Boxerwood rebounds from pandemic with new funding

Boxerwood Nature Center, near one entrance. (Photo by Tori Johnsson.)

By Tori Johnsson

Boxerwood Education Association received new funding, allowing the woodland garden to add new outdoor activities to meet growing local demand.  

Boxerwood recently received two Paycheck Protection Program loans and almost $500,000 in grants.  

The group is also searching for a new executive director. Catrien van Assendelft has announced that she’ll leave that position in January. 

Four new part-time educators have been hired to keep up with school program demand and meet grant obligations. 

“They really make it a well-rounded experience,” says Timothy Martino, Rockbridge County Public Schools’ Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Administration. 

Boxerwood’s educational programs are ramping up to pre-pandemic levels. “For a year and a half, it was pretty minimal on how much we could engage,” Martino says. 

While many programs are focused on science, some also incorporate math, literature and history. And the content builds on itself year after year. 

“They’re outside, they’re in nature, they’re getting their hands dirty, and all while learning. And those are great things for kids,” Martino says. “We’re really fortunate that we have that right here in our backyard.’’ 

“Our organization, just being a member of the community for so long, it’s just sort of a tried and true destination for people,” says Blake Shester, president of Boxerwood’s Board of Directors. 

Fundraising has been a concern during the pandemic, but locals stepped up with donations. 

“It’s not something that we can rest and say ‘we had a really good fundraising year, okay, we’re good now,’” Shester says. He says that upkeep on Boxerwood’s 15-acre grounds requires more consistent funding. 

And van Assendelft says some of Boxerwood’s income depends on the fee-based school programs that decreased during the pandemic. 

“The community came out really strong to support us. We tightened our belts and cut some of our hours although we didn’t go dormant,” van Assendelft says.  

Boxerwood Nature Center. (Photo by Tori Johnsson.)

The parking lot has been expanded to handle more visitors. And environmental action projects with community partners, like a tree-planting project with the Kendal at Lexington retirement community, are picking up. 

Boxerwood’s new project, COREworks, is a local carbon offset marketplace set to launch publicly in January. 

Through COREworks, organizations and individuals will have the option to make donations to offset their carbon footprint of traveling, for example. Then money will go to nearby environmental initiatives that combat carbon output. 

“By keeping it really local, you can go see the projects where there are solar panels being erected or where there are trees being planted. You know that your dollars are really helping local projects,” van Assendelft says.