Anna Copplestone ’06, ’15
As a kid, Anna Copplestone spent every available minute playing in the dirt. “That was all I wanted to do,” she says.
That obsession for the natural world didn’t dissipate as Copplestone grew into an adult, but she couldn’t picture it translating into a profession. “I never thought of it as a career path,” she says.
A few years after graduating from Hollins with an interdisciplinary major in psychology and social work, Copplestone married Jon Guy Owens, director of the Hollins Outdoor Program. For a decade, they lived in a campus farmhouse, where they raised their son, Henry.
Copplestone worked a series of jobs at Hollins, from audiovisual technician to help-desk coordinator. Working in an office wasn’t ideal; at first, she got regular headaches. “That went away with time,” she says.
Copplestone earned a second bachelor’s degree from Hollins in 2015 in environmental studies. “That just opened up lots of ideas for me,” she says.
In her free time, as always, Copplestone lived outdoors. She volunteered with the Roanoke Tree Steward program, created a campus tree guide, served as founding chair of the Hollins Tree Campus USA program, served on Hollins’ Environmental Advisory Board, and supervised Hollins’ community garden.
She found this work so rewarding that an idea about making a career change was taking shape just as Copplestone received a call from retired Horizon program director Celia McCormick, who was, at the time, on the Roanoke Community Garden Association board.
McCormick asked Copplestone to join the board of the nonprofit, which runs five community gardens in the city of Roanoke and offers regular horticulture classes. When Copplestone learned the association was hiring a new executive director, she was much more interested in that.
Copplestone applied, got the job, and it’s basically her dream come true. “This has been huge for me,” she says. “It’s something that I didn’t see coming, but that I was definitely beginning to look for. “
Her first day of work was the first day of February this year, a mere 12 days before the yearly garden registrations began. “There was not a minute to lose,” says Copplestone, who moved with her family to a house in Troutville last year. “Very quickly I had to figure out the process of enrolling gardeners, getting them signed off and making sure that they had everything they needed, and quickly familiarizing myself with our different garden locations,”
A garden plot costs $30 per season. The association offers waivers for gardeners who can’t afford that. “We’ve got gardeners who are literally trying to feed themselves,” Copplestone says. “Some people are trying to spend more time outside with their kids and so they bring their kids to the gardens. We have older gardeners with walkers.”
Depending on the time of year, Copplestone might spend as much as a quarter of her work hours outside. The rest of the time is spent doing things like fundraising, promoting the gardens to other nonprofit organizations and community groups, coordinating volunteers, and planning educational programming.
Being in the actual gardens is her favorite part of the job, she says. “I love seeing what people are growing.”
—Beth JoJack ’98
Summer camp forever
Jenna Milton ’13
Jenna Milton has taken about a gazillion pictures of Zephyr, the first baby horse born at Ekone Ranch in 11 years.
Milton works as an office assistant and horse manager for Sacred Earth Foundation, the nonprofit in Eastern Washington that oversees the 1,138 acres that make up Ekone Ranch. Camps for kids and workshops for adults are held on the land, and it’s also the site of a green cemetery.
Milton, a native of Corvallis, Oregon, first came to Ekone as an 11-year-old camper. Back then, it wasn’t unusual to see a foal crossing the meadow. Things changed in 2007, when the ranch’s founder died unexpectedly. “So there was a lot of other priorities between his death and trying to figure out how to keep going until we felt ready to actually have a horse baby again,” Milton explains.
The foal, then, symbolizes stability for Ekone. Devotees of the ranch have not only kept its gates open, they’re also running a capital campaign to raise $2 million for much-needed renovations to the aging camp buildings and to build new facilities for the next generation of campers.
Maybe those campers will be like Milton, a young girl with an interest in horses that transformed into an obsession at Ekone. Eleven-year-old Milton found the majestic animals much more accepting than her adolescent peers back home. “It doesn’t matter what brand of jeans you wear to horses,” she says.
Milton attended camp most years until she graduated from high school, when she got to work at Ekone for the entire summer as an intern.
As a Hollins student, Milton took riding classes to keep her horse fever at bay until she could return to Eastern Washington during the summers. “It was my dream to work here someday,” Milton says of Ekone. “But also, we’re a small nonprofit, so I wasn’t really sure that was going to happen.”
After graduating from Hollins with a degree in studio art, Milton spent another summer at Ekone before hitting the open ocean with her boyfriend (also an Ekone alumnus). They spent 16 months sailing to New Zealand and later moved to Australia before parting ways.
Even after those international adventures, Milton’s passion for Ekone didn’t dampen. When she returned to the United States, she headed to the ranch to work as summer staff and then stayed on as a volunteer for a year. After putting off her departure several times, Milton had finally set a date to leave the ranch and start job hunting.
A few weeks before she was to leave, the executive director called Milton into her office. She needed help running Ekone while coordinating the capital campaign. Milton agreed to come aboard. “I don’t have $30,000 to give to this place,” she says, “but I do have my time and myself and everything that I have learned.”
—Beth JoJack ’98