Occupying a 95-acre piece of land along the Patuxent River, Sotterley Plantation is one of Southern Maryland’s well-known historical landmarks. This week, we spoke with Sotterley’s executive director, Nancy Easterling, who shared with us some information about the plantation itself, as well as a sneak peek of some upcoming events.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, etc.)
A: Sotterley Plantation is a National Historic Landmark and one of the oldest museums of its kind in the United States, with a history dating back to the turn of the 18th century. Many people have called Sotterley home over these many years. Some came here to prosper; others worked the land, either for wages or under bondage. Sotterley today consists of almost 100 acres of breathtaking beauty on the Patuxent River that includes over six miles of nature trails, Colonial Revival Gardens and over 20 historic buildings. Visitors to Sotterley enjoy a wide range of programming, including award winning education programs, acclaimed heritage tours and a variety of entertaining and interesting special events for guests of all ages. This jewel of Southern Maryland represents three centuries of our state’s and country’s history, and has become an integral part of the cultural landscape of our region. Historic Sotterley, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity with a mission to preserve, research and interpret Sotterley Plantation’s diverse cultures and environments, and to serve the world as an educational, cultural and community resource.
Q: What has been your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: Making history come alive is what Sotterley strives for with every tour and every education program. Seeing the “A-Hah!” moment on a student or visitor’s face is the greatest reward for any or our teachers or interpreters. A wonderful moment for the Sotterley staff was hearing about what happened at one of the local eighth grade graduation ceremonies. A few students were allowed to stand up and tell the audience about their favorite memory during middle school and their 8th grade year. One particular student actually told the audience that her very favorite memory was her field trip to Sotterley when she learned about what life was like for those who had been enslaved. We had made the stories real for her. Touching the lives of students and giving them memories that will not only last a lifetime but will help to shape them and the way they think is what we hope to achieve each and every day.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: For Sotterley and for any non-profit in our current economic climate, adequate funding is always the biggest challenge we face. Sotterley raises all of its funding through memberships, sponsorships, special events, site rental, grants and other donations. It is reliant on the support of a generous community that understands its mission and the importance of not only preserving the site for future generation, but continuing to provide such a wonderful resource to our community. We are simply not able to build into our budget all of the maintenance, preservation or conservation efforts needed, but we instead try to accomplish these important efforts through donations or grants whenever possible. Our hope is to one day have a larger and more sustainable base of operational funding, ensuring that we can always preserve Sotterley’s stories and our shared history for the future.
Q: How can people really help?
A: There are so many ways to help and support Sotterley! Becoming a member is one of the easiest – our members are the bedrock of our financial support, and we try to provide our members with special ways to experience the site and its programming. We also invite everyone to make history and volunteer! Sotterley volunteers are simply the best, and no matter how much time you have to give or your area of interest, there is a place for you in the Sotterley family: from helping the Garden Guild, becoming an Interpreter or Guide, working in our Museum Shop, helping with the Hospitality team, or just coming to support our special events. Monetary donations are of course critical, but in-kind donations of goods and services are invaluable to Sotterley as well, and range from donations of serviceable equipment (from lawn mowers to golf carts to computer printers – the list is endless!) to the time and talents of professionals in our community. There are no donations too big or small to be of help, and we offer our heartfelt gratitude to all those willing to support our site!
Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?
A: Working at a non-profit is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have, even though the pay will almost always be limited and often the hours long. To serve a cause or mission that you believe in, however, is a incalculable joy, and you have the opportunity to work alongside people every day who truly care and who are dedicated to giving back and making a difference in our community.
Q: What events do you have coming up?
A: There is so much to do at Sotterley Plantation in the months ahead! First of all, our Riverside WineFest at Sotterley is just around the corner on October 5th and 6th from noon until 6pm each day! With over 20 Maryland wineries boasting award-winning wines, live music, artisan vendors, food and beer vendors, demonstrations at the “Buy Local Café”, mini tours of the Plantation House and tours of the Slave Cabin and Colonial Revival Gardens, and fun children’s activities, there is something for everyone! A mere two weeks later we begin our Ghosts of Sotterley tours which will be held on October 18, 19, 24, 25 & 26. Ghostly St. Mary’s County “spirits” don’t take it lying down as they make unsavory alliances to make and supply big city backrooms during the Great Depression in 1933. All new for 2013, this year’s spooky dramatic production will even be going into the woods! Tickets may be purchased on-line, and advance reservations are required. And that’s not all! There will be two more wonderful and FREE speaker series events this fall plus our Legends and Lore Tours, and then right around the corner will be our holiday events: Sotterley Holiday Candlelight (and Members’ Night), Family Plantation Christmas, and all new – Sotterley Christmas Traditions Tours. Remember that by simply coming and having a great time, you support Sotterley and its mission at the same time. Truly a win-win for all! We hope to see you soon!