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Environmental fund marks ten years of impact

Posted Wednesday April 22, 2020

Ten years in, thousands of Douglas County residents have a better understanding of nature and resource conservation because of the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund. Animal and plant populations have benefited too.

In 2005, retired KU English professor Elizabeth Schultz established the fund with the hope that it would spur projects that address the environment in creative, scientific, cultural, educational, aesthetic and economic ways.

“The wonderful success of this fund, given the number and diversity of projects it has engendered, not only suggests the need for environmental awareness in our community but also the amazing commitment of Douglas County residents to that need, “ Schultz said.

The fund has awarded 55 grants totaling nearly $221,000 to area schools, nonprofits and local governments for widely diverse environmental projects. Grants have helped preserve Douglas County lands and rivers, create artistic and literary works, establish school and community gardens, support animal and plant populations, promote renewable energy and educate people of all ages about the significance of the environment and the need to protect it for the future.

A recently funded project transformed an old Free State High School football field into a prairie restoration, research and demonstration site. Free State biology teacher Julie Schwarting and KU professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Helen Alexander teamed with high school and university biology students to create an outdoor classroom and lab that give them and the community opportunities to explore our prairie heritage.

City of Lawrence sustainability coordinator Eileen Horn says the fund has helped local food growers turn vacant lots into community gardens. “The Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund has been a fantastic partner with the City of Lawrence’s Common Ground program,” said Horn. “It has provided funding to several of our community gardens to buy sheds, tools, and equipment needed to transform these vacant lots into vibrant spaces for growing food and community connections.”

Once a year, local organizations have an opportunity to apply for a fund grant. Schultz invites four area residents with environmental interests to work with her to make award decisions. Sharon Ashworth, Sarah Hill-Nelson, Nancy Jackson and Dan Nagengast currently serve on the selection committee.

The fund is endowed, meaning that the donated principal stays in the fund, and the income it earns will be used annually to make grants for generations to come.

Schultz believes that “Although the impact of the ESEF grants on the environment and people of Douglas County is stunning, the environment of our community will continue to be challenged in the future. Children living today will need sound environmental models for future environmental challenges, and my hope is very much that the ESEF projects will be able to anticipate some of these needs and continue to try to address them.”

Learn more about applying for an Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund grant.

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