by Michael Swisher, Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth & Families and Bill Browning, ARMN Volunteer
Tobin (Toby) Smith was recently selected as a Connect with Kids Champion, an award created by the Arlington County Partnership for Children, Youth & Families as a way to recognize people who go above and beyond in building supportive relationships with young people. The Partnership has been giving out this award since 2004, when Alonso Abugattas was one of the first recipients based on his work as a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center. Abugattas is now the County’s Natural Resources Manager.
Toby was recognized in a ceremony at the Arlington County Board meeting on November 17, 2015. (To view his recognition, watch the following link from minutes 7:50–10:30): http://arlington.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=3006&view_id=2&embed=1&player_width=480&player_height=360&entrytime=2116&stoptime=4075&auto_start=1.)
Toby is an Arlington Regional Master Naturalist who works with Arlington 4-H and has connected with kids since 1988, using nature and fishing as the hook. Starting with a 4-H Gardening Club for children of refugees from Southeast Asia, Toby then formed a 4-H Fishing Club for ten children ages eight through ten. He worked with that group until they graduated from high school.
Fishing and gardening activities allowed Toby to teach leadership and environmental stewardship. But as the club members got older, he found that they were often teaching him about friendship and other life lessons. He stays in contact with many of them, who are now raising children of their own. And Toby continues to connect with kids––and connect them to nature––through the 4-H Junior Naturalists clubs.
Arlington resident Danielle Werchowsky and her son Ben nominated Toby for the award. Ben is in the fishing club and Danielle has accompanied Toby on many fishing trips, witnessing the impact on her son. “Toby takes the kids past their comfort zone to try new things like eating insects, touching a worm, or fishing,” she says. “He has a knack for connecting with kids.”