A Conservation Bridge

“Don’t mind that sound,” said Liz Putnam. “It’s only my bird clock chirping away.”

Late last month, the recorded call of a yellow warbler signaled the start of an introductory phone conversation between SCA’s founder and its just-appointed president and CEO, Stephanie Meeks.

“This is a real treat for me,” Stephanie said from her home outside Washington, DC. “I find myself wanting to go back to the beginning of SCA. Tell me what your dreams were at the time.”

Seated at her kitchen table in Shaftsbury, VT, Liz spun a series of tales about growing up in a family that embraced community service, the Bernard DeVoto article that spurred her concern for national parks, and her Vassar College senior thesis in which she first proposed a Student Conservation Corps.

“I thought there’d be a lot of kids who would like to spend their summer vacation helping our national parks,” Liz stated.

The exchange unfolded easily, and it quickly became apparent the two women had much in common.

“I’ve known of your work for years,” Stephanie said. “I’ve met many, many SCA alums throughout my career, especially at The Nature Conservancy, and I, too, come from family that felt if something needed to be done, you did it. We share that in our families’ DNA, I think.”

Stephanie noted that while with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, she launched a youth corps that engaged young people from diverse backgrounds in restoring celebrated structures and bygone war cemeteries.

“Young people care a lot,” she stated. “They are willing to work, give money, but they are really looking for opportunities to be change agents and that goes back, full circle, to why SCA is so important.”

“Absolutely!” Liz replied. “To get people thinking about others and that you can be of service to others.”

From there, the discussion turned to the Covid-19 pandemic and what it will take for SCA and the nation to come back from it. “I think we’ll get through this,” Stephanie opined, “and having the benefit of your experience, Liz, having been through so many events, from World War II and beyond, we have to look to history to be reminded of the resiliency of the American people and, really, of humanity. We’ll come out on the other side and in many ways be the better for it.”

At that moment, a hermit thrush began singing. A full hour had passed and it was time to wrap-up the call. The new SCA president had one last question for the first SCA president: did she have any recommendations on early meetings that ought to be scheduled. Liz did not hesitate.

“The Garden Clubs of America,” she said, adding that GCA has been a generous supporter of SCA over the years. Liz remarked that she is a member of the Bennington (VT) Garden Club, and Stephanie countered that she belongs to the Leesburg, VA Garden Club – another plot of common ground.

“As soon as the travel ban is over,” Stephanie stated, “I’m hoping I can come up and we can spend some time together.”

“That would be lovely,” Liz replied. “Whatever I can do to help. Needless to say, I’m kind of interested in this organization.”