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Atlanta organization aims to make environmental conservation more accessible

The director of environmental education said it's important to include diverse voices when talking about conversation.

ATLANTA — The West Atlanta Watershed Alliance began with a mission to preserve 400 acres of land in Southwest Atlanta. Today, the organization has expanded its efforts, including Cascade Park and the Outdoor Activity Center. 

Darryl Haddock, the director of environmental education at WAWA, said making sure people from diverse communities are a part of the conversation around environmental conservation is vital. 

"We are taught that this is almost a privilege specialization, right?" Haddock said. "And I really think that what we can remind ourselves is that this is everybody's role to play right."

WAWA hosts activities for the community throughout the year, including Summer camps, a reading club and hikes on the 5th Saturday of certain months. 

Haddock said these events allow people to surround themselves with the environment they're learning about, which ultimately allows them to get more comfortable learning how to take care of it. 

"This is a really rich and abundant space just in terms of your sensory perceptions.,"  he said. "And so I think that that also helps create deeper opportunities for learning."

Earth Day, April 22nd, is a prime opportunity to engage more people in conversations about the environment, Haddock said. This year, instead of hosting events at the Outdoor Activity Center in the West End, WAWA is partnering with organizations across the city for a series of events that will carry through the weekend. 

The goal is to help amplify other voices in the movement for environmental conversation and engage with people who may not otherwise know how they can get involved. 

"We can work with young people and say, Hey, look at your own community, evaluate and assess what's going on," he said.

For Haddock, the work is personal. He's had a passion for the environment since he was young but said he wasn't always able to vocalize his interest. Now he works to make sure other children know they have the option. 

"When I was young, you know, I was almost nervous to tell people I wanted to be, you know, an environmental scientist or marine scientist," he said.

This is especially important to Haddock because of the location of WAWA and the predominantly Black community that surrounds it. 

"We also like to show up as the educators and the scientists that look like the community that is in proximity to the park," he said.

What's most important to Haddock is making sure the generation that comes after him is prepared to take over his work. 

"We are the leader that we're waiting for, and our young people most certainly need to be trained to take up the cause because, you know, at some point, I'm retiring, right?" Haddock said. "You know, so I can't do this forever."