This blog was authored by Executive Director Melissa Williams
I don’t know about you, but about this time of the year (budget time, ha!), I start getting very reflective on how the year went and all of the great things that I am thankful for. My planning is already taking me to 2018 events, summer camps and school programs, but I really enjoyed sitting back and thinking about all the wonderful things that happened at Feiro in 2017 (so far).
The other week a family who recently moved to the area and became members came in. “It’s our weekly Wednesday visit!” they said. That made my heart sing. There’s another family with two very young children I see quite often, too. The baby is usually sleeping, but her brother is a big fan of the touch tanks and of telling our volunteers about the animals. He’s currently fascinated with the ocean, which we are happy to support!
I’ve lived on the Peninsula long enough to have seen many of those kids grow from very young to a little bit older – some of them have transitioned from elementary to middle school, or pre-K to elementary school. I enjoy seeing them come back every year for summer camp, or to attend a public event. It reminds me that this is a place for the community. With its history, how can that not be the case?
Led by Art Feiro and supported by Will Wirt and a dedicated group of community members, the Center opened its doors to the community in 1981. Sadly, the spark from their legacy was nearly extinguished 10 years ago, as budget shortfalls at Peninsula College and the City of Port Angeles due to the Great Recession led to a threat of closure. I can only imagine what everyone was thinking in November of 2007 – as another group of community volunteers, led by Deborah Moriarty, raced to receive non-profit status and keep Feiro’s doors open.
The climb from 2007 to where we are today in 2017 has been, in non-profit terms, dizzying. Much like the Switchback Trail at Olympic National Park – very steep – everyone associated with Feiro, from the Board members to the volunteer naturalists, to staff and donors, kept climbing up and up, always envisioning the best next step that would help us reach a pinnacle.
We can tell those steps are working because our business indicators are very strong. We have had record attendance, and strengthened our earned income so that we have been able to stabilize our staffing and invest in growing their expertise, which means every program or exhibit gets better. We can tell those steps are working from the thousands of children, teens and adults who are here, learning, appreciating, exploring, and creating. Their connection to the marine environment strengthens as Feiro strengthens – our impact is greater when our organization is strong. We can tell those steps are working because we have so many amazing people who have stepped up to assist in meeting Feiro’s goal. Whether that’s volunteering in the exhibits, as part of the cleaning crew or on an event planning team, helping raise money so students get one-of-a-kind experiences like competing at the SeaPerch Underwater robotics Nationals in Atlanta, GA, bringing guests by to see something special, or simply leaving a donation when they visit, the ENTIRE COMMUNITY helped turn that tiny ember left in 2007 into a roaring fire in 2017.
I have been meeting regularly with the team that will bring the Marine Discovery Center and Waterfront Campus project to fruition. Our partners at NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation are as committed to Marine Discovery Center project’s success as we are. While we are doing a lot of work behind the scenes, know that we are constantly moving forward!
We also are seeing record attendance, sold-out or full programs and, this year, two of the largest individual donations we have received. We also received 11 out of the 15 grant applications we wrote this year, which is an excellent proportion!
I say all of this with some trepidation about the year ahead that might derail our progress. Changes in the tax law that put a damper charitable donations, an end to the opportunity to purchase tax-free, low interest bonds for construction, cuts to NOAA Education which funds many of our educational programs. I wish that I foresaw 2018 as being as successful as 2017.
Despite those potential roadblocks, I still look forward to those weekly Wednesday visits, the start of the spring ROV (underwater robotics) club, a gazillion fourth graders walking down Peabody Creek, and some new things, as well. And of course, we are proud to continue showing off the marine critters of our home, the North Olympic Peninsula, to visitors from Enumclaw to England.
Thank YOU for all that you have done to support the community through Feiro this year. I am honored to be a part of a community who gives so much of themselves for each other.