Barb Jensen Lives for the Birds (and the horses and dogs and…)

By Christina Mersereau

“For as long as I can remember I have loved horses, and wanted to have one when I was a child.” 

Barb Jensen’s love of horses drew her to a fascination with other creatures, which led to a deep connection with and concern for the environment. After her elementary school teaching career ended, Barb’s lifelong passion resulted in a job at Kensington Metropark in Milford, at the Farm Center, followed by another job at Kensington’s Nature Center. When the Osprey Reintroduction Program of Southern Michigan came to the park in 1998, Barb became the Site Coordinator, a position she’s held ever since. 

It was because of the Osprey Program that I had the pleasure of meeting Barb, back in 2002. 

“Christi and Jacques were making a documentary about the Osprey Program, and Christi became the Assistant Site Coordinator to help care for the birds, as well as to have access for making the film.” Asked what she remembers most about our early friendship, Barb says, “We cut up a lot of fish!” 

Ospreys are the only bird of prey whose diet consists almost entirely of fish. Once presumed common in southern Michigan, the large raptor likely disappeared by the 1960s. This was primarily due to habitat loss, unregulated shooting and the disastrous effects of the pesticide DDT on bird populations, which resulted in eggshells too thin to survive in the nest. 

“The Osprey Reintroduction Program’s goal was to have 30 established nesting pairs of ospreys in the southern half of the lower peninsula by the year 2020. Just last year we counted 70+ nesting pairs. The program has been a huge success.” 

So how does a person like Barb Jensen end up becoming a major donor for Home of New Vision? Our friendship clearly played a large role. But what about the rest of the story? What makes Barb tick? 

“I have been very fortunate in life to have had the love of family and friends,” she says. “I give back, especially to those who have suffered from addiction or abuse. I’m a strong advocate for wildlife and the environment too, and I try to stay involved.” 

She says it was because of her love of horses and wildlife that she learned empathy from an early age, and this has carried over throughout her life. 

“I believe that if you can help one person, you should do it. Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option, especially in a world where there is so much need. Now that I have the means, I feel it’s important to give back financially as well as with my time. I’m very lucky that now I can do both.” 

Christina: What was it about Home of New Vision that made you want to give? 

“One of my good friends’ daughter is struggling with a substance use disorder problem that has affected her family a lot. My own family was affected by this as well, and I am keenly aware how difficult it is to overcome it.” She continues, “Once I knew about Home of New Vision, I wanted to learn more, so I went to the website, did some surfing and read the literature. It looks like the agency is doing a lot of good work, and my friend Christi sold me on how great the staff and programs are. I decided then that I wanted to give.

“Home of New Vision is different for me because I’m not ‘in it;’ I don’t have the personal hands-on degree of involvement. But drug addiction has become such a huge issue in our society. In order for our world to function now and in the future, the current generations need help. It has to come from people who care and want to see our society healthy. My awareness comes from my own family, and from my friends. Obviously, it costs a lot to run these programs, and they need support.” 

Christina: What do you think is most challenging about the cause of fighting substance use disorder and trying to get people into recovery? 

“The strength the recovering person needs to have in order to ‘overcome’ has got to be the hardest part. To be able to go back out into society, back out into the world and face all those things that make them want to use, and somehow find the strength or ability to withstand the pressure. I understand that. I think this is a mission that is addressed one individual at a time. It’s a person-by-person operation, and that seems tough to me. 

“And drugs and alcohol are so glamorized in our society. It’s everywhere, I mean primarily alcohol, and kids pick up on the double messages. On the one hand, they’re told it’s bad, but on the other, the media shows people doing it. Shoot, their parents might be doing it! We put a lot of expectations on our children, to grow up healthy when all around them they are seeing these other unhealthy messages.” 

Christina: What do you want people to know about Home of New Vision? 

“First, that it exists! I think these days we are so overwhelmed with a constant barrage of media, between TV, and computers and phones. . . I think you need to be constantly advocating for yourself and your aspirations or the messages get lost.” 

Christina: What do you do when you’re not busy all the time? 

“I work with wildlife, love my family, lecture my friends. I enjoy my farm and the nature around me. I like to travel. I recently took a National Geographic tour to the Galapagos Islands, which was unbelievable. I have race horses, and I enjoy being involved with that. I train my dog, Elvis, in agility, and that’s a lot of fun. I’m going on another National Geographic tour to Alaska this summer. Adding to my understanding of creatures, habitat and nature — I eat up every bit of it. Plus, you meet a lot of really nice people, who have the same interests and values.” 

Christina: Speaking of giving time and resources, how can someone who doesn’t have much of either help improve the world? 

“My personal is this: to improve the world we first need better parenting. We need more involvement with our children, not to stick a device in their face so we can go shopping or whatever. We need more face time with the kids, to be present in their lives. There are big problems, like doctors giving out drugs as a quick fix. The media who glamorize drugs and alcohol, and the government entities who ignore it. All of these things must be addressed. But first. . . the kids. Be good parents. Then worry about the rest.” 

For information about Michigan’s ospreys, please visit: