Name: Verna Gates
City and State: Birmingham, Alabama
Affiliate and any leadership positions: Alabama Media Professionals, COA 2009, Alabama, and runner up National COA
Years a member of NFPW: 19
Tell us a little about you.
I was born with too much energy. My interests range from journalism to storytelling to ethnobotany (cultural study of plants).
My career started when I called a new cable news service every day until they let me answer the phones for two days. I left four years later. That’s how I landed on the start-up crew of CNN. My career has been a fabulous adventure. I was a stringer for TIME Magazine, Reuters, The Guardian, and still work for an NPR station as a commentator and special correspondent. When Reuters closed its Southeast bureau, I lucked out when I popped into the Alabama Department of Tourism to visit a friend. I found myself inviting my journalist friends on press trips to my beloved home state. It is a blast! And it is a lot more fun taking people to eat haute cuisine, drink fine wine and spin around in Space Camp than it is to cover tornadoes and felony trials.
The science part of my brain founded a non-profit in 2006, Fresh Air Family, that teaches outdoor environmental biology to kids and families. We cover the state, but are based at the second largest urban park in the nation with 1045 acres. In 2016, my tiny staff of three, plus as-needed naturalists, served 1,164 kids in our award-winning Gross Out Camp (it’s science but please don’t tell the kids) and 1,328 kids in our school field trip program, and 8,000 people on weekend field trips. In our camp program, nearly 60 percent of the kids come on scholarships. We work hard to change the world!
I am also a storyteller, having won the Biggest Liar in Alabama contest, twice. It is a tall-tale competition, but in the South, we call it what it is, lying. It is something I do just for fun. With my ethnobotany, I also speak quite frequently on plants and botany.
As I said, too much energy!
Any career advice you would give?
Always, always give it your best. When you always do your best, people notice. And they call you. TIME, Reuters, The Guardian and NPR – all called me. So did Alabama Tourism. And keep re-inventing yourself. I must be on the 10th upgrade by now!
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to sing well.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I choose to live in the heart of American culture — the Deep South. Where we don’t hold back on the butter in the batter, we still hold doors open, and the kids say “yes, ma’am.” Alabama is also number 5 in biodiversity in the nation and for a nature nerd, it is nirvana!
What book are you reading?
I have a review copy of Hairy, Scary and Mostly Merry Fairies — a nature book for kids.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I played first bass in the all-state orchestra in North Carolina when I was a sophomore in high school. And I have won the lottery three times. I have the $16 to prove it!
Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you?
I get great leads, great info and have made lifelong friends. As a single person, my affiliate has been so supportive. When I had major surgery, they organized a dinner caravan that was a life-saver.
Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.
http://www.vernagates.com and Verna Gates on Facebook.