COVID Hasn’t Stopped the Watsonville Wetlands from Thriving
Most middle school children in Watsonville have benefited from a visit to the Watsonville Wetlands. It’s a non-profit organization that’s been around for 30 years and has educated thousands. But when the pandemic hit last year, it was not exempt. With help from the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, though, the Wetlands has not only survived but thrived this past year.
Watsonville Wetlands Watch is not only a local non-profit that works to save the environment for future generations, but it also changes lives every day. And thousands of students in the Watsonville and Pajaro schools have benefited from their instructional programs.
Thirty years ago, the Wetlands was created by a group of concerned citizens who had the foresight to understand the importance and relevance of saving the wetlands. Staff, volunteers, and involved students have vigorously protected the wetlands environment (birds, plants, water) by providing educational literacy about environmental issues affecting the wetlands, stewardship of the land, and partnerships with the city, county, local farmers, and the local school districts.
“While we feel everything we do is important, the programs developed during the pandemic for K-12 students have been exceptionally impactful” stated Jonathan Pilch, Executive Director of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch.
Each year, the Wetlands hires high school students (who get a stipend) to participate in a program to teach middle school students about wetland exploration and stewardship, water testing, and more. Upon conclusion of each eight-week stewardship program, these students are eligible for a college scholarship. 100% of the “Wetland Stewards” have moved on to attend college upon high school graduation.
They empower young people within their academic and career development. They encourage learning and a desire to obtain a higher education
— Jonathan Pilch, Executive Director of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch
PPP Loan assistance gives the boost Wetlands needed
But like so many non-profit and small businesses in our area, the pandemic caused the Wetlands alarm when it first hit. They were concerned about taking care of their employees and funding the programs that educate so many in the community. For them, a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was the answer.
“The PPP process was made simple by Santa Cruz Community Credit Union. I worked directly with Brian and Darius, who were both incredibly helpful during a very stressful time,” stated Pilch. “Not only did we apply and get a loan in 2020, but here we are a year later, and we received a second draw of PPP funds and have submitted our application for the forgiveness program.”
The PPP funds allowed the Wetlands to continue its services to support its staff and students. “The Credit Union was right there with us, every step of the way; they were truly on our side,” explained Pilch.
Using the PPP funds, the Wetlands saved jobs and pivoted from an in-person to a virtual learning platform. The Wetlands staff created and distributed 1,800 take-home kits for home-based learning — these kits included information about preserving the wetlands, watershed science, backyard birding, the importance of pollination (including 1,000 pollinator plants).
Similar background created a strong bond
With a similar background to the Watsonville Wetlands, the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (SCCCU) was established in 1978 by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to ensure that everyone had access to economic justice and the ability to build capital.
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Learn more about the benefits of SCCCU membership here, or call the Credit Union at 831-425-7708.
In March of 2020, the Credit Union immediately leaped into action to support its business members to manage the changes they had to make due to the pandemic. “We knew that our businesses and members would be concerned about their future and needed our support more than ever. We asked ourselves what we could do to help, and then we went out and did it,” stated Richard Cooper, Executive Vice President of SCCCU.
“We continue to do a lot of business with the Credit Union,” stated Pilch. “They have really helped us throughout this past year and continue to do so.”
Giving back to the community is part of “who we are”
Throughout the year, the Credit Union continued to support non-profit organizations negatively impacted by the pandemic and the fires experienced in the area. Last year, SCCCU donated nearly $180,000 back into the community and asked its members to help in the effort.
“This year, we plan to do the same thing, it’s really who we are,” explained Katie Fairbairn, Vice President of Communications & Organizational Development at SCCCU.
We genuinely care about the financial health of our members and those in our community. And we hope people will look to us to get the help they need when they need it.
— Katie Fairbairn, Vice President of Communications & Organizational Development at SCCCU.
Pilch looks forward to the day when their 120 docents and over 400 volunteers can return to in-person activities at the Wetlands. But in the meantime, the Wetlands will continue to thrive and provide vital education however they can until the pandemic ends. And they’ll continue their partnership with the Credit Union to create a brighter future.
To learn more about the programs available at Watsonville Wetlands, or to get involved, click here. (https://www.watsonvillewetlandswatch.org/)