The Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams: Supporting healthy communities through science education

Lakes and streams are among Northern Indiana’s most beautiful, plentiful, and vital natural resources. In Kosciusko County alone, there are more than 100 lakes and 600 miles of streams, which means there’s a great need for organizations that care for and maintain them. 

One organization doing just that is The Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams, located in Winona Lake, Indiana, at Grace College. Their mission is to make local lakes and streams clean, healthy, safe, and beautiful through research, education, and collaboration. 

Students learn about local ecosystems through hands-on activities.“Our vision is to improve the quality of our lakes and streams such that the economic benefit as well as the recreational opportunities are all sustained into the future,” says Dr. Nathan Bosch, Creighton Brothers Endowed director of the Lilly Center. 

The primary way the Lilly Center encourages this is through its K-12 education program, which focuses on teaching the next generation to be water-literate citizens. The Lilly Center hosts 95 field trips from schools in Kosciusko County each year. Usually, the center accommodates a whole grade, or 75 students, for each field trip. The students rotate between three STEM-oriented stations that provide hands-on lessons about the local ecosystems. Lessons range from learning what a fish is to examining algae samples.

“My favorite part is working with the students and helping them understand science is fun,” says Grace St. Clair, education coordinator for the Lilly Center.

The Lilly Center employs 48 Grace students, eight of whom are on the education team. Emily Anderson, an environmental science major and education team employee, values her experience working with the Lilly Center. 

“It’s such a valuable opportunity for Grace students,” says Anderson. “The Lilly Center has greatly impacted my career path and has helped me discover what I’m passionate about.” 

Beyond K-12 education, another important initiative of the center is community education. The center’s family-friendly events connect with people of all ages in Kosciusko County and beyond. Events throughout the year include Critter Encounter, Wildflower Hike, Fly Fishing Expedition, and Birding Expedition. 

Emily Illingworth Kosnik, general manager at Toyota of Warsaw, attends many of the education events with her four-year-old son. She says the Critter Encounters at the Lilly Center are their favorite event. Critter Encounters are free events held on Saturday mornings four times per year. Participants learn about local wildlife through engaging and kid-friendly activities. Through the events, Illingworth Kosnik says she’s learned how to better care for the lakes she and her family use every day.

“The lakes are a major tourism draw to this area, and as a business owner, I recognize their importance,” says Illingworth Kosnik. “Maintaining clean lakes is crucial for securing ongoing investments in Kosciusko County and ensuring that visitors return year after year.”

Young students encounter a native critter.Most of the center’s events are held at the Lilly Center on the Grace College campus, but some are held at other locations. This helps the Lilly Center build partnerships with organizations outside Kosciusko County and expand the reach of its environmental science education.

One of the center’s ongoing partnerships is with Purdue University Extension, which brings research-based education to the community. Last spring, they launched “Growing Together,” a four-part workshop series at the Lilly Center for women interested in agriculture. Workshops feature guest speakers who share information on everything from urban farming to growing microgreens.

The Lilly Center also collaborates with the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). They have a similar mission to the Lilly Center – helping people manage, conserve, and enhance natural resources. 

Education coordinator Grace St. Clair teaches a student.“We should strive to educate ourselves and take action on supporting ecosystems because healthy ecosystems support us,” says Amanda Heltzel, SWCD education outreach coordinator.

The partnership with the Lilly Center helps SWCD reach a wider audience with educational programming and provides the Lilly Center with soil ecosystem experts at events. The two organizations have collaborated to organize events such as the Modern Gardening Workshop. The most recent workshop focused on companion crops, cover crops, and flips. They plan to continue the Modern Gardening series in 2024. 

“We hope that by hosting these types of events, we can encourage respect for our natural resources and provide people with the tools and knowledge they need to contribute to conservation in their own community,” says Heltzel.

Community members attend an environmental education event.The K21 Health Foundation is another key community partner for the Lilly Center. K21 was the Lilly Center’s first corporate sponsor. With the mission of giving every person in Kosciusko County the opportunity to live his or her healthiest life, the foundation sees it as important to increase the Lilly Center’s visibility in the community. 

“Our most valuable natural resource in Kosciusko County are the lakes,” says Rich Haddad, CEO of K21 Health Foundation. “The health of the lakes is important to the health of everybody.”

K21 grants support the Lilly Center’s research which informs how they make the lakes and streams healthier and identify health risks. The Foundation also funded the Lilly Center’s offices in the Dr. Dane A. Miller Science Complex.

“The real multi-generational power is that people who live, work, and play here understand and own the health of our environment,” says Haddad. “The long-term value of the Lilly Center being located in our county is to help the next generations take ownership of the health of the natural resources in our community.” 

Through education and collaboration, the Lilly Center equips its community to steward Kosciusko County’s lakes and streams. 

Learn more about the Lilly Center here.
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