By Leah Chiappino
The Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven has been connecting Long Islanders with nature since its inception in 2015. Setauket resident Patricia Paladines, who recently joined the board of directors, pledges to continue fostering that connection and hopes to expand the organization’s outreach to traditionally underserved populations.
“Patricia is a naturalist, environmentalist, photographer and educator who has taught science and nature to students of every age from elementary school to college,” said Tom Pelletier, CEED board chair, in a statement. “Paladines’ photographs of people, wildlife and landscapes have been exhibited all over Long Island, she has a master’s degree in educational psychology, and she brings a wealth of skills and experience to CEED’s mission.”
Born in Ecuador, Paladines moved to Chicago with her parents when she was 3 years old. She relocated to New York in 1985 where she began a career in photography and design. Paladines worked as a research assistant in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architecture at the New-York Historical Society, while doing some graphic camera work for Estée Lauder.
“I used to do a lot of black-and-white photography back in the ’80s and ’90s,” she said. “I did work in the darkroom, so I think my background as an educator kind of stems from that: Finding images, and finding things that interest me to share with others.”
Her work has been featured at the Islip Art Museum, The Art Guild of Port Washington, Tabler art gallery at Stony Brook University and the New-York Historical Society.
In 1995, Paladines took a job as executive assistant to the vice president of ocean conservation at the National Audubon Society in Islip, where she said she discovered the true beauty of Long Island’s outdoors, as well as a general appreciation
“When I started working for the Audubon Society, I realized that Long Island was much more than shopping malls and expressways, which is what a lot of people think when they live in the city,” she said. “[My work] showed me the wild side of Long Island, and the birds and the ocean. Having grown up in Chicago, this was very different for me.”
Her enthusiasm led her to work at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, first through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, where she developed a program called Aspiring Latin American Scientists in 2000. She was responsible for leading naturalist tours, coordinating with college interns and giving public presentations. Having worked in environmental careers for some time, Paladines noticed Hispanic/Latinx communities were largely underrepresented in the field, even within the large environmental community in activities such as birding or hiking. She also coordinated presentations on various types of marine life to be done in Spanish.
She went on to initiate a partnership between the aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute after the aquarium decided not to renew an education contract with CCE a few years later. While managing the BOI program she received a grant from National Grid for an ocean literacy project. Paladines said with the grant she was able to develop workshops for teachers and schools, and one of the collaborations was with an English Language Learner class at Longwood High School filled with students from various countries who spoke different languages. She said it gave students the opportunity to “strengthen their English while learning about wildlife and the ocean.”
It is this kind of outreach Paladines wants to bring to CEED, encouraging the Hispanic community along the South Shore to utilize the facility and working on deploying “teams” from Bellport High School to build environmental leadership and to teach students how to bring it into their own communities.
In addition to her chosen fields, Paladines is married to ecologist and author Carl Safina. She also has a daughter, Alexandra Srp.
Pelletier said Paladines is an asset to the board.
“I mean, to put it bluntly, the environmental movement and nature center movement and all that tends to be pretty white,” Pelletier said. “We’re trying to do our part to change that. One of the reasons that we thought Patricia would be a really good fit for our board is that she’s done that kind of thing before. I’m kind of excited about having her on our board because that is one of our goals to do that: Make that kind of outreach and bring more people of color to our programs.”
Paladines’ appointment to the board comes as CEED attempts to get off the ground with expanding programming. A little more than three years ago, the nonprofit signed agreements with the Town of Brookhaven and with Suffolk County to use over 60 acres of nature preserve and green-space land, which includes the Washington Lodge estate where CEED is located.