When I started college I hoped that someday there would be a writing position at one of the nature centers in my city. Two came to mind right away, Urban Ecology Center, which has three locations and is a stunning example of how to immerse oneself in the nature of a post-industrial landscape. The other was Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, a 185 acre sanctuary where 100 years previous Schlitz Brewery horses went to relax. Both are non-profit organizations.
To my surprise, about two weeks into my second semester, a position opened for a Communication Specialist at Schlitz Audubon. They were looking for someone who would write, edit, generate social media content, and help out with any other communication-related needs. The position was part time and could fit in with my school schedule.
I should add, I wasn’t a 19-year-old freshman when applying for this job. It turned out the 10 years of poems I’d sent out in the ether of the internet made a difference. People listened to the public radio internship I did for fun. There were some people who’d read my poetry books. I’d been working in writing for quite awhile, but finding a permanent position doing so was proving difficult without a degree. When you’re toiling away trying to create a resume through internships and publishing credits, all that stuff no one pays you for can eventually provide a cache of legitimacy.
Working at a non-profit hadn’t occurred to me until I went through a 10-month program with an organization called Public Allies. They place candidates with locally based non-profits whose skills and needs provide a good fit. Four days a week you work at your placement and on Fridays you attend non-profit training.
I was placed as a volunteer coordinator at a 90-acre farm which freely donates all of its harvest to the hungry throughout greater Milwaukee. In this new context I was a part of many varieties of communication. In all of those instances my coworkers seemed surprised by my ability to quickly turn around ideas or plans into words. Having this experience gave me the confidence that writing could actually be a career. I became certain that poetry wasn’t going to be a career, I didn’t want to write copy for retail store chains, and wanted to work in a pretty place.
At Schlitz Audubon, I work in a very collaborative environment, and our marketing department consists of only three people. There aren’t several managers who need to approve of our decisions. We come up with an idea, throw it to a few people and see when they think, then run with it. We’re light on our feet and often execute ideas within the same day.
Prior to my starting with the organization they produced a quarterly report. It had black and white photographs and a couple of random articles, but definitely felt more like a report than a celebration of the location and it’s natural gifts. The marketing team decided to begin creating a small full-color magazine highlighting each season’s bounty, along with descriptions of three months of programs taking place. Panorama, as we call it, has been a big success with our membership and guests.
Working at a non-profit isn’t for everyone, but it can definitely be a great place for a person who is driven by a passion or mission. For me, I just decided I didn’t want to be making buying “stuff” sound good in the retail world. I’m marketing the idea that people should develop a deeper connection with nature- which I believe very strongly.
For writers interested in non-profits, I’d recommend becoming familiar with grant writing. I haven’t written any grants yet, but I’m told the skill is sought after and always desirable. One of my colleagues told me she has used some of my copy in grant proposals already, leading me to suspect that I may have a talent for that direction.
Now when I arrive at work there are different birds to listen to depending upon the time of year. I take a second to notice how tall the prairie grasses have gotten, or if the trees are yet waning from greens to oranges, and gobble at the turkeys (they gobble back—it’s hilarious!).
Working in such a beautiful and unique setting has also influenced my writing outside of work. I’ve started writing poems that often have more of nature flair. Recent topics have included turkey vultures, how males in the animal kingdom are the pretty ones, and the symbiotic relationship between squirrels and oak trees. If I ever feel a little worn out I go for a walk on the six miles of trails. There’s always something worth finding.
About the author. Ed Makowski is a writer and poet living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s into motorcycles and anything that involves the outdoors. He’s been a bad poet lately, and despite writing lots, rarely sends work out for publishing. He’s got two books of poetry out under the former pen name Eddie Kilowatt. Ed has two books ready for publishing (someday…when there’s time) and is also working on a series of history poems. https://edmakowski.wordpress.com