Emily Wernsdorfer of York, Penn. spent the past six months completing her University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Capstone project with Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, a nonprofit camp in Little Rock specializing in hospitality, outreach, and sustainability. The project entailed creating an environmental education program for Ferncliff’s new Eco Center. 

Emily’s project is the first program developed specifically for use in the Eco Center. The project includes a comprehensive environmental education curriculum with 24 interactive activities. Groups that visit Ferncliff, such as church youth groups and classes on school field trips, can use this curriculum to learn more about environmental education. 

Emily compiled suggestions for the curriculum and activities through research on existing environmental programs and through surveys, interviews, and focus groups with a variety of stakeholders who may be interested in visiting the Eco Center in the future. These stakeholders include teachers, environmental educators, church employees from several denominations, and camp professionals. 

“Emily's project gathered insights from a variety of constituencies so that we could better invest our time developing the environmental education programs most wanted by our user groups. We are now in a much better position to invest our limited resources in environmental sustainability programs that will bring maximum benefit to campers, students, and guests,” said David Gill, Executive Director of Ferncliff. 

The Eco Center at Ferncliff is the perfect location for adults and youth alike to learn more about the environment and how to live more sustainable lifestyles. It is a 5,300 square foot structure, built almost entirely through volunteer labor and locally available materials. Its walls are made up of 1,200 bales of straw covered with three coats of natural hydraulic lime, inside and out, making it the largest straw bale walled structure in the country. Among its numerous green features are a dozen 250W solar panels that power the building, solar chimneys for ventilation, rice hull insulation in the walls and attic, and a wood-fired furnace that pumps hot water through tubing under the floor to heat the building. 

“We built one of the most creatively green buildings in the country, but needed a curriculum so it could become a fantastic classroom for school groups and summer campers. Emily's project is exactly the resource our church and school leaders were requesting,” said David Gill.

The Capstone project is the third of three major field projects in the Clinton School curriculum. Emily graduated in May 2014 and is finishing her Capstone project to fulfill her graduation requirements. 

About Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center

Ferncliff is a nonprofit Presbyterian-related summer camp and retreat facility located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Since 1937 Ferncliff has provided programming and lodging for summer camps, meetings, workshops, retreats, and conferences. Ferncliff accommodates groups of all sizes and affiliations, as its mission includes a dedicated interest in hospitality, outreach, and sustainability. Ferncliff strives to be as environmentally friendly as possible, including dozens of green initiatives in construction, building maintenance, and programming.

More information about Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center can be found at 

About the Clinton School of Public Service

The first school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service (MPS) degree, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service gives students the knowledge and experience to further their careers in the areas of nonprofit, governmental, volunteer, or private sector service. The school embodies President Clinton’s vision of building leadership in civic engagement and enhancing people’s capacity to work across disciplinary, racial, ethnic and geographical boundaries.

More information about the Clinton School can be found at

Editors note: Ferncliff was among the four new service sites for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program announced last fall, and is the first YAV site at a camp or conference center.