Tag Archives: Tony McDowell

Earthplace: Environmental Center Sponsors Fall Bash

One day last winter, Diana Mashia walked into Earthplace to drop off her kids for a vacation nature program.

She and a staff naturalist began chatting about environmental issues. When executive director Tony McDowell heard that Mashia had an impressive command of the issues Earthplace cares about — science, conservation and education — he did what any good leader does: He asked her to help.

Last month, Mashia — who already was active managing Sustainable Westport‘s social media — joined the Earthplace board. She focuses on the organization’s zero waste initiative, and community engagement.

Diana Mashia (Photo/Tomira Wilcox Photography)

It might seem an unusual passion for a woman who started her career as an equity research analyst. But as Mashia moved into venture capital finance, she specialized in consumers and innovation. She then founded a consulting practice, working with VC firms and startups.

Mashia certainly walks the talk. In addition to her day job and volunteer activities, she’s working on a master’s degree in management and innovation at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She’s studying the intersection of public/private partnerships and sustainability.

“I’m a big proponent of community-building, volunteerism and engagement,” Mashia — who finds time to also be a Daisy troop leader, and dance with a local company — says.

She knows that — for all its wonderful work — Earthplace has a relatively low profile in town.

Earthplace summer campers enjoyed a downpour. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

“This is my passion project,” she says of her board activity. “Tony and his team really explore relevance in program. I love their basic idea: that humans are part of the natural world.

“We all exist in nature. But modern life often leaves us disconnected from the physical world. Being stewards for the environment, and creating better awareness, allows us to connect. It has positive impacts on human health and well-being.”

She believes it is particularly important to educate children to be stewards and leaders. They need to be inspired to seek innovative solutions to environmental problems. Mashia is “proud to live in a community that actively thinks about and finds local solutions” to those issues.

However, she notes, many Westporters think of Earthplace as primarily a pre-school, Mashia — whose own children are 6 and 3 — says.

They may not know about its environmental education and after-school programs, 60-acre sanctuary with walking trails, birds of prey exhibit and scholarships, or that it us home to Harbor Watch, the water quality project.

An Earthplace owl.

So Mashia is excited to pass along word of Earthplace’s Woodside Bash and Festival.

The big fundraiser is a 2-day event. It kicks off this Saturday (October 5, 7 to 10 p.m.) with an adults-only party. There’s a harvest dinner, open bar, live band, DJ, a “haunted trail” and the very popular mechanical bull.

Sunday (October 6, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is for families. Traditional fall activities include an apple slingshot, donut-on-a-tree, pool of corn, climbing wall, food trucks, animal encounters and more.

Either day — or both — are excellent opportunities to support Earthplace (and, if you haven’t already been there, discover its wonders).

Like Diana Mashia, you might even end up as a passionate volunteer.

The earth would thank you.

(For more information and tickets, click here.)

LobsterFest: Old Tradition Embraces New Recycling

The Westport Rotary Club‘s LobsterFest is a great Westport tradition.

Over 300 volunteers serve 2,400 lobsters, 300 steaks, 1,600 ears of corn, and plenty of raw oysters to 1,200 ticketholders.

Though the goal is great — proceeds support more than 30 local organizations, plus international Rotary projects — it can be an environmental mess.

At the end of the event, there’s a lot of trash.

Where are you — well, all those volunteers — gonna put all those lobster and oyster shells, steak bones and husks, not to mention thousands of knives, forks, paper plates and napkins?

Don’t worry! These folks think of everything.

This year’s event — set for Saturday, September 21 (3 to 7 p.m., Compo Beach) — is environmentally friendly. Thanks to a partnership with Sustainable Westport, LobsterFest focuses as much on recycling as on raising money for charity.

Tony McDowell — Rotarian, former Fest chair and now a member of the organizing team — explains that this year’s feast picks up where other town local initiatives like the Maker Faire left off.

Last spring, that townwide event recycled in a big way. Every garbage can was labeled for the different type of trash to be deposited in it. Greens Farms Elementary School does the same thing, in their cafeteria.

Greens Farms El offers 3 choices for waste:

LobsterFest will do it too. A company will haul away lobster shells, and compostable plates, trays and cups. Almost all waste will be reused.

But not all. Some plastic knives and forks remain from last year. Moving forward, the event will use all corn-based utensils.

The red trays are plastic. But they’re reused every year.

LobsterFest is a fun, family event. Kids’ activities include the Melissa & Doug children’s tent. The Hot Rubber Monkey Band returns too.

A $60 ticket includes two 1-and-a-quarter-pound lobsters, or a 14-ounce New York strip steak, plus corn, cole slaw, bread and butter, potato salad, peppermint patties, and all the beer or wine you can drink. There’s also a $10 menu for children 12 and under.

Tickets are available only in advance. Click here to order online. They can also be purchased at Joey’s by the Shore, or from any Rotary Club member.

NOTE: The Westport Rotary LobsterFest is different from the Westport Lobster Festival, sponsored by Westport Lifestyles magazine. That event is September 28, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club; it includes a polo match and balloon festival.

No word yet on how much they’ll recycle their lobster shells, utensils and trays.

Tony McDowell Takes Earthplace Helm

Tony McDowell has spent his professional career in marketing and business development. His paper and forest product companies have emphasized sustainable development. But his most recent job was based in upstate New York. He commuted 3 hours every Monday, then stayed there all week.

His new commute is way better: 6 minutes.

McDowell is the new executive director of Earthplace. It’s a great fit, he says — and not just because, after moving to Westport in 1987, he, his wife and 2 sons were frequent visitors to the environmental center.

Tony McDowell

Tony McDowell

A year ago, McDowell decided to shift his focus to non-profit management. He’d always been interested in environmental education and social issues — he was a founding board member of Stepping Stones Museum, board president of the Child Guidance Center, an advisor to Builders Beyond Borders and served on humanitarian missions to Haiti and Swaziland — and was an avid hiker and sailor.

He asked CEOs of non-profits for advice and insights. He networked. Then, last spring, Jeff Wieser — head of Homes With Hope — told McDowell about Earthplace. When the organization needed a new leader, he was one of the first to apply.

McDowell says that as Earthplace looks for fresh ideas — and the best ways to “deliver more value to the community” — his background in marketing is a great fit.

One example is Harbor Watch. Though the program — which monitors water quality in harbors, rivers, streams and estuaries here and in surrounding communities — has been part of Earthplace since 1993, few people know it.

EarthplaceMcDowell’s challenge is to “identify the needs of the community, and communicate the value of our programs to a variety of audiences.” Most people associate Earthplace with its nursery school,  he says. “That’s great — but we also have high school and adult programs. There’s a lot more that goes on here. We need to get the word out about everything.”

McDowell begins work today. The staff and board are “very excited,” he says.

He is too. And that 6-minute commute is just one reason why.