Passion | Duty | Service
For many of us, it's the view of a lifetime: Green, rolling, and renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life and beautiful mountain ranges forged by several mountain-building plate collisions some 480 million years ago. Mary Spindler, the Partnerships Coordinator for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT), again stares down at the beauty before her. For Mary, it's a familiar vantage point, yet she still can not look away. The vast and beautiful Appalachian Mountains, her favorite place to connect with nature.
"I am obsessed with the Appalachian Mountains, all the way up from Georgia to Maine," Mary said.
"I know they are not the starkest and incredibly high mountain region, but they have so much history and story to them, and I can feel it when I'm out there."
Hiking is a pastime for the Spindler family, and they've enjoyed its fruits all over the world. The Spindler family is a family of service, as Mary's father had served in the Army for as long as she can remember before retiring in 2018. As military families are accustomed to traveling, Mary was born on USAG Heidelberg Army Base in Heidelberg, Germany. There, Mary made her very first connections with nature. Her mother was an avid hiker and camper, taking her children on eight or 9-mile hiking trails nearly every weekend—this nurtured love and general curiosity of nature in Mary that she holds until this day.
"I was always outside in the German woods. They were those dark fairytale woods where you can build a different world."
The Spindlers moved forth and back between Virginia and Germany until Mary was nine years old. Soon, the Spindler family would be stationed at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base in Pulaski, MO. Now, Mary had experienced nature's variety of landscapes from Germany, Virginia, and Missouri, and she and her brothers were intrigued by the diversity of the natural world.
Mary had no idea how much her father's commitment to duty and her mother's love for the outdoors would form her worldview and push her toward her purpose. Now she reflects on her mother and father, recognizing them as the most significant influence on who she is today.
"I feel like its very cliche to say my parents, but they are (Mary's most significant influence)."
"I'm one of four, and I'm the only girl, so my mom and I got very close growing up, and that love for the outdoors and hiking, all of that came from her."
If her passions came from her mother, the urge to do something to protect what she loved undoubtedly came from her father. "I'm so much like my dad, and the life he chose for himself and his family made me who I am."
Military service again provided Mary the opportunity to explore different landscapes, as her parents moved to Hawaii when she went off to college as an English major at the University of Missouri. She would visit them between summer and winter breaks and, in Spindler fashion, would enjoy hikes with her mother as she had done in Germany all those years ago. The move helped Mary narrow down what she wanted to do, combining her major in English with a minor in Geology.
"It wasn't until we moved to Hawaii that I realized I was going to put my passion into this."
Mary finished college as her family was set to move back to Virginia. There, Mary began looking for the right fit to exercise her passion within a profession, eventually striking a position as NVCT's new Partnerships Coordinator, where she could make a meaningful difference in a field she felt was of very high importance. "Something that really stuck out to me about NVCT when I was looking to get into this field after graduation was how local the effort was," Mary said.
"My generation is very concerned about climate change... but it's so 'big idea' you never know how to approach being an advocate of change other than recycling, but that's not enough. That's what I loved about NVCT. I could actually see an organization that was making changes locally, and that all leads up to the bigger picture."
Mary understood that grassroots efforts are where we cultivate change. NVCT's mission to protect the natural, historical, and cultural values of Northern Virginia resonated in such a way that her father's sense of duty within her found a place to bloom.
"If we're not doing it, it will be gone, and we'll miss it before we realize it, and that's just not enough." Mary feels the same about climate change, recognizing it as the existential crisis of our lifetime.
"What else matters in the long-term? What other big-picture fight is more important? If we don't have an earth to live on anymore, if we don't have a space to survive, then none of these problems that are currently above climate change will even exist."
Acknowledging that everyone must do their part, Mary believes that partnerships with like-minded organizations will be pivotal to increasing NVCT's impact in 2022.
"I see us and want us to really expand and lean into these partnerships with different community organizers and foundations in our area. Especially within our IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) space. Obviously, that's a very important thing to me and something I work very closely in right now," Mary said.
"I just see partnerships as the thing that will open up a thousand other opportunities for us by way of interacting with people and finding out where there is a need. When we know where the need is, we can fill it."