2022 Year in Review: Amanda Nicholson, Senior Vice President for Outreach & Education

It’s time to look back on 2022! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2022 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

In June, our front desk team received an email from a woman in North Carolina who was planning on driving with her family to New Jersey sometime in early July. The woman’s daughter, Laney, had just finished first grade, where she had read the “Maggie the One-eyed Peregrine Falcon” book with her class. Apparently, Laney was “absolutely enthralled” with Maggie’s story, and since learning that she’d essentially be driving right by the Center in July, Laney asked her mom – daily — if they could stop and see Maggie.

Beverley, Laney’s mom, had done her due diligence in digging around on the Center’s website and had seen that the Center was not only not open to the public for drop-in visitors, but also wasn’t booking tours due to COVID and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The past couple of years have been challenging for us to maintain an in-person connection with the public; we have very limited “public space” at the Center, and since our staff is small and specialized, we’ve been very strict with COVID protocols. Early this year, we started to loosen restrictions a bit and were finding ways to venture out and bring people on-site again, only to be confronted with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – an easily transmitted and potentially devastating disease that affects birds. Again, we were very strict and cautious in our response, with a priority to protect our education raptors.

Front-desk coordinator Maliah confirmed our limitations and restrictions, and Beverley was quite understanding. The two traded a few more emails about Maggie and Critter Cams – one opportunity for Laney to check in on her newest friend. To make sure we could switch to Maggie Cam at a time when Laney would see it – and because Maggie is my special friend and I love anyone who loves her – Maliah looped me into the email chain. I was only too happy to feature Maggie on camera, knowing that Laney would be checking in on her.

Because Maggie and the Maggie book (shout-out to author Christie Gove, who still continues to donate a portion of all proceeds to us) are near and dear to my heart, I also really wanted to make an introduction happen for Laney. I was growing tired of all of these diseases that continued to restrict us. Obviously, safety is incredibly important and I didn’t want to compromise that, but after talking with colleagues, we determined that if Laney and her family came, we could hand off some booties for shoe coverings and just stick to the outside of the building. I shared the offer with Beverley, who was incredibly excited – though decided to try to keep it a secret surprise for Laney as long as possible.

On the day Laney and her family arrived, I met them outside. Laney was aware of her surprise stop by this point, and we all bootied up to walk around back to the education ambassador area. We beelined straight for Maggie, who was sitting front and center, ready to greet her admirers. As I geared up to deliver my normal Maggie spiel, I realized I didn’t have to … after all, Laney had read the entire book, and knew Maggie’s full story! We chatted instead about peregrine falcons, other wildlife, and some of Maggie’s neighbors. Walker, Laney’s little brother, was eager to see everyone, and I walked him around and talked about all of our raptor ambassadors. Laney listened in, but kept returning to the front of Maggie’s enclosure, just quietly watching her. “Enthralled”, as Laney’s mom first described, was a perfect word for the interaction. I’m not quite sure what all Laney was thinking about, but watching her quietly linger in front of Maggie’s enclosure left an impression on me.

The entire visit probably only lasted about 15-20 minutes before Laney and her family were back on the road. But the moment stuck with me. It was a bright spot in my day … my week … my month. After two years of restricted in-person opportunities, it was a special in-person interaction. It was a great reminder of how deeply people can connect to our education ambassadors, and a testament to the importance and significance of a well-told story.

— Amanda Nicholson, Senior Vice President for Outreach & Education

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!