Pomfret family finds volunteer niche

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Mon., Jul. 15, 2013
Melissa and Rich Telford with children William and Helen. Photos by D. Coffey.
Melissa and Rich Telford with children William and Helen. Photos by D. Coffey.

Rich and Melissa Telford have found ways to plug into area volunteer work by focusing on their strengths and interests. The Pomfret couple loves nature and the outdoors, but they are also busy with family life and work. Four-year-old Helen and 1-year-old William keep them busy with the responsibilities of raising a young family. And Rich's graduate studies in environmental studies and conservation biology have added an extra layer of work to his duties as an English teacher at Woodstock Academy. But they have each found a niche working with the Audubon Society.

Those niches developed with the help of local Audubon director Sarah Heminway. She approached Melissa about running a toddler program early this year. In February, Melissa took over the helm of “Tales and Trails,” an educational and activity-focused program for toddlers through pre-k. Melissa works into her program a certain theme and then focuses her activities and readings around it. She incorporates readings with things the children can actually put their hands on. And always there is something physical planned, whether it's going outside to romp in the meadow surrounding the Pomfret center or doing arts and crafts indoors.

“I think of it as both 'tales' and 'tails,'” Melissa said with a laugh. “I might start with a story on squirrels, then bring in something tactile for them to hold, like acorns. Then we head outside to explore.”

The mother of two young children, Melissa thought the program would be a way to spend more quality time with her daughter. “I was spending a lot of time with William as a new mom,” she said. During the programs, Melissa not only gets to play with Helen, but she is learning as well. She reads up ahead of time on the topics her lessons cover.

“What I really appreciate is it gives me opportunities to support Audubon,” she said. “I wouldn't have a  chance to do that if I was working full time. It's an enriching experience for me and I'm learning about nature and conservation.”

Her husband Rich found a different niche when his attempts at working with Audubon led him to create an artist-in-residence program at Audubon's Trail Wood property. He said the nature writing of Edwin Way Teale was a big influence on his graduate studies. Teale wrote six books dealing with nature and innovative photography of insects by the time his book "Wandering Through Winter" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966.

“He was the most famous living naturalist in his day,” Rich said of Teale. But ironically, some think the conservation movement heralded by Rachel Carson's 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” led to an eventual decline in his popularity. “One school of thought is that the paradigm of nature writing changed with Carson's book,” Rich said. “People began to view it as a vehicle for urgent conservation action."

Teale was hesitant to enlist in the politics of conservation. “He felt his skill was as an observant lay scientist,” Rich said. “He didn't want to politicize his work.”

Rich wanted to emphasize the treasure of Teale's home at Trail Wood, which he calls an underutilized gem among Audubon properties. He and Heminway locked onto a program that would bring artists to the home so they could work on their art. They received only seven applications for the 2013 program, but it is the first year, and Telford expects the residency program to grow with time.

Painter Natalia Falcone from Rhode Island, Woodstock writer Philippa Paquette and Richard Weber, a writer from Kansas, are in the pilot program that began in July. Rich expects next year's program to attract more artists. Plans are also in the works to hold a gathering for artists to read and display their work.

“The whole family is a volunteer family, because even the kids are involved,” said Heminway.

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