Guest Post: Ross Danis

November 10, 2008

Continuing our series of Environment Stories, this next post is from Education Program Director Ross Danis, whose visit with the folks at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance reminded him how important it is to be passionate about your work.

Planting the Seeds of Change

Sometimes chance encounters during our site visits to grantees and prospective grantees leave an indelible impression. Recently I visited with the folks at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and on the way back to my car, I met a staff botanist whose wonderful story of his work touched me at an unexpected moment.

His name is Russell Juleg, and he joined the staff of Pinelands Preservation Alliance in 1999. With the help of local botanists, ecologists, and PPA volunteers, Russell put together a database containing all the vascular plant species of South Jersey. This database serves many purposes, including, importantly, serving as a resource for rare plant protection against development. His broader education and outreach projects, however, are what I find particularly fascinating.

Russell and his colleagues organize an annual native plant sale, produce the “Gardening with Nature” guide, and offer education programs to the surrounding communities. As a result, PPA has significantly increased demand for plants that are native to South Jersey. Simultaneously, PPA and Russell work with local nurseries and garden centers to increase their stock and variety of native plants to feed this growing hunger for gardening and landscaping with local plants. As if that weren’t enough, PPA is also successfully working with county road departments to change the way they maintain roads and shoulders, so that roadside habitats can once again be a showcase for native plants as people drive through the Pinelands.

What is it about this little story that strikes a chord? It is the notion that finding a small agenda and pursuing it passionately can actually change the world. Through our work in the field, we have the honor and privilege of meeting people who remain passionate, dedicated, and genuinely committed to making a world more livable, a society more humane. To all of the Russell Julegs out there working in their (metaphorical) gardens, the Dodge staff says, “Thank you.”