Johnston's 15 Minute Field Trips wins $44,000 Champlin grant


What could you do in 15 minutes?

Melissa Guillet, creative director of 15 Minute Field Trips (15MFT), has wrestled with this question for years. Guillet, who worked as a full-time teacher, said the idea started from the amount of time her class had for recess.

“I tried to organize some kind of outdoor exploration during that time,” she remembered.

15MFT officially became a nonprofit in 2019, offering before and after-school programming and a summer camp to connect children and families of all ages to the environment.

In late May, the Johnston-based organization received a $44,000 capital grant from the Champlin Foundation to help with laptop and vehicle costs. Champlin capital grants are given for equipment and facilities costs rather than programming. 15MFT was the only organization based in Johnston to receive funding this year.

This type of grant is rare for 15MFT, which usually receives project-based grants. But, equipment upgrades have proved necessary.

“Right now we're using my personal laptop from 2014 which is completely maxed out,” Guillet said. “It takes me 10 minutes to open a Word file. It's very frustrating”

“We need that computer to keep track of everything and make our videos and do our graphic design and connect with our community,” she added.

Currently, Guillet is using her own used car, which has racked up over 200,000 miles. When traveling to demonstrations and other programs, she has found that the car does not always have enough space.

“The new vehicle will be hybrid,” she said. “It will be brand new, and it'll last us a long time.”

While these improvements may seem mundane on the surface, these grants will ensure events ranging from the Tree Pop-Up Museum and Moth Mimicry run smoothly.

Mixing work and play, participants learn how trees mitigate climate change while drawing, doing leaf rubbings, and participating in neighborhood walks. During Moth Mimicry, they match the cutout moths to paper bark to hide from predators in a musical chairs-style game.

“They're learning evolution. They're learning animal adaptations,” Guillet said. “They’re being creative. They're doing math with the symmetry.”

An art teacher for 17 years, Guillet combines art and nature to help foster belonging for those participating in 15MFT.

“I've always felt very connected to nature, and I feel like you can learn a lot through the arts,” she said. Art “helps us understand the world and help us observe and help us express our feelings.”

The programs also connect children with the opportunity to give back to the community through “citizen science,” which Guillet defined as when “ordinary laypeople collect data for scientists.”

“If we see something unusual, we'll record it and report it to the appropriate people,” she said. “We found the first spotted lantern fly in Providence — so I captured it, photographed it and destroyed it.”

Guillet then contacted the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to alert proper authorities of the invasive species.

15MFT has partnered with local schools and libraries in Providence and northern Rhode Island. For example, in South Providence, Washington Park, and Olneyville, they were able to provide a garden tool shed for residents.

Even then, not all community members know of the resources 15MFT provides, which Guillet hopes will change in the coming weeks. With more community partnerships, she hopes more people will get involved in their advocacy work.

“I'm looking forward to getting a more holistic connection with the community,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Doherty is a summer editorial intern for Beacon Media.


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