Joey Latsha ’08
Joey Latsha ’08 developed a love of plant and animal life as a child while working alongside his grandfather in his garden. His passion grew after enrolling at Milton Hershey School. Coming from Shamokin, Pennsylvania, Latsha knew that his options were limited. He wanted to give himself a better opportunity, so he and his mother pursued enrollment at MHS.
Latsha remembers being blown away by the many opportunities available at MHS. Programs like Agricultural and Environmental Education (AEE) allowed the then sixth-grader to further explore the creatures he first met while crawling around his grandparent’s yard.
He quickly became actively involved in the AEE program, 4-H, and the herbology club. Latsha was responsible for the care of animals such as goats, sheep, and rabbits. He also participated in the athletics program, running cross country and swimming.
Beyond the ability to gain experience in his area of passion, MHS taught Latsha many valuable skills such as reliance and persistence. But one that possibly made the biggest impact was learning to believe in himself and his dreams.
“We always talk about Milton and Catherine Hershey, all these dreams that they’ve had, and the fact that these dreams can live on. There are people in this world who care about people that don’t have much or just need help,” said Latsha. “Being able to have the ability to believe in yourself and your dreams, that’s a skill. You have to be able to believe in yourself. You have to be able to move forward. I think that lots of positive role models at MHS helped me develop that.”
With the influence of MHS staff, and the initial push to pursue his dreams instilled in him by the time spent in the garden with his grandfather, Latsha pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in resource conservation with a minor in wildlife biology at the University of Montana after graduating from MHS in 2008.
Upon his college graduation in 2012, Latsha dove into various opportunities to study, preserve, and ultimately protect the natural environment. He has spent his entire career in some of the world’s most beautiful places, working on Hawaiian Islands, on Wake Atoll and Midway Atoll, very small islands West of Hawaii in the North Pacific Ocean. Latsha hand-pollinates extremely endangered plants, working alongside lime green foliage and bright red flowers, and monitoring manta ray habitats.
“I really strive to help give species a chance,” said Latsha. “I’ve worked with a lot of plant species that have less than 50 in the wild so giving them hope is really important. I want to live in a world that still exists with those species so it’s kind of like working in the emergency room of biology where you’re triaging the species.”
Today, Latsha works at the Seychelles Islands Foundation on Aldabra Atoll, a very small remote island off of the East Coast of Africa with the world’s largest population of giant tortoises and surrounded by coral reefs. It is a location that has remained largely untouched by humans. His work has focused on the restoration and monitoring of the island and its inhabitants.
Latsha is beginning to think about what’s next for his career. He says that he’s moving into a public outreach and education phase of his biology work. His dream for the future is to visit all the world’s biodiversity hotspots and inventory the plant life. He also wants to create a documentary about a particular group of irises found in several countries in the Middle East that are an important cultural connection for the people in this region and are endangered due to agriculture and flower collection, putting their innate beauty at risk.
The influence Milton and Catherine Hershey’s gift had on his life is never far from his mind. He says if he could say anything, it would simply be “thank you”.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have another family. Thank you for believing in me. Even though you didn’t know me, you have all the foresight to keep it going. If they were still around, and it was a good time of the year, I would probably say, ‘let’s go to Hershey Gardens and enjoy it.’”