Jill Hayden is our newest full-time staff member! She is filling in the role of Education Director, as our previous Education Director Callie has parted ways. She will miss relaxing on the dock to take in the sunsets the most. We appreciate all that Callie has done for the foundation during her six years here, and we wish her the best of luck with her future endeavors.
Read below to “meet” our newest Education Director, Jill Hayden!
What is your role within the Pigeon Key Foundation?
As Director of Education, I have the privilege of working with various schools, institutions, and fellow educators to bring people to our facilities and experience the wonders of this historic and secluded island paradise. I work side by side with the entire Pigeon Key staff to plan, coordinate and deliver hands-on programming, activities, and excursions to all of our participants year-round. As a full-time staff member, I am also a caretaker of the island and participate in all necessary tasks needed to keep things running smoothly around here. During the summer months, I switch gears to Camp Director and am responsible for ensuring that all our campers are properly registered, equipped, and ready for a week of fun in the sun!
What is your background?
I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania surrounded by rolling hills and an abundance of freshwater, but since I was a little girl vacationing to the New Jersey coastline with my family, I always felt a strong draw to the ocean. This fascination never left, so I decided to take the plunge and pursue marine science as a career! I received a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science with a Marine Biology concentration from the University of Delaware, and upon graduating in 2018, I was shortly after hired on as an education intern by none other than the Pigeon Key Foundation! After my internship, I headed far north to Alaska to work for the Sitka Conservation Society where I was involved in local youth programming and community engagement. I then spent some time thawing out on the island of O’ahu, living and working on an organic plant nursery and also a brief stint as a live-in nanny with a wonderful family + 4 little ones! After spending some time back on the east coast working for New Logic Marine Science camps in New Jersey, I decided to try out life on the opposite coast and headed west to work as a naturalist/environmental educator for Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, California. Up next was the outer banks of North Carolina, where I spent a couple seasons with Sound to Sea’s Environmental Education program before Pigeon Key called me home once again. I am beyond grateful to continue chasing my passions for our oceans, adventure and environmental education!
What is your favorite part of your job?
To educate in the ways we do out here is a true gift. I have been blessed to have been in the world of environmental education since college, and I’ve simply never looked back. I have felt immense gratitude to accompany youth in these once-in-a-lifetime adventures that help them see the world through a different lens, with fresh eyes, a wider perspective, and a curious, stimulated mind. It is programs like ours that guide children to find their place in this world, and equip them with tools that aren’t always able to be taught in a traditional classroom environment. I simply cannot imagine devoting my career to doing anything else more meaningful, more impactful, or more re-vitalizing. I love building lasting and intentional relationships with teachers, students, and all participants that flow through our programs.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, you can catch me outdoors, in the water, soaking up all the sun! I am a very active human and can hardly ever sit still. I enjoy diving, running, swimming, and surfing – when I can find some waves! I love running the Old 7 Mile Bridge at sunrise, and jumping off the dock at sunset.
What is your best Pigeon Key memory?
Back in my internship era of 2019, I was grateful to create so many lasting memories that I have tirelessly shared with anyone who will listen since I left! One that truly made an impact took place on my last night on the island as an intern. The staff & I were all celebrating a season well done, and we decided to jump in off the dock at night – only to be greeted with a bioluminescent display surrounding us! The water was alive with light and life. It was one of those moments that felt surreal.
And the most important question of all…what is your favorite sea creature?
It’s honestly a tough tie between jellies and manta rays. Jellies are an incredibly underrated species, withstanding the test of time and space with hardly so much as a shell for protection! But manta rays have always held a special place in my heart – I love how they dance together in the sea. I had the privilege of observing them up close in the wild, on the Big Island of Hawai’i a few years back, and I couldn’t help feeling connected to them in a special way. As a trained dancer, I admire the intricacies of their movements and the way they flow effortlessly together. They’re an absolute treat to witness in their natural habitats!