Meet our board: Mary Gatling-Finks

This is the second installment in a series to learn more about who’s doing the work behind the scenes to keep our Chapter running along.

Stephanie Gardner, HMN Board Historian and Parliamentarian, is conducting a series of online interviews with the members of our 2021 Board of Directors. Here we are featuring Mary Gatling-Finks, Vice President of the Board and Program Committee Chair.

How long have you been a Virginia Master Naturalist?  Of which Headwaters Master Naturalist cohort are you a member? 

I began training with Cohort V in the fall 2016, so I am entering my 5th year of being a Master Naturalist. 

What is your position on the HMN Board?  How long have you been serving?

This year marks the beginning of my second term as Chapter Vice President/Program Host and my third year serving on the HMN Board.

Have you held other positions on the HMN Board?

This position was my first role serving on the Board.

What is your favorite thing about your role in the chapter?

The Vice President is to act in place of the president during board meetings if the president is not able to attend, but because we set our meeting dates as a local chapter, this is not a common occurrence. My main role is to serve as host and to help coordinate our Annual Membership Meeting, and typically one additional chapter gathering with a continuing education component and a social component while modeling low-waste event practices. The chapter host also coordinates each new cohort’s Commencement with the Basic Training Committee Chair (Peggy Plass). My favorite role is coordinating our chapter social gatherings and finding ways for chapter members to get acquainted with one another. Our membership meetings are a great time to catch up with other members about the projects they have been working on and any other news they would like to share. 

What have been some of your most memorable activities/projects as a VMN?

I really enjoyed helping to host the Virginia Master Naturalist StateWide Conference held in 2019 with Kelly Jones, my co-chair on the social committee for the event.  Our Headwaters Chapter hosted at Massanetta Springs Conference Center, and many hands helped to organize and offer an amazing three days of Continuing Education workshops. I enjoyed the challenge of aiming for a low to zero waste conference, including composting all food scraps with the help of Adrie Voors and Carl Droms, and coordinating with local businesses to provide food in dishwasher safe serving ware or compostable boxes. It served as an opportunity to share with businesses practical ways to commit to low waste and still address the time constraints inherent in serving 200 participants in time for them to attend their workshops. 

I have also loved learning more about large scale composting. Visiting Black Bear Composting in Augusta County, volunteering with the Harrisonburg downtown Black Bear composting kickoff event and art dedication, and comparing notes with other passionate composters led me to pilot a school-wide composting program at Wilbur S. Pence Middle School where I am a teacher. I was able to follow some helpful advice from Kathy Yoder, who initiated and maintained the Waterman Elementary compost program. Adrie Voors came to our school to help model to students how to efficiently separate their food trays and with the help of many we composted 6,000 lbs. of food scraps in our first year. After a brief pause in the program to allow for 2020-2021 school schedule changes and safety guidelines, I am excited to begin our program again this fall. 

What are your future hopes for our chapter?

I hope we can continue to expand our community outreach and education. While appreciation for protecting our natural resources and addressing environmental challenges grows, each generation has some knowledge that becomes less of a focus. When we have opportunities for intergenerational exchange of knowledge through education and volunteerism, we can help to protect a vast resource of collective knowledge, passion, and skills. 

Where do you live in the Valley?   (For example:  Harrisonburg, Dayton, Staunton, Rockingham County.)

I live in Harrisonburg. 

Are you originally from Virginia?

I was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and most of my family extends from Richmond to Virginia Beach. 

Please tell us a little about your past or present career(s).

I am a career educator, and just celebrated my 20th year teaching in the Virginia Public School system. I am a language teacher, and primarily teach Spanish at the middle school level. 

What do you enjoy doing when not volunteering for VMN? 

I love working in my home garden, walking and exploring our local parks, and hiking the many natural areas we are fortunate to have nearby. I love exploring antique stores, art museums, and traveling. I spend a lot of time honing my skills at repairing, reusing or making things to do my part in reducing excess consumerism and waste. I catch up with friends and family primarily by doing: by helping to make curtains, weeding a garden, or problem-solving a home repair. 

If you were an animal, plant or fungus; what kind would you be?

I am not sure if I could ever live up to this magnificent creature, but I have always kept a special place in my heart for the Eastern box turtle. While their population is now considered vulnerable, they were always a challenge to find. While many check for snakes while hiking, since my earliest memory I have kept one eye open for the elusive box turtle. Any damp pile of leaves or edge of a marshy area awakens my deep yearning to connect with a box turtle. I feel they only reveal themselves when they agree to be discovered, and I have always considered them a kindred spirit. 

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

I am really looking forward to our Commencement Ceremony in the fall (date to be determined) to celebrate our new Master naturalists in Cohort VII. I hope to conclude this year having helped to provide ways for our new members to get to know other chapter members and to get excited about all of the knowledge and skills we have to share. 

June 2021

The photo at top is of Mary at the compost bins at Wilbur Pence Middle School. Photo credit: Mark Finks.