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Jolene Schira

Connecting With Nature at Work and at Home

Story Highlights
  • NC Chapter employee Jolene Shira, her wife and their three kids live in a home where being one with nature is supreme.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Jolene Schira was always outside. Her passion for nature led her to obtain a graduate degree in social/environmental issues. She is also a very good accountant. Eleven years ago, when her wife Angela found an advertisement looking for a finance manager for The Nature Conservancy, it seemed like the perfect position.

“It was karma,” Schira explains. “I’m working for a great organization and doing what I do best.”

Schira grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. “People in Wisconsin are always outside,” she says. “A few years back, Angela and I were up in Wisconsin for Christmas. With the wind chill, it was six below zero. We passed by a school and all the kids were outside playing in three feet of snow. Angela was astounded. I told her ‘that’s what you do in Wisconsin. You go outside, no matter the weather.’ ”

Angela, who is a counselor, grew up in urban Atlanta. Together the two are raising their children – eight-year-old Luka and four-year-old twins Ozzie and Minna in a home where being one with nature is supreme.

Before she was hired by the Conservancy, Schira did an internship with a solar energy organization. “I became interested in how I could make the smallest footprint,” she says.

She worked with local green architect Giles Blunden to build a home for herself that would have the lowest possible impact on the natural world. “He drew up this awesome little house. It is very small, but it seems very large,” she explains.

The 1,000-square foot house is heated by passive solar energy and has radiant floors heated with a solar hot water heater on the roof. And, there’s the metal roof. “Giles told us ‘you always build a house around the roof and you want your roof to last a hundred years,’ “ she explains. A wood stove provides the heat.

“It works fabulously,” she says. “We have a deep roof overhang, so when the sun is high overhead in the summer, it stays cool. In the winter, when the sun is lower, with the radiant floors, sometimes the house actually gets too hot.”

Prior to the current house, Schira built a 16-by-16 foot cabin out of recycled materials on the property with a cistern for water and electricity, albeit not enough to power a hair dryer. “That taught me how to be in tune with nature constantly,” she says. “I had to know when it was going to rain, so that I would have water. I also had to know when it was going to rain so that I could gather firewood and be ready. I also learned that animals see your house as habitat – squirrels, spiders – they would come inside. But, I had moved into their habitat. Schira’s starter cabin is still there; Angela uses it as her office.

The family raises chickens for eggs. But, they are vegetarians – so when the chickens quit laying, they become pets. That’s not to say that the chickens always survive. They occasionally fall prey to opossums and other predators. But, Schira says that her children understand that can happen, even though the family collectively tries not to kill living things. They also gave up on having a vegetable garden long ago. “We now have a big herb garden, because deer don’t eat herbs.”

She remembers one time when Luka found a bee caught in a spider’s web. “He was down on the ground, very close to the bee when I noticed a black widow spider close to his cheek. Now, the mama bear in me wanted to swat that spider, but instead I got him to move away. I didn’t want to teach him the value of killing things. Just leave the spider alone; it has a place in nature.”

Schira has watched the Conservancy evolve in the past few years from just saving nature for nature’s sake to looking at how nature can benefit people. “This is a good thing. My degree is very focused on people – on the earth and how we relate to nature. People are very much a part of the equation,” she explains.

To her, the most important people in the world are her children. “I am passionate about my children,” she says. “The Nature Conservancy is going to make this world a better place for my children, that’s why I support TNC and it is why I work for TNC.”

To get to know more staff from the NC Chapter, visit nature.org/nc/faces 

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