PITTSBURG — The program which has connected area children with wildlife received a $10,000 grant award from Westar Energy Foundation on Monday.
The Nature Reach serves over 4,000 children a year in communities in Southeast Kansas, Northeast Oklahoma and Southwest Missouri.
Since 1985, the Nature Reach has “committed to providing natural history and environmental education outreach programming to school and community groups,” a release said. “Its annual budget is funded by program fees, grants, and private donations from the community.”
According to the release, this marks the third time Nature Reach has received support from Westar; in 2007 and 2011, Westar’s Green Team provided wood, netting, and assistance in building two raptor enclosures at the PSU Nature Reserve.
The award is a “huge deal’ Director of Nature Reach Delia Lister said, it is a substantial part of the Nature Reach’s budge and it will help purchase supplies for summer camp, various programs, cleaning supplies and food for the animals. The funding will also pay a staff member who will help evaluate the program.
“Being able to continue what we do, that’s fabulous, thanks to the generosity of donors,” Lister said.
Westar Manager of Operations R.J. Jubber said the business wants to support environmental education and conservation.
“Our mission is to become the best energy company and with that in mind, in everything we do, we want to support those around us and be good environmental stewards,” he said.
The business works to produce electricity while doing their best to cohabit with the environment, he said.
Westar Skill Trainer Justin Swezey said the company’s lineman maintain and install power lines and keep them on all the while being sustainable. But that’s not the only thing they do, they keep an eye out on the environment and wildlife, he said.
There is a Westar Green Team which follows protocol for the specific wildlife involved.
Linemen receive education on avians (birds) and other useful training to keep wildlife safe.  
“We contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to figure out the best option for that animal,” Swezey said. “We’ll do what’s necessary with the Kansas Parks group on that.”
In the past, the business helped create nests for bald eagles found at a work site near Manhattan, Kansas.
Swezey’s children also go to local schools and participate in the Nature Reach and other Pittsburg State University programs.
“They love that and it keeps them involved with the environmental stuff and with the community,” Swezey said. “We really appreciate what Pitt State does on that matter.”
Department of Biology Chair Virginia Rider applauded Lister’s commitment to teaching children about nature.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Rider said. “I’ll tell you the reason I’m so excited, emotional about it, is because everything that she’s trying to put into little people … there are a lot of things we can do that we don’t have to destroy, and what Delia is trying to teach children is that if we are good stewards of the environment then we have something so worthwhile to pass on to future generations.”
Delia is self supported and writes grants to keep the Nature Reach programs going, Rider said.
“This may give her breathing room this year and she deserves it,” Rider said. “I love to see people being rewarded for what they worked hard to achieve and attain and I think she deserves every penny of that award.”
Rider commended Westar for their willingness to help the program and the environment through the donation.
“They say they want to partner with you and be a good steward, that is such a good term — being a good steward of the land,” she said. “Because as far as we know, we don’t get to redo things, so for me this is a really beautiful thing.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.