A group of school children walk through a tunnel under the Great Maya Reef at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.A Commitment to Community

Constantly attuned to local needs, Audubon Nature Institute shapes its myriad programs to benefit our community at all levels, from providing much-needed educational resources to nurturing economic development.

Audubon educators collaborate with public school teachers and administrators to help fill a science education void created by funding shortfalls. Afterschool programs, teacher training sessions, field trip enrichment programs and family learning opportunities are staged at all of Audubon’s public facilities, including the Zoo’s Jeri and Robert Nims Community Center. Outreach vehicles, learning kits, and other initiatives extend Audubon’s teaching arm directly into area classrooms—programs like the Internet-based WILD-LAB curriculum or Coast to Classroom widen that reach still more.

Ensuring that all community members enjoy access to Audubon Nature Institute is an ongoing priority achieved through summer discounts made available to students in financially disadvantaged schools; minority hiring initiatives; vendor policies that ensure opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Businesses (EDB); and celebration of the city’s great cultural diversity through such Audubon-hosted events as Soul Fest, Black History Month activities and the Asian Pacific-American Festival.

Audubon Nature Institute continues to play a vital role in the local economy as well. With more than $250 million in capital investments, a $40 million annual budget, a workforce of more than 600 employees, and the generation of $19 million in local and state sales taxes each year, Audubon has an annual economic impact of $330 million. This is an amazing return on investments made in the Audubon vision by generations of supporters—and a remarkable accomplishment for an organization that, unlike its peers, receives little or no city or state funding for day-to-day operations.

Hurricane Katrina

A little girl smiles and holds a piece of paper that says "Welcome Home".During the Storm while every Audubon facility successfully executed hurricane plans that had been in the making, the wrath of Hurricane Katrina went far beyond the forecast. The storm’s colossal impact on Audubon facilities, and Audubon staff, will be felt for years to come.

In addition to causing substantial physical destruction, it wiped out all Audubon operating revenues and thus forced the layoffs of nearly 600 employees. Nonetheless, heroic efforts were made by staff who, while suffering great personal losses, never wavered in ensuring the survival of Audubon animals, our facilities, our mission and our future.

By late September, with Audubon’s administrative offices temporarily relocated to Baton Rouge, work was under way on emergency fund-raising, restoration of facilities, and ample paperwork for insurance and FEMA claims. But the big picture—and the goal it inspired—encompassed far more than just the recovery of Audubon.

In addition to emphasizing environmental education and wildlife conservation, the mission tenets of Audubon Nature Institute have long included a commitment to providing wonderful places for families to enjoy being together. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when it seemed as if nothing in our crippled city would ever again be as it was before, this Audubon role became more vital than ever. Bringing families back was critical to the city’s recovery, as was encouraging the return of tourists, who drive the New Orleans economy. Audubon’s reopening could help achieve those objectives—as a sign of returning normalcy and a catalyst for other comebacks.