A new outreach vehicle for ENP

My goal with this campaign is to find the support necessary to enable my non-profit, Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3), to acquire an all-electric pickup truck or SUV capable of towing a 3600 lb. outreach education trailer. I hope you will continue reading and consider supporting me in this effort.

A bit of history.
The course of my life was set early on as a child growing up on a farm in the country near Hendersonville, NC. It was there that I developed a passionate curiosity and love for nature and all living things. Then, in Mr. Jackson’s 6th-grade classroom, I learned about the energy sources that power our society…and I also learned that these energy sources were creating pollution that was directly harming nature, wildlife, and our health. It was also in sixth grade that I learned about, and was captivated by, new technological solutions to the energy and pollution problems we were facing – These included clean, locally-sourced, renewable energy and electric vehicles powered by that energy.

Ever since the inspiration of those early lessons, I have devoted my life to learning, teaching, and inspiring others about the beauty and wonder of our natural world, our connections to nature, and how we can use cleaner energy and transportation sources to better conserve and protect the environment that we are so intricately connected to and depend on for our very survival.

This calling prompted me to found my non-profit organization, Earthshine Nature Programs (ENP), in 2010. ENP is a true nonprofit organization in that it is 100% volunteer-owned and operated, with all programming income and donations being used to cover the cost of our nonprofit operations, in-house and outreach educational programming, student renewable energy projects, and our wildlife rescue and rehabilitation operations. In other words - no one at ENP collects a salary. I truly believe that ENP's outreach programs throughout Western North Carolina have inspired thousands of people of all ages to better understand, conserve, and protect our wildlife and our shared natural environment.

For over a decade I have also worked as a naturalist and science educator at Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum, where I teach students ages 10 through their early 20s, how they can work to better understand and care for the natural world and themselves. My Trails students directly benefit from my nonprofit programs and projects since the ENP classroom is also their classroom - it is a win-win situation for all populations.

The pandemic of the last few years prevented ENP from presenting our outreach programs, which are the heart of ENP and also the major source of financial support for our outreach operations. Our income dried up – but our resolve to continue did not.

In 2022, with the help of some dedicated volunteers - and several very generous donors, I realized a long-held dream: to develop a mobile outreach classroom trailer system that would carry our animal ambassadors and educational materials to programming locations across the region.

This mobile outreach classroom experience connects all of ENP's environmental and wildlife conservation teachings with our renewable energy and EV education themes. It contains a state-of-the-art rooftop solar array coupled with a battery storage and energy management system. This powerful solar microgrid system not only provides electricity to operate all of the mobile classroom's animal and habitat systems, educational tools, and climate control systems – but it is also a wonderful, STEM teaching tool for all our outreach program participants as well as our Trails students.
In fact, it was one of my Trails students who inspired the name for this magical mobile classroom: the SS NaSA PoD (Science Steve's Nature and Science Adventure Pod of Discovery), or just the PoD, for short.

Many thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of volunteer time from some of ENP’s most generous project supporters and volunteers have been invested in this unique project, and it is now complete and operational. Since the PoD’s completion, ENP has presented many exciting and inspiring outreach programs at camps, schools, festivals, and more, with the PoD performing perfectly and exactly as we engineered it.

Read the history of the SS NaSA PoD mobile outreach classroom project on our blog via this direct link: https://earthshinenature.wordpress.com/2022/02/09/the-enp-mobile-outreach-classroom-project/

Watch this time-lapse video following the construction of the SS NaSA PoD.

Below are a few photos of the PoD.

Nature class at Lake Toxaway Nature Park NC.

Nature class at Camp Illahee in Brevard, NC

Learning all about solar energy systems in Brevard, NC.

Snakes at Rise and Shine in Brevard, NC.

Why ENP needs an electric truck or SUV
The foundation of the PoD is a 1995 Casita RV. The state-of-the-art solar panels and their aluminum and steel support structure, lithium-ion battery bank, and related microgrid support equipment, as well as the ENP educational materials and education animals - have added considerable weight to the Casita, which now weighs in fully loaded at 3600+ lbs. - therefore, it requires a powerful vehicle to tow it safely.

Currently, and out of necessity, I am using a personal vehicle - a gas-guzzling 2013 Honda Pilot that is on its last legs, er, wheels – to pull the PoD to outreach programs. However, this old Honda is not well suited for towing something as heavy as the PoD and it struggles to pull it up hills, is unreliable, and is very expensive for ENP to operate. Its use as a tow vehicle for the PoD also undermines one of the core messages of the ENP mission statement:

"... the promotion and expansion of domestically produced, distributed, renewable energy resources, as well as electric vehicles and their infrastructure.."

