Master Naturalist, Rhonda Brady on school bus full of kids
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A big white school bus decorated with colorful flowers and butterflies pulls into the parking lot. Ms. Mariposa has arrived! The doors of the mobile classroom opens and out comes the “Butterfly Lady”. Smiling and energetic, Rhonda Brady alights from the driver’s seat and nimbly comes down the stairs, drawing children and adults alike. Brady, like the butterflies she champions, flies from schools to nursing homes to community groups spreading the news about the importance of pollinators.

It began with a chance meeting. While attending a gardening program, she met a woman and her daughter. They were not attendees of the program but were tagging butterflies nearby. The rest as they say is history. Brady was “hooked” and learned everything she could about Monarch butterflies, other pollinators and their habitats. “I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention to the program, but I was intrigued by the process of tagging Monarchs and the science behind it” said Ms. Brady.

A Master Gardener since 1996, she added to her knowledge by completing the Master Naturalist training in 2018. “The Master Naturalist title gave me another level of expertise I needed to engage others in protecting pollinators” Ms. Brady said. “What I do is more Master Naturalist than Master Gardener.”

In the past 2 years alone, Brady has given more than 700 hours of her time, countless miles on Ms. Mariposa and presented programming to more than 5,000 kids and their families to further her goal to make west central Illinois, the IL Monarch Waystation Capital. Asked why she gives so many hours, she replied, “Because of the satisfaction I receive when I see someone “get it”. When they realize they can make a difference no matter what their circumstances are.”

Ms. Brady further says, “Reaching the goal of planting a 150 million stems of milkweed by 2038 (Illinois Monarch Project) is going to take more than just kids. We are going to need to work with all groups of all ages to increase habitat”. So how can you help? Plant milkweed or nectar plants. Urge officials to change zoning laws to allow for yards to grow native plants. Don’t rake your leaves. And check out Monarch Watch.org for more ideas.