by Kristen Egan, Development Manager

For Jayne Lukens, returning to the wetlands as a Summer Nature Program instructor was much more than a summer job. Lukens grew up in Ocean City, NJ and returned to the area after spending the past five years in Vermont. “I feel at home walking the trails here along the marshes,” shared Lukens, who also attended the Summer Nature Program growing up.

She credits her mom’s work starting and running the Bayside Summer camp program in Ocean City, the positive influence of local Captain Bill Stuempfig, and her time at The Wetlands Institute for connecting her with nature and encouraging her to pursue a future in environmental education and conservation work. As an environmental educator, she hopes to pay it forward for the next generation to care.

This summer season, Lukens saw a lot of herself as a young nature lover and artist while teaching Annabelle Nickel, a first-time Summer Nature Program participant in the 10-13 year-old age group. “I loved watching her sit quietly over lunch drawing the purple martins and other coastal birds in her journal. I shared some of my own drawings with her and we really bonded,” said Lukens.

Lukens was particularly proud of Annabelle, who, after being apprehensive all week, found the courage to pick up a horseshoe crab on her last day of the program. “I was so proud of her in that moment,” said Lukens. “That’s the connection with nature that is so cool to see because you know she’s going to remember that moment. I’m going to remember that moment.”

Annabelle’s story is a snapshot of many connections happening all summer long during our Summer Nature Program. The impact of these moments lasts a lifetime, and in 2021 we helped create more than ever: This season, over 525 kids attended our Summer Nature Program – our highest enrollment ever, surpassing all previous years’ numbers by close to 40 percent. We are grateful to all of our supporters who make moments like these possible.

Lukens majored in Environmental Studies – with a minor in Wildlife Ecology – at Unity College in Maine, and is excited to advance her career in environmental education and conservation. Outside of her work at The Wetlands Institute, Lukens also enjoys leading kayak tours with Baycats in the Great Egg Harbor Bay.