Introduction to Non-Profit Environmental Conservation Efforts in a Diverse and Developing Region

I am currently working for Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail in Charlotte, NC. Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) is a local not-for-profit land trust dedicated to preserving land to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, and farmland. The final tier to the Conservancy’s mission is to connect lives to nature in Introduction to Non-Profit Environmental Conservation Efforts in a Diverse and Developing Regionthe Charlotte region, and this is where the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) project comes into play. CTT, a separate 501 (c)(3) organization with CLC as its lead agency, is dedicated to weaving communities together through a regional greenway and blueway network. While we are two separate organizations, there is little to be seen of this outside of formal documentation. We share staff, resources, office space, ideas, passion, dedication, and excitement every day.

My fellowship has been splitting time between CLC and CTT: monitoring conservation easements and preserves, performing forest and trail stewardship duties, leading volunteer workdays, organizing three Regional Round Table discussions around trail development, and much more. I have been in the Davidson Impact Fellows program for almost eight months now, and my understanding and outlook on non-profit work, career development, environmental conservation, community intricacies, and personal goals have been sculpted by the ebb and flow of my fellowship. I spend much of my time working with our Community Coordinator, visiting government officials, trail implementation partners, advocates, and adversaries to discuss trail opportunities and issues. This has exposed me to many things that are impossible to emulate in an academic setting. The diversity of our 15-county region has challenged me in many ways and introduced me to the subjective aspects of environmental conservation across the globe.

Introduction to Non-Profit Environmental Conservation Efforts in a Diverse and Developing Region

Struggles are plentiful in our daily work, only to be masked by the few great successes that make all of our efforts seem worth it. Months of headaches and creative problem solving only to conserve a small tract of riparian land, or to implement one mile of natural surface trail, seems a bit disproportionate, and admittedly can be frustrating at times. I’ve asked myself if all of this is even worth it. The answer is yes. Being in the workplace every day with a passionate group of people has allowed me to gain an understanding that our work is vital to land conservation and appreciate the efforts of our counterparts elsewhere. Months ago my answer may have been different. Without overarching support it is sometimes hard to see the good you are doing; however, many battles won around the world can amount to a big victory for the common goal. This position has allowed me to develop in ways that I could have never imagined. Yes, I am gaining technical knowledge of trail development and environmental conservation, but there is more than just that. My fellowship is allowing me to become comfortable in the workplace, participate in real-world land conservation deals in a predominately conservative part of the country, develop my own opinions on how I can make a difference through an environmental career, and gain an appreciation for the work that is being done by organizations just like us all around the world.

I have recently been admitted one of the most prestigious environmental management and forestry programs in the country, and I have this fellowship to thank for it. The Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University seeks tIntroduction to Non-Profit Environmental Conservation Efforts in a Diverse and Developing Regiono develop global environmental leaders through their Master of Environmental Management and Master of Forestry programs. A year ago, this task seemed very intimidating and frankly impossible for me. My time at CLC and CTT has allowed me to gain confidence in my knowledge, capabilities, and ambitions because I feel like I have been able to have the experiences of an environmental conservationist of 5 years. Yes, many times I have been completely lost in a conversation or overwhelmed by the complexities of a project, but simply having those experiences has motivated me to be more persistent in my education and career development. Without this fellowship, I would not know what I wanted my next steps to be for graduate school or for starting a career.

My main focus project at the Conservancy and Thread Trail is to help develop and organize annual “Trail Round Tables” for our implementation partners around the region. We will host three of these in the upcoming year, where we divide our region into three sections and focus on issues in a more localized manner. I have been working very closely with our Community Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator to organize these three events and our first Trail Round Table will be on March 16. This is a pilot event for CTT, but we are hoping to integrate it into our annual regime of Thread Trail gatherings. Our staff and I hope that these Trail Round Tables will be another touch point with our partners who are in the trenches of trail development and will be a catalyst for progress on our active projects in the respective areas. More to come on this later, but hopefully this will be a successful addition to our normal practice, and something that can grow through, and alongside the Davidson Impact Fellowship at Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail.

