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What started as an idea in 2012, the Color of Nature Leadership Program has grown into a symbol of inclusivity, stretching from Allentown to the entire Lehigh Valley. The program’s core goal is clear: to create a conservation landscape where everyone sees themselves. The Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) drives this initiative, providing education and empowerment. Through the program, LGNC trains community members to become “Seasonal Naturalists.”
But it’s more than just training – it’s a call to action. These Naturalists become ambassadors, actively connecting communities with conservation. They build bridges to nature, fostering environmental awareness. The program’s mission is summed up by the words of LGNC: “Naturalists work for their communities, conducting inclusive conservation outreach to strengthen the bond with nature and promote environmental care.”
This month, we are highlighting two of those Naturalists.
Genesis Hernandez was born and raised in Nicaragua before moving to the United States at age 13. Currently a student at Moravian College after receiving the Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent’s Scholarship, Genesis is studying biology to become a dentist. She was never particularly interested in conservation or environmental science growing up. However, a teacher suggested she join LGNC’s Color of Nature Leadership Program, and she thought she’d give it a go.
As part of the program, Genesis interacts with kids from across the Lehigh Valley, introducing them to various plants and animals that are native to Pennsylvania. It’s one of her favorite parts of the program.
“I enjoy working with the kids and seeing how they enjoy nature. There are so many things that they can’t even imagine. We show them a deer skull and they’re like, ‘Are you sure that’s a deer?’ It’s stuff like that. I love working with the kids.”
Genesis finds the Color of Nature Leadership Program valuable because it has allowed her to build a better relationship with nature and the environment around her. She says she has become more conscious of the impact her own actions have and how enjoyable spending time outdoors can be.
Even though Genesis still plans to pursue dentistry, she’d like to keep up with conservation “on the side.” She’s looking into various volunteer opportunities throughout the Lehigh Valley and would love to continue the Color of Nature program even next year.
Sherlyn has always loved nature. Growing up, her father would take her to the various parks around Allentown on his days off. He would teach Sherlyn about native plants, frequently collecting ramps (a type of wild allium) together, as well as how to fish. Jordan Creek Park was one of the parks Sherlyn visited most. She even attended a day-camp that would take kids around to explore the greenway. This was what sparked her love for the environment.
Her first introduction to LGNC was through her older brother. He had wanted to attend a program called the Conservation Leadership Academy, which immediately piqued Sherlyn’s interest. Although she was one year younger than the age minimum, Sherlyn was able to get admitted to the program alongside her brother.
Throughout the program, Sherlyn was able to expand her knowledge about the environment beyond what she was able to find in just the parks. Ever since then, she has been “obsessed” with nature. Returning to the program multiple years in a row, Sherlyn would experience hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail, cycling, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and more – further fueling her passion.
While she had known LGNC accepted interns due to the Academy, it wasn’t until she was in 12th grade, interviewing LGNC Executive Director Chad Schwartz for a final project that she found out about the Color of Nature Leadership Program.
As a current intern in the program, Sherlyn said it would take a while to list everything she likes about it. To her, even office days are enjoyable because the windows in the center are big. What she enjoys most though, is actually talking and being with people.
“People here are mostly in towns, or soon to be cities. Many don’t really get to go outside much; they don’t actually get to explore what nature has in store. If people don’t really know much about nature, it can lead to some disasters, not only for creatures and the trees but also for people. It’s an eye opener, [this program], to keep us aware that [the environment] is our home and it’s their home; everybody has to take care of it.”
Sherlyn plans to move to California to get her associate degree before getting a bachelor’s in environmental science with a concentration in restoration.
As a former superfund site, LGNC is no stranger to putting in the time and effort required to ensure that the environment is both protected and restored. That is why they have been providing environmental education to children and adults alike for years.
Since the start of the program, Color of Nature has:
While not everyone will go on to become an environmental scientist like Sherlyn, many others have still been impacted, changing their mindsets and relationships to the environment like Genesis. Both equally valuable endeavors that continue the legacy set forth by LGNC.
This article was written as part of the DLNHC Faces of the Corridor campaign. If you know someone or group that you think should be featured, visit this page to learn how you can nominate them.