But using the old Honda to tow the PoD was not the way it was supposed to happen. Early in the construction of the PoD, an individual had promised to support ENP with a donation of an all-electric truck or SUV that we would then use to tow the PoD. Sadly, that promised resource did not materialize and therefore, ENP is stuck in a bit of a vehicular conundrum with a wonderfully new and magical mobile outreach classroom - but without a reliable, safe, and educational outreach vehicle to tow it.

This is why we feel that the Honda must be replaced with a new or lightly used tow vehicle, and we would like this new utility vehicle to be an all-electric truck or SUV.

But why electric?

  • Operational Cost: In addition to being far more environmentally friendly (and therefore supporting our mission statement), electric vehicles are far less expensive to fuel and maintain than traditional vehicles. By using all-electric outreach vehicles fueled primarily by electricity generated by the ENP classroom's student-built solar array - they become almost entirely free to fuel and drive. ENP can then redirect the thousands of dollars per year - that would have been used for gas/oil/maintenance on a legacy vehicle such as the old Honda - into enhanced outreach programming offerings and service projects in the local and regional communities.

  • STEM Education: One essential aspect of using an electric vehicle to tow the PoD will be that it will serve as an outstanding teaching tool when coupled with the PoD and its solar-powered microgrid. During outreach programs, the PoD's electric tow vehicle can be charged from the PoD's microgrid to demonstrate the practical value of renewable energy and electric vehicle technologies and how they may play a part in helping everyone become more energy independent by using domestically-produced renewable energy sources. The pairing of the PoD with an all-electric tow vehicle will be yet another outstanding STEM teaching tool in ENP's environmental education tool belt.

  • The Basics: Getting back to our basic first need and the primary reason for this fundraising campaign - electric vehicles have far more torque and power than traditional vehicles - so towing the PoD to any of our outreach programs within our local mountainous community and our entire service area will not be an issue.

  • The Earthshine Nature Community Assistance Program (ENCAP): After we acquire an EV truck or SUV we will establish this program and use this very capable vehicle to provide volunteer assistance to those organizations, individuals, and families, in need within our local community that need emergency or remote temporary power sources and/or who do not have access to truck-type utility vehicles. Projects we will assist with may include but are not limited to; environmental and wildlife conservation, study, rescue, and monitoring as well as storm/disaster assistance, environmental and historical cleanups and restoration initiatives, transport of home/farm/garden/food supplies, etc. ENCAP will support local service organizations at events, and multi-day loan to remote construction sites (with priority to nonprofit projects), and will be invaluable for providing power to organizations and individuals in emergency power outage situations such as during severe weather events. This program will be possible because these vehicles are essentially giant rolling batteries/microgrids with integrated 120/240 volt AC and 5-12 volt DC electric power provisioning systems that allow them to be used as mobile power sources/generators providing mobile and/or emergency power to almost anywhere it is needed by simply plugging in an extension cord. As our future electric utility vehicle and the existing SS NaSA PoD will and are fueled via locally-sourced, solar-generated electricity - they are free to fuel and drive. Therefore, we will transfer these huge cost savings to the recipient and offer this service free of charge to those in need within the Transylvania County community. To make the ENCAP program a reality we will partner with other local nonprofits and community service/aid organizations in order to connect with and bring this service to those in need.

  • The SS NaSA PoD: Getting back to the issue of the PoD, many thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of volunteer time, from some of ENP’s most generous project supporters and volunteers, have been invested in this unique project - and now the PoD is complete, and in service to the community. Since the PoD’s completion, ENP has presented many exciting and inspiring outreach programs at camps, schools, festivals, and more, with the PoD performing perfectly and exactly as we engineered it…but sadly, as outlined before - the vehicle that ENP has been using to pull the PoD is its primary limiting factor.
For all these reasons we feel that the Honda must be replaced by an all-electric truck or SUV as the PoD's towing and outreach education vehicle and ENP's future community assist vehicle.

Therefore, to make this a reality for ENP and for our wonderful mountain community, I am humbly and respectfully asking for your assistance to enable ENP to acquire/purchase an all-electric truck/SUV. We simply cannot make this happen without your support.

Please join us in our mission to be better stewards of the only environment we have and be of better service to those in need in our community - and make a donation to Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3). And please help us spread the word by sharing this campaign with others. Together, we will make a difference.

For more detailed information on this fundraiser, please visit this campaign's main page on our website or use this direct link:
THANK YOU - from Steve and the ENP volunteer crew!

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Steve O'Neil
Benton Hills, NC
Earthshine Nature Programs
Registered nonprofit
Donations are typically 100% tax deductible in the US.

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