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Introducing Melissa Robinson, the Education and Collaboration Cultivator for the Florida Headwaters Foundation

We’re thrilled to be introducing Melissa Robinson, who’s just joined our friends over at the Florida Headwaters Foundation as their Education and Collaboration Cultivator. Melissa brings a wealth of knowledge as a master gardener and a finely tuned passion for environmental education. 

Originally from Illinois, Melissa moved with her family to southwest Florida at a young age. In 2019, she graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies (sciences concentration). She then shared her talents with the Orlando Science Center and the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center before landing at the Foundation.

What exactly does an Education and Collaboration Cultivator do, and how will that show up in your work at the Foundation?

Melissa: In my role at the Florida Headwaters Foundation, I’ll be teaching others about local ecology such as flora and fauna, wildlife, and the different ecosystems that exist in Central Florida. The best way to accomplish this is by partnering with other organizations with similar goals, such as universities, landscaping companies, local schools, and other gardening/agriculture enthusiasts. I’m excited to start hosting tours and workshops where we ask and answer questions like, what is a Florida Friendly Landscape? How do I grow my own food? What’s the difference between a pine flatwoods ecosystem, an oak hammock, or a cypress dome, or a marsh? Why are prescribed fires important, and how do they change the landscape over time? What did the landscape look like 5,000 or 10,000 years ago? How do we live comfortably with Florida’s famous wildlife? 

My hope is that people learn about nature in a fun, engaging way with their family, neighbors and friends. 

What can Sunbridge residents expect from the projects and programs you’re planning?

Melissa: My goal is to deepen residents’ connection with nature. Unfortunately, that’s been lost these past few generations. Now, people are scared to go outside. They think every plant will give them a rash, or that every creature they see is out to get them somehow. If you don’t go out and connect with the environment, you can turn into someone who’s scared of going outside. That can lead to a lot of health issues—especially mental health issues—in the future. 

Through programs for kids, field trips for schools, and workshops for all ages, I hope to inspire a love for the environment, an understanding of why we have laws regarding its protection, and a curiosity about the careers that are available in environmental studies. We’re also partnering with educational institutions like the University of Central Florida (UCF) to launch research projects and additional educational opportunities. Stay tuned for more announcements in the coming months!

Tell us more about the children’s programming you envision.

Melissa:  I’m planning to set up a parent-and-tot program. It’s my hope that people will be able to come in for kid-friendly educational activities about butterfly life cycles, identifying different trees, how and why birds build nests, and so on. 

We’re also looking at building a partnership with the new Voyager K–8 school here in Sunbridge. We’ll be working with teachers on integrating environmental education into their curriculums and their field trips. Hopefully, we’ll also set up a demonstration garden on school property for the kids to attend gardening workshops.

Beyond the borders of Sunbridge, how will the Foundation benefit the wider Orlando community?

Melissa: We’re already working with UCF on research projects and hope to eventually expand to other universities as well. By partnering with organizations and schools, we aim to be a resource for anyone who’s interested in learning about the environment. Our long-term vision includes various kinds of consistent community engagement, including a 24-mile wildlife trail that will be open to the public.

What are some of the challenges you foresee and how do you plan to overcome them?

Melissa: As a new foundation, building awareness of our activities and our mission is a key challenge. For the moment, we’re working on setting up educational materials and trails to attract visitors. Another challenge is the broad scope of the work we’re aiming to do, but we’re just taking it one step at a time and focusing on our goals.

What are you most excited about?

Melissa: I’m most excited about helping families and children discover the wonders of nature. I love seeing the immediate impact of my work and inspiring others to appreciate the environment.

What is the long-term vision for the Florida Headwaters Foundation in the next 5, 10, or 20 years?

Melissa: My vision is for the Foundation to become a hub for environmental education and research, not just for Sunbridge but for all of metro Orlando.

I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity and excited to be a resource for this special community. I look forward to helping Sunbridge residents develop a deeper appreciation for our environment and all it has to offer.

For more information, visit Florida Headwaters Foundation.

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