It’s 6:00 a.m. and Jamison Czarnecki is swapping his orange and grey running shoes for a pair of well-worn hiking boots.
He’s on his feet the bulk of the day, and much of that is spent outdoors. Red laces offer just the slightest touch of flare to an otherwise reserved appearance. Jamison heads out the door, and he’s off to work.
He passes the familiar Emilio’s Tires and crosses Main Street. Johnson Controls to his right and industrial buildings to the left form a final barrier before he hits the final stretch of road that will bring him to his sanctuary. This area of southeastern Elkhart isn’t the prettiest. In fact, you’d never know what hides beneath the surface of Lusher Avenue had you not been introduced to it by a program likely shared by Jamison and his staff.
Jamison drives the last half mile through a tunnel of turning trees. The pathway explodes with vibrant autumn colors, and you can practically taste the apple cider and cinnamon donuts in the air. Yellow birch leaves paint the road, and a canopy of oak and maple hangs overhead. A slight bend to the right and a beautiful log cabin emerges in an open pasture. It’s a scene from a storybook.
The inside of the cabin is brilliantly lit, both by natural and LED lights. The common area is simple and beautiful. The walls show pictures of progress over the decades. A table across from the doorway hosts a digital donation tool, allowing visitors to give with a single swipe by credit card. A wide, beautiful hall opens into a gathering space. Chairs and tables are empty, waiting for the day’s first busload of eager elementary kids. Today, Beardsley Elementary will make the trip across Elkhart to spend the day at the center. Mrs. Williams and Mr. Dowiat will bring their fourth-grade classes through those doors in just an hour, and there is much preparation to do.
Jamison is soft-spoken but energetic. Short and built like a cross-country runner, his passion for the environment courses palpably through his veins. He has never thought of himself as a teacher, but sometimes life puts you in positions that make more sense than you’ll ever understand.
Jamison was once a student, sitting at tables not very different from these, listening to someone in his current shoes. He remembers it fondly. He had always loved the outdoors, but the Elkhart Environmental Center turned his unfocused love as a student into a powerful life passion. Conservation, recycling, and protecting an environment that you depend upon weren’t questions of politics or even of science for Jamison. The environment ought to be protected because it provides everyone with sustenance and life. Jamison’s time spent here as a youth was formative, and he’s happy to bring his experience full circle, exciting the next generation of conservationists.
Today, he’ll work with over 100 school kids. He’ll walk them through the center, show them the history of the grounds. He’ll hear the gasps and see the shock on their faces when he talks about the history of the site. He’ll walk them through trails, introduce them to wildlife and plant life. And today is just one day. Over the year, he’ll reach thousands with his message, and the center will impact even more through programs around the community.
Jamison finishes setting the tables with a get-to-know-you project just as the squeak of old brakes gives way to the subtle blast of release air lines. The buses are here. He loves this work and he feels truly connected to this place.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden