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A founding member and former chair of the Madison Conservation Commission, Heather Crawford also volunteers her time at the North Madison Congregational Church to help with events such as the recent Harvest Dinner and the upcoming 25th annual Holiday Crafts Fair and Cookie Sale. (Photo by Maria Caulfield )
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What do tadpoles, crabs, rocks, plants, and glaciers have in common?
Answer: They’re all topics Heather Crawford covers to teach students in grades 1 to 4 on field trips to Bauer Park, Hammonasset Beach, or Rockland Preserve.
“I have been doing environmental education field trips for the town of Madison for eight or nine years now, maybe ten. That’s about 50 hours a year,” Heather explains.
During field trips with first graders, she does a pond study and allows the students to catch tadpoles at Bauer Park. She takes second graders to study seeds and plants also at the park. For third graders, the complexity of the subject matter grows when she takes them to the Rockland Preserve to learn more about geology and the workings of glaciers. In a little section of Hammonasset Beach, she lets fourth graders loose for 15 minutes to gather small Asian shore crabs and then shows them how the crabs have outcompeted other kinds of crabs in the area.
Her lessons are imaginative and interesting for children.
At Rockland Preserve, for instance, she takes the children to a glacial erratic, a massive chunk of rock transported by glaciers over a long distance. Glacial erratics are important because they mark the movement of prehistoric glaciers.
But to fire up the imagination of the children, she describes glaciers in more concrete terms.
“I could tell them, ‘Ok, so you just walked from where the bus dropped you off to here. So, imagine walking that distance and back, and that distance and back again, and think straight up in the air and that’s how thick that ice was.’ So, the field trips are great for putting things into context,” Heather explains.
A longtime resident of North Madison, Heather is a founding member of the Madison Conservation Commission and served as the chair for eight years. She has a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Connecticut and worked at the Sea Grant program there for 15 years.
The Sea Grant is a federal program that fosters stewardship of coastal habitats with the intention of achieving healthy coastal and marine ecosystems.
She explains that the Sea Grant funds research, technology transfer, and education.
“I was one of the outreach educators,” she says. “So I would take what was done for the research and get to the people that it would be useful for. And in my case, it was land use impacts on water quality, nonpoint source pollution, and general marine ecology because that was what my master’s was in.”
“I love the beach. I love the forest. I love the way the world is put together. And I get very frustrated with people who don’t acknowledge that we can screw things up,” she says.
The UConn Sea Grant website still posts some of Heather’s environmental fact sheets and research papers.
She decided to leave the Sea Grant when she gave birth to her first child. She has two daughters, a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old.
She has been married for 22 years to her husband Eric Alletzhauser but retained her maiden name. When her children were still young, she decided to get creative and compose a chant similar to a cheer to help them remember how to spell their last name: A-L-L/E-T-Z/H-A-U/S-E-R.
Church Volunteer Work
Leaving her work to care for her children did not mean she had more time on her hands. In fact, she identifies time management as one of her difficulties. She is involved with her daughters’ Girl Scout troops, music lessons, and choir practices, to name a few.
She is also heavily involved with the North Madison Congregational Church, taking part in the choir as well as the prayer shawl ministry.
“We have a group of knitters and crocheters in the church and we knit cozy shawls and scarves when people are ill or there’s a death in the family. It’s something that comes with a little card that says, ‘This allows you to wrap God’s love around you.’ We dedicate them by praying over them during a service,” Heather says.
And then there’s the annual Harvest Dinner which just took place on Saturday, Nov. 2. It’s an event worthy of recognition for the extent of volunteer work that goes into it.
Each of the two seatings serves 120 people in the fellowship hall. In addition to the 240 sit-down meals, the volunteers serve up 150 meals for take-out orders. The fundraiser feast is served on the church’s good china or in a take-out box and includes generous portions of roast turkey, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin muffins, salad, cranberry relish, and mashed turnips.
Just like the dinner, the days of preparation are a social event for the volunteers.
“We sit down and we have a period which we call a ‘snap chat.’ We buy three cases of green beans and we have to snap them. So, we have two tables and we’re all sitting around and we’re taking the heads and tails off [the beans] and we’re telling everybody about our lives,” Heather says with a laugh.
The volunteers do the same thing when they peel six boxes of apples. But she makes sure the apples are sliced down to the correct size. She points out that the apples that are donated by Bishop’s Orchards tend to be larger and that the slices need to be uniform for even baking.
“I kind of wander out [from the kitchen] every once in a while and say, ‘People, please, I know that our fingers are not all the same size, but when I say I need the apples not thicker than a finger, I mean MY finger.’”
For the prep work alone, Heather says some 40 to 50 volunteers are involved and their work elevates the mundane tasks to a community event and a labor of love.
“Food is love,” Heather says with a smile.
The next event is the church’s 25th annual Holiday Crafts Fair and Cookie Sale on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the North Madison Congregational Church, 1271 Durham Road.
Heather’s environmental and church volunteer work is indicative of some of the causes that are closest to her: protection of natural resources, community service, and human involvement.
“I just wish that honestly everybody would think about neighbors. Because if we all honestly think about our neighbors when we make decisions about our lives or anything, it would make a big difference.”
For more information about the 25th annual Holiday Crafts Fair and Cookie Sale, call 203-421-3241 or visit northmadisoncc.org.
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Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide