LEEF from the Ground Up: Onward and Upward

Updated: Sep 24, 2018

Photos by @LilianFNorris

Lilian Norris

May 14, 2018

When LEEF first germinated from its seed, as just a collective thought in the minds of a group of concerned educators, no one could anticipate how high this tree would grow. Thirty-eight years from that original spark, it is still growing strong.

Digging into LEEF’s Roots

One of LEEF’s founding members, Bob Smith, recalled how he and Audrey Swindal, affectionately referred to as Mother Nature, used to work together at the Polk Environmental Education Resource Center in the late 1970s. They were both trained in the national Project Learning Tree (PLT) program, which served as a basic curriculum from which to draw from for nature programs. To supplement their toolboxes for environmental teaching, they used to regularly attend various educational conferences. They sensed, however, that there was a lack of emphasis in environmental education (EE) statewide, and they felt that a professional organization dedicated to environmental educators in the state of Florida was needed. They reached out to Jim Phillips at the Department of Environmental Education in Tallahassee at the time. Jim also thought their idea should be acted upon. So, they put their heads together and made a list of all their environmental contacts in Florida. Then they invited them to Mill Dam Lake in Ocala for a weekend EE workshop and to discuss the possibility of forming a state organization. When everyone got together, the consensus was that, “Yes, we should do this.”

“Seventy-six souls with a common goal” took part in its development on that cold and rainy weekend in 1981. A couple years later, in 1983, LEEF was officially born and chartered by the State of Florida as the League of Environmental Educators in Florida, Inc. For a poetic take on LEEF’s origins, be sure to read the lyrics of Bob Smith’s Ode on a Florida LEEF.

Bob Smith was not only one of those key founding individuals, but acted as LEEF’s second president, as well as many other board positions over the years, just as so many others have taken their turns also. Being a teacher and a musician, Bob could always be found at the annual conference campfires in those early years, playing guitar and singing many Will McLean songs of old time Florida with other warm characters like Dale Crider and Guy Warner.

Branching Out

Over the years, LEEF has grown and has continued to spread out its boughs for environmental literacy. LEEF has recently undergone more capacity building and is in a renewal phase. With the formation of an outreach initiative, The Florida Environmental Literacy Working Group (FELWG), an informal group of representatives from many environmental education related agencies and professional organizations in Florida, its hope is to promote better stewardship in our state.

Growing New Leaves

LEEF has recently updated its mission statement, expanded its development goals, and created a new website and logo. The league continues to bring in new members and form new partnerships. Earlier this year in March of 2018, LEEF held another a very successful conference in St. Petersburg, this time in collaboration with the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA). The conference brought in over 200 participants from 14 states.

Having experienced LEEF’s recent conferences myself, I am excited by its renewed growth and the vigor of new members.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

– Ryunosuke Satoro

Leafing Out – Connect with LEEF

Adapting from Satoro’s metaphor above:

Individually, we are each a leaf. Collectively, we form the canopy.

Just as leaves provide energy and nourishment to a tree, our members sustain LEEF and its mission through dues and involvement. The turkey oak leaf has been the symbol of LEEF since its inception. Every one of its leaves is unique and brings its own individuality to the collective shape of the tree, just like each member does with our organization.

We are made up of informal and formal environmental educators, PreK-12 teachers, homeschool moms and dads, university professors, students, educators from nature centers, zoos, aquariums, and environmental agencies, concerned citizens and organizations.

As you help LEEF grow by becoming a member, LEEF can help you grow as well. The benefits of LEEF membership are many: networking, professional development opportunities, news, discounts and more. With LEEF membership, you can also feel good about contributing to promoting environmental literacy in Florida.

· If you are already a LEEF member, please get involved. Engage with your regional representatives, participate in events, share EE resources and spread the word.

· If you are not a member yet, and have a passion for our environment, want to learn more about our natural world or just want to get connected with more like-minded individuals, please join us!

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Founded in 1983, the League of Environmental Educators in Florida is the professional association for individuals and organizations dedicated to the cause of environmental education in Florida. We are the state affiliate for North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), an organization that brings together those interested in the study and enjoyment of our natural world and one that has promoted excellence in environmental education throughout North America and the world for over four decades. 


The League of Environmental Educators in Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

© 2018-2019 by the League of Environmental Educators in Florida.