Introduction to Non-Profit Environmental Conservation Efforts in a Diverse and Developing Region

Inside a Room of Secret Agents at Children's Hope Alliance

The LCSW’s (licensed clinical social workers), QP’s (qualified professionals), and LMFT’s (licensed marriage and family  therapists) are the staff members on the ground with our clients who have caused sexual harm. These TASK (Treatment Alternatives for Sexualized Kids) agents are less known to the rest of the world but celebrity to our kids and the communities impacted by their actions. They meet clients at school, over a basketball game, or with a mouthful of McDonald’s fries. Neither traffic, round-a-about Charlotte city routes, backcountry western Carolina roads, and unlisted addresses prevent them from spending time with the clients’ families. Trashcans, Jenga blocks, and snack packs are their weapons of choice to teach concepts like the difference between consent, compliance, coercion, and cooperation. TTFOFLA(two-three-four-or-five letter acronyms)is their language of choice:

TF-CBT: trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy

SA: substance abuse

CFT: child and family therapy

PCP: person-centered plan

DSS: Department of Social Services

DJJ: Department of Juvenile Justice

They encounter stories about clients stealing dirty underwear, experiencing daily emotional abuse, and getting into fights at school. And yet, our TASK staff find ways to laugh and continue to serve kids another day. As a result, our teenage clients and their families trust the agents who jump right into the mess of their real lives. In the short few months since joining the TASK and CHA (Children’s Hope Alliance) team, this physics major has watched people bring hope to hurting children and families when the world can’t always be explained with formulas and algorithms.

An update on our project

The TASK team has been working hard to establish a manual that reflects the diverse experiences of our staff from Charlotte to Guilford. Staffing and time with the kids allow us to watch the TASK model in action. Data collection is underway as we determine what TASK elements are most effective and efficient in bringing change to the lives of our clients’ and families. We are developing research procedures and structures to produce relevant and rigorous results. Those will be presented to our field and related subfields which include child psychology, sexual abuse, trauma care, child development, and juvenile delinquency.  The more research we do, the more excited we are about TASK and its potential to reach others who have caused sexual harm.

The Carolina Thread Trail: A Collection of Unfinished Thoughts

On my desk, there are at least four scrapped, partially written blog posts. Sentences scratched out, pictures scribbled on, quotes highlighted, bullet points listed. None of these drafts have made it past my legal pad (sorry Jeff) because I felt that they either didn’t properly describe my experiences, focused too much on one aspect, or weren’t focused enough.

After five months at the Carolina Thread trail, I’ve realized that a blog post will never fully encapsulate my experiences, no matter how many drafts I write. Basically, I need to stop being so selective and post something already. So here you go. A blog post that’s been five months in the making but was written in a single afternoon.

First, my general spiel. I’m technically employed by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, a land trust that permanently preserves land to improve water, protect wildlife habitats and local farms, and provide connections to nature. The connections to nature part is where I come in-I primarily work with the Carolina Thread Trail, an initiative spearheaded by CLC to connect 15 counties in North and South Carolina through a network of over 1500 miles of trails, greenways, and blueways.

Things get a little more complicated when I start to explain exactly what it is that I do. Below is an excerpt from Blog Post Draft #2

‘Job Title _______________________’

I stared at this seemingly innocent question on a grant application for a few minutes before popping my head into my boss’s office.

“Hey Tom, what’s my official job title”?”

We bounce around a few ideas (Marketing Assistant, Marketing and Outreach, CTT Fellow) before deciding on Research Fellow- the broadest and yet most accurate description that we could come up with.

This post then just turned into a multi-paragraph list of things I’ve done (which is why it never made it online). I’ll subject you to a few things from that list.

  • Write grant applications
  • Research peer trail organizations
  • General trail maintenance (aka kill invasive species)
  • Create social media posts
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Blog Post Draