Emily Peters is an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Now in her second year of Americorps service, Peters continues to pursue one of her greatest life passions: connecting people to the environment through education. Throughout her career, Peters says she has had “incredible experiences of self-justification”, which demonstrate she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. Peters’ most recent experience was a two day celebration about one of nature’s most unique mammals: BATS.
And now, I turn this story over to Emily Peters, the real Bat Woman…
This journey starts with a Bat Week event I planned last year. I will be honest: it was not my best work. I would like to say that I had exactly 7 days to coordinate the event, which is not an excuse but definitely played a role in the turnout. The outcome of this year’s event was partially influenced by some unasked-for critique I received from a local business owner in Elkins. She blatantly presented her opinion of the previous year, using words like “not fun,” “poorly advertised,” “bad” and “stupid.”
Despite the raging animal inside of me sharpening its claws, I kept my composure and put my professional face on. I thanked her for her input and explained that we did the best we could in the time that was provided. In reality, I had never been so insulted in my whole life. Did she not understand all the stress I went through to put that event together? Did she not understand that I was new and didn’t know Bat Week even existed until 7 days before!? I appreciate constructive criticism, but what she said was just plain mean. Needless to say, I took it very personally. So I used that negative energy to fuel my ambition for this year’s event.
When plans began to unfold for Bat Week 2015, I made a promise to myself that it would not get the same terrible review. I kept hearing this lady’s snide comments in my head and wanted to prove her wrong… SO wrong. In hindsight, I should thank her for pushing me to make the event bigger and better (but I’m stubborn and not going to). I put every ounce of my energy into planning the event this year and went above and beyond what any sane person planning a public event on their own would do.
The event featured 8 different interactive activities, each at different stations, with their own educational messages about bats and caves. I extended the event to last 2 days- ending with bat box building. The list of tasks I needed to complete never ended- it was filled with creating flyers, finding a venue, gathering all the supplies and organizing them into each station, distributing the flyers to every single student in all the elementary schools in the county, purchasing bat box kits, gathering tools and safety gear, advertising in general, and coordinating volunteers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point during the event planning.If you were to read my thoughts during the month I planned Bat Week, it would most likely be something like, “batsbatsbatsbatsbatsbats.” It was stressful, exhausting, my anxiety levels doubled, and I was not sleeping at night (was I becoming a bat!?). My point is: it was a lot of hard work.
Yet every second of it was absolutely worth it.
My Bat Week event was a HUGE success!! Over 200 visitors participated in the event throughout the 2 evenings! In case you don’t understand how small the town of Elkins is, trust me: that is a lot of people! Parents thanked me for my efforts, and children couldn’t wait to show off all of the new bat knowledge they had learned. On the second day, one mother stopped me on the sidewalk as I unloaded my ‘bat-mobile’, saying “Thank you so much for putting this bat event together, it’s wonderful. My kids loved it. They had a lot of fun last night and we will be coming back to build a bat box tonight.” I was ecstatic!
I have a lot of people to thank for supporting me in my Bat Week ambitions. I have unlimited appreciation for all of my volunteers, who came from various backgrounds and organizations such as The Forest Service, WVDNR, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and AFHA AmeriCorps. The event would not have run without them! I also thank my co-workers for their support and encouragement throughout the planning process (as if they needed another reason to be amazing).
I really believe it’s one of life’s greatest feelings when you put all your energy into planning an event and it turns out incredibly successful. I know I did something right when both the kids and the parents can take value in their experience and walk away smiling. That outcome makes all the stress and anxiety melt away. It is why I work so hard doing something I truly love.
Peters may not don a cape (in public) or drive the Batmobile, but she owns her role as “Bat Woman” when it comes to educating the public about one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures. Tune in tomorrow to read more about Peters’ batty adventures…