"It all started the moment that I caught a glimpse of a whole herd of deer grazing. The hazy morning light surrounding them in a heavenly glow.”
Those were the opening words of a pitch that I made a month ago to a virtual audience and my fellow social entrepreneurs at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) graduation.
But let’s back up.
I’ve always been fascinated by connection, especially how it shows up in nature. Just the other day I was admiring the final crimson notes of the sunset and couldn’t help but be awed by the backlit tree in my neighbor’s yard; its veinlike branches reaching toward the sky, reminding me of the veins in my own hand.
If you are on the look-out, there are constant reminders of our connection to nature. And there are reminders of how that connection can become strained, as in the plastic bottle that rode the wave toward the shore during my afternoon stroll.
Connection in any form is so critical to our well-being and success. I am on a mission to connect kids to nature. But to do that, I need to be connected to others who can provide guidance and energy to bring my message forward.
I first learned of SEG when I saw an advertisement for a pitch night for their “Nonprofit Innovation Lab”. At the program’s conclusion, the entrepreneurs vie Shark Tank style for prize money by selling their social innovation to a panel of judges and the public at large. I decided that I must find a way to be a part of it.
I applied and was denied.
As serendipity would have it, I was accepted into their “Impact Accelerator” program instead. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to expand my business acumen and to spread the word about Thrive Outside’s mission.
However, what I didn’t anticipate was how much more I would learn about the power of connection.
Sharing three hours a week for five months with 12 other social entrepreneurs, I learned about nonprofit finance, strategic planning, branding and more from SEG’s experts. To my surprise, I also learned about courage, resilience, vulnerability, and just how important it is to support and uplift one another.
I was also incredibly humbled.
My fellow cohort members came from diverse backgrounds with struggles and challenges beyond anything that I had ever dealt with, yet there they were, showing up and working toward their passions; striving to make the world a better place.
Through their unique life experiences, I also came to see Thrive Outside’s mission through a different lens.
We discussed systemic racism and how it affects access to opportunities and resources, and ultimately access to nature, especially in poor, urban areas. I heard first-hand how this feels as well as what it is like to grow up viewing nature as “scary”, “unsafe”, and “not for them” since the local parks are not welcoming or secure, and most media portrayals of people engaging in nature-based activities are of white people. I came away with a totally different appreciation of the urgency of providing equitable access to nature.
This awareness reminded me of how nature has so many lessons to teach us. Every cell, every lifeform has significance. Disrupt one thing and we disrupt everything. Connection is survival.
SEG provided a vital lifeline of connection. Being an entrepreneur can be wonderfully exciting, but it can also be a lonely and daunting experience. I am grateful for the opportunity that SEG provided both for my own growth and for Thrive Outside’s. Thanks to SEG I have gained skills and knowledge that will help to propel our mission forward.
The best gift of all though, was the opportunity to connect with like-minded people in a meaningful way. After all, connecting with others is the natural thing to do and helps us all to thrive.
Wishing you time to thrive outside,
Shannon Rozea is the Founding Director and Landscape Architect for Thrive Outside
Note: To learn more about SEG's programs visit their website: https://segreenhouse.org/