This conversation with the Stauber family takes you into their story of what it was like to connect with more people who love birding. They decided to host a weekend birding retreat and invite people they met through networking to come. This podcast outlines how they came up with the idea, planning and logistics, and how they navigated the "environmental concern" that almost derailed their entire weekend.
Their project was done in partnership with Starfire as part of our work to put families at the center of community building.
Tammi: My name is Tammi Stauber and we have a 20-year-old son named Kyle. And we live in West Chester.
Katie: So, you guys just completed a year with Starfire. Tell me a little bit about what that project was?
Scott: One of Kyle’s big interests is birds. So what we did was created a birding weekend, and invited a bunch of guests who were connected with the Audubon Society, Cincinnati chapter, Cincinnati Bird Club. People along that line those who share the same interest in birding as Kyle does.
Katie: Yeah and this interest in birding is more than just - I like to be outside and in the woods, right? Tell me about that interest that Kyle has and what that looks like.
Tammi: When Kyle was born we had two acres in the woods and my husband is the biggest Audubon-nut known to man. And we had every bird in our yard. So Scott had all these CDs from Audubon and from Cornell University of bird calls.
Tammi: What we didn’t realize is Kyle’s gift is audio memory and at age 2, age 3 he was putting those CDs in our old stereo and memorizing, we didn’t realize, he was memorizing all those bird calls by track. We’re thinking three hundred, four hundred, or five hundred bird calls he has memorized, and he still knows them to age 20.
Katie: That is incredible, I didn’t realize that it was something that started that young. So when you chose what to do, you were thinking around Kyle’s interests. Why were you looking at Kyle’s interest in particular?
Scott: Well we want to get him integrated, involved in the community - trying to link him up with like-minded people. People with the same interests, shared interests.
Katie: So let’s unpack how you came up with the idea to eventually have a retreat, what was your initial concept around what you would do?
Tammi: My initial thought was a running event, Kyle ran cross country in eight grade and he wants to run again. But Scott and I don’t run long distance. So I thought I thought we would set some kind of annual running event. And that was mom, all on my own, in my own head, I get caught in my head.
Katie: What do you mean by that? Why was it like being caught?
Tammi: When we came to Starfire and started learning different strategies. Taking people to lunch, taking other runners, birders, artists, taking even neighbors, just taking people to lunch and pick their brains, I just call it getting out of my own head.
Scott: Yeah the cool thing about some of this was when we first started thinking about this we thought well we can do this, we can do this with no input from anybody else you know we’ll come up with the idea and then we can help execute. And then talking to a particular person at Starfire we were told to just talk to people, see what they think and let them kind of run with the program. Don’t plan everything for yourself, this is not about you, this is about Kyle integrating into the community. Don’t even make the event about him, just make an event of which he is an equal part of and let people volunteer and get the buy in from that.
Katie: How important do you think those coffees were and those plannings were over time?
Tammi: They were critical.
Scott: Critical that’s the word I was thinking too.
Tammi: It was fun and it was critical to get everyone’s feedback and to brainstorm with others. The synergy of getting all our ideas together.
Scott: Yeah, simple conversations and getting buy-in, otherwise you’re going in cold asking people to do something when they don’t even know who you are. It just, you have to.
Tammi: And we took a few birders to lunch and they said, well why don’t we rent a cabin out in rural Adams County and go birding? And that had never crossed our minds.
Scott: And then all the pieces, well what would we need to do for this and this and and it just kind of fell in place in some ways. It still look a lot of planning.
Katie: And did it fall in place because the people who helped come up with the idea were helping with some of the logistics and thinking through what to do?
Katie: Some shared ownership there, and that’s kind of what you were saying that you might get caught in your head, that the original idea didn’t have anyone else owning it and so that’s the shift where some other people being part of this and feeling just as passionately is what drives the whole ship.
Katie: And then so everybody who participated in the planning of it how did you work with their schedules to make sure they were involved?
Scott: Our event was more of a regional draw, it’s not people who live on our street. So our meetings were one on one, they were through email, phone calls things like that. It wasn’t like a collective group of people meeting all the time. Turned out there was a bigger interest than we really kind of expected so we had to kind of pull back on it because the place we were getting for the weekend wasn’t large enough to hold everybody. So their enthusiasm made things so much easier. The worse thing you can do is throw a party and nobody shows up.
Katie: That’s really neat. And what was Kyle’s role in the project planning itself?
Tammi: Excellent question.
Scott: I won’t say Kyle initiated any of the plans himself, what we would do is we would always ask Kyle if he wanted to do this, get his sign-off essentially.
Tammi: Is it ok to have a sleepover with ten people in a cabin? And he would give us a thumbs up or thumbs down. He would come on all the lunches with us or the coffees we would have with people.
Katie: Once you came up with this idea together and you landed on your theme, you came up with what you were going to do, you probably set a date, picked a location, were there any other things logistically that you really had to work through that were big parts of this?
Tammi: We had to watch the weather, and it rained, which actually turned out to be a good thing because the birds like the rain.
Scott: Yeah, it was migration season for the warblers, it was in May, so a nice spring rain kept them calm and singing.
Tammi: Picking trails that were accessible and worthy of seeing lots of birds. Picking a trail that was near a lunch picnic shelter, because we provided lunch.
Katie: Did anything come up during the process where you felt like, oh no this is never going to work?
Tammi: Oh big time.
Katie: Can you name a couple of those?
Scott: Well, we had a spot all picked out, it was an hour and a half east of the city of Cincinnati, and was it a week or two before? They said, there’s — I’ll just call it an environmental issue. They had some wild animals on the premises, and we cannot have you come to this.
Katie: What type of wild animals?
Scott: Feral hogs.
Katie: Oh of course
Scott: Feral hogs were loose on the property and we need to trap them and we can’t have humans at the facility because it’ll spook the feral hogs. So we had to scramble, Tammi actually did, scrambled and found a place that we then rented for the weekend.
Katie: That must have been just.. How did that feel, gut wrenching?
Tammi: Gut-wrenching except that the rental I think turned out to be a better option for us.
Katie: So it was a good thing, hogs feral hogs who would’ve thought can actually be the best part of your project?
Scott: Yeah and then we walked into the place we rented and the first thing we see is the mounted head of a hog on the wall, and I was like, this is perfect, it was meant to be.
Katie: So take me to the day of the birding event. It sounds like a lot of the planning happened with you all and you were the connection but maybe having everyone in the room at once was kind of an exciting thing. Where everybody’s like, now we’re all here. Tell me about the day, how did it feel?
Tammi: It was May and it was rainy and we all met at a trail head and that’s how we got our day started with a hike.
Scott: And we turned the hike procedures and all that over to one of the birders, who was familiar with the trail. So they led the hike and we just participated like everybody else.
Tammi: It was exciting, everyone showed up.
Scott: Everyone showed up.
Tammi: We had 17 on the hike and I think 14 came back to the cabin for dinner. That was exciting to finally get inside and out of the rain. We had a lot of fun stories to tell. And then ten people, that’s the limit on the cabin for spending the night, so we had ten conversations to midnight.
And what Scott and I noticed too, Kyle being such a (I don’t want to say expert) but the audio memory, he can hold his own in that group of experts.
Katie: Were they impressed by the level of knowledge that he has?
Katie: After all this your goal to help Kyle get more integrated into the community, and also as a family to connect more socially with people who share the birding interest, what has happened since? What is a result of this project that you want to share?
Scott: During that weekend one of the activities we did was we had a little contest where we would play a bird call and the avid birders had to identify what the bird was. We had fifteen birds and Kyle ended up winning the competition. It was pretty cool in and of itself. Then a few months later there was a bird outing, and the person that was leading the birding walk - we had never met. And when we introduced ourselves to him he said,
“Oh Kyle I’ve heard about you, you’re the one who knows all the bird calls.”
So we decided to take him to lunch just to make the connection with him. Over lunch he said he would like to do that, he heard about the birding weekend, he actually knew of the place we went and said that was one of his favorite places to go birding ever. And he would like to do that same weekend if we’d be interested in doing it with he and his buddies. So great yeah, we’ll do that. And then at lunch he decided I have about an hour, I’m going to go birding, Kyle would you like to join me? So we all went birding and it was kind of interesting because Josh kind of took Kyle. And they went birding and Tammi and I were kind of behind them watching it was pretty cool because it all came out of the birding weekend. It was that connection, he knew about the weekend, he knew about Kyle’s skills, he knew of where we went birding, it was just this perfect puzzle that was put together.
Katie: And you didn’t even have to put that out there?
Scott: He did it all. It was his idea, and it’s his guest list, so we’re connecting Kyle to a whole other group of people he didn’t know before.
Katie: That’s incredible, thank you guys anything else you want to say?
Tammi: Well, I was going to say, I felt as the non-birder, you know the big let down after the big weekend… Birders all go away for the summer and I thought, oh my gosh we did all of this and there’s no connection. And then a month later they go on that hike and then — there’s Josh.
Katie: Pretty awesome.
Tammi: It was awesome.