Judy Fitchett may be Naperville’s own Mother Nature. During her 13-year career as the director of youth and family programs for The Conservation Foundation, the 67-year-old helped shape the environmental education program and inspire the many children who took part in it.
“Judy has what I would call a heart awake to beauty, and the right mix of sensitivity and silliness to open the eyes of others, particularly children, to the beauty all around them,” said Jill Johnson, marketing communications manager at The Conservation Foundation.
For more than a decade, Fitchett worked with volunteers, teachers, youth and Scout groups, schools and families, encouraging them to connect with the natural world around them.
Fitchett recently retired from The Conservation Foundation, but Johnson said, her legacy continues through the many programs and people she has influenced over the years.
“And after she teaches you to appreciate it, she empowers you to care for it, all in the most enjoyable, engaging way,” Johnson said. “She sparkles, and she made us sparkle, too.”
1. What did you enjoy most about working with the area youth and families?
“Just about everything related to my work was fun — well, except maybe all the meetings. I like the variety. No two days were ever the same; I was always learning new things. Lots of time outdoors, sharing excitement and wonder with children and adults, planting the seeds of conservation by providing them with the knowledge and experience in nature as well as the fun was incredible.”
2. How did you see things evolve over the 13 years you were there?
“The youth program went from a one-person program with no budget to a department with five well-qualified part-time educators, plus the coordinator, to deliver the programs. Budget is still a problem, but we pieced together grants, contracts and a fee schedule to help cover costs. We established the kids’ garden space at the farm where kids could grow plants, turn over rocks, play and explore. Education programs went from serving about 300 kids a year to nearly 1,500 per year. The Mighty Acorns program alone grew from nine classrooms and 250 students to 24 classrooms and nearly 600 kids each year.”
3. What do you like to do in your spare time?
“I like to go hiking and walking, and accompany my husband on frequent trips to far-flung places and see the natural areas there. I am trying to hone my skills for bird watching. I spend a lot of time with my two grandchildren who are toddlers. I knit and crochet a bit and sing in a community chorus.”
4. Do you employ some of the things you teach in your own home/personal life?
“Absolutely! I have dug up all the grass and planted native landscaping in both my front and backyards. We installed rain barrels and a rain garden at home also. I spend a lot of time outdoors with my grandkids. I keep a regular nature journal to record what I see and learn. We compost and recycle. I am thinking about getting the neighborhood kids to help make up a field guide to our parkway trees to distribute to the whole block.”
5. If you had to describe yourself in a few words, what would they be?