Inspiration and Inclusion

I believe that all children and adults, regardless of ability, should have the opportunity to experience the beauty of nature and learn more about conserving our environment,” says writer and advocate, Karin Willison.

An adventure travel blogger and editor at The Mighty, Willison will be the featured presenter at Dunes Learning Center’s annual gala, A Dunes Affair, at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton on Friday, September 16.

The event will celebrate inspiration and inclusion with a festive night of music and fun, culminating in the presentation of the 2016 Green Apple Award to educator and autism advocate, Tracy Chandler of Clark Middle School in St. John, IN. She is being honored for her efforts to bring environmental education experiences to the students in her structured learning classroom.

Being “on the spectrum,” can often limit opportunities for students, but Chandler has made it a priority to combine school activities with nature-based, hands-on learning. “These are enriching experiences for all students, but particularly those with special needs,” she notes.

Willison agrees. "When I was a child, my family regularly went camping, and I had the opportunity to visit many of our most beautiful National Parks.” She believes that those early experiences were formative. “Thanks to our parks being accessible to people with disabilities, I developed a love of science, history, and travel which I carry into my life today."

That belief is central to Dunes Learning Center's mission to "inspire lasting curiosity and stewardship with nature." Our hands-on learning programs aim to connect students of all backgrounds and abilities to life-changing, STEM-based education experiences in the outdoors. Teachers play a critical role in that connection.

The award presentation will be preceded by an extended cocktail hour with live music by The Corey Dennison Blues Band. A silent auction offering tempting items and one-of-a-kind experiences will also be featured, along with dancing and a chance to win a catered, in-home, gourmet dinner for 6.

Walk Through Time: A Dunes Affair will be held at the Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person. Advance purchase is required. For tickets and sponsorship information, visit

This celebration of inspiration and inclusion is made possible by event sponsors: 1st Source Bank, ArcelorMittal, BP, Canalia and Clark, Duneland Chamber of Commerce, Enbridge, Lakeshore Public Media, NIPSCO, Georgiann and Steve Pangere, Republic Services and Teresa Massa, Attorney