Helen Enright first joined the staff of Hawthorne Valley’s Place Based Learning Center (PBLC) in July 1999 as a part-time assistant to the then-director Ruth Bruns.
She had relocated with her mother and daughter, Samantha, to Columbia County from Drexel Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia, earlier in the year so that Samantha could attend Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School as a third grader. Helen’s sister, who had been working at the school as a Kindergarten Assistant, felt her niece would benefit from Waldorf education, and introduced them to the school. The entire family quickly fell in love with the Valley.
“Within a few months of starting my job, I was walking towards the Dining Hall, and I looked around and knew this is where I wanted to be,” Helen said. “It felt comfortable here, and it became home.”
Up until then, Helen saw five years as the maximum time she’d devote to one job. In 2000, she began working full-time as the Business Manager, and this year marked her 20th year working with the PBLC. She’s loved every minute of it. Helen says she has always felt supported by the program staff and the Hawthorne Valley community, and has built many strong and lasting friendships here through the years.
The Place Based Learning Center provides hands-on, farm-based learning experiences for children ages 8 to 16 since 1972. They operate the Visiting Students Program that welcomes grade school children to Hawthorne Valley Farm for week-long immersions, and offer day and residential summer camps that allow the children to experience all aspects of farm life.
As Business Manager for the program, Helen is responsible for all the administrative needs of a very hectic office environment. She is often the first responder to all questions concerning the summer camp programs and class visits. She handles scheduling the visiting classes during the school year, budgetary oversight, accounts payable and receivables, administrative support of the program managers, gathering all the necessary paperwork for the students and campers, and responding to phone calls and emails from teachers, school administrators, and parents.
“Every now and then I get to work with the children as well, but it’s a rare treat,” Helen says. “I get to use my nurturing skills, in giving counselors advice on how to handle homesick children or which remedy to use, or just keeping a scared camper company during a lightning storm, drinking tea and telling stories to help eliminate their fear.”
Helen received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Temple University, so she’s one of the few people who have continued to work in their chosen college field. For her, though, the value of her work is in the community she’s become a part of and the impact the PBLC programming has on the children who experience it.
“I can really see how the program affects the children,” she says. “They don’t always like the smell of the farm when they arrive on Monday, but after they experience the animals and farm work, they don’t want to leave on Friday. Simply learning about where food comes from and putting their hands in the soil really enlivens children and plants the seed of shared ownership with the earth and connection with everything around us.”
When she isn’t handling paperwork and phone calls for the PBLC, Helen enjoys traveling around the US and Canada with her husband Cliff. She is also a nature photographer in her spare time, and has had a few exhibitions in the county.
“I find taking pictures allows me to completely surrender to the moment,” she says. “I don’t breath, am not aware of my stance, just focusing, waiting for that second of clarity when nature smiles at me. Nature has so many different faces. You can’t get a bad picture of it.”
Helen’s work will be displayed in Hawthorne Valley Farm Store’s Café Gallery in December.
To learn more about the PBLC Visiting Students Program and Summer Camps, click here. Applications will be available in early December.