May 31, 2016 / News
Five months ago, a handful of our civil engineers decided to embark upon the dedicated task of studying for their […]
Two weeks ago, employees from LandDesign’s Charlotte office built a learning garden for Idlewild Elementary School, designed as part of a firm-wide partnership with REAL School Gardens. The organization is a labor of love for LandDesign Partner Dale Stewart who is creating a lasting and positive impact on two of the most compelling issues that matter today: education and the environment.
Even before Dale was a father of four with two grandkids and more on the way, environmental stewardship projects that benefit children have long held a special place in his life. “I think the kids are our future.”
It all began 30 years ago with a competition by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to create a new wilderness camping experience for its summer program. LandDesign won the competition, in part by deftly determining the location of the undisclosed 2,000-acre site. “I think they were impressed, in part, by our sleuthing skills.”
The new camp, which now serves 300 kids a week, typifies Dale’s passion and LandDesign’s mission. “This is one of the places we’ve helped create that truly matters; to our community and to the kids who go there and the memories they create for a lifetime.”
Land Stewardship Matters.
Early in his career as a civil engineer, Dale developed an attitude of servant leadership, focusing his community involvements on advancing environmental stewardship, from member of the first board of directors for the Catawba Lands Conservancy to the board of the Conservation Trust of North Carolina. Later, he was involved in the creation of the Catawba River District (CRD) that sought out and enticed developers to create sustainable projects. “Our goal was to spur land development that was more respectful of the natural environment.”
When the recession hit, the CRD organization pivoted from development to environmental education, transforming to the Green Teacher Network. Working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, they created learning gardens and orchestrated teacher workshops. “The idea was to engage kids in an experiential education that got them out of the classroom and gave them exposure to how food actually grows, and to inspire teachers to use the gardens.”
In July 2016, the organization merged with Washington, D.C.-based REAL School Gardens, a nationally-recognized nonprofit that creates learning gardens at low-income elementary schools and provides teachers with the resources to incorporate the outdoor classroom into their overall curriculum to improve academic achievement and lift up poor performing schools. Dale is now on the national board of REAL School Gardens and serves as board chair for the Carolinas Region.
Community Service Matters.
At about the same time, LandDesign began offering a new benefit of one paid day off a year for employees to give back to the community and, as a firm, chose to partner with REAL School Gardens to deploy all of its assets, from design expertise to sweat equity.
The firm’s skill-based pro bono support includes designing the outdoor garden classrooms and working closely with REAL School Gardens’ design/build team, to providing office assistance, event support and social media development.
Last month, employees from the Charlotte office joined other volunteers for a day-long “Big Dig” at Idlewild Elementary, a high-poverty, high achieving neighborhood school of 1,100 students that was recently named the best magnet school in the nation. The outdoor garden they built will help Idlewild students for years to come learn how to grow vegetables and eat nutritionally while supporting the school’s STEM and language arts curriculums.
Dale views LandDesign’s partnership with REAL School Gardens as a legacy project for the firm. “At LandDesign, we apply our skills and knowledge in service to both our clients and the community to create places that matter. That means not just turning dirt and building the next project, but creating successful schools that improve the quality of life for an entire community.”
Long term relationships and mentoring staff matter.
Beyond his social good, Dale is a soft-spoken, yet powerful, force for creating relationships and people that matter for LandDesign.
“One of the things I’m pretty proud of in my career, and encourage our staff to aspire to, is cultivating long-term client relationships.” He points to his association with the Harris family and Crescent Resources that, over 30 years, has produced projects such as Ballantyne and Phillips Place, a groundbreaking project in the mid 1990s that was among the first true mixed-use developments. Currently, his work with Crescent Resources and Lincoln Harris includes a 1,400-acre regional development involving one of the last greenfield sites in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County.
Dale shares the wisdom he’s gained from his 40-plus year career to help others at the firm mature in theirs. “You can make a perfectly good living by sitting in your office all day and turning out plans. But, your sense of satisfaction in your career is going to be greatly enhanced if you become engaged in your industry and your community. Not only will you be making the community a better place, but you’ll meet and forge relationships with a lot more people you may never have met otherwise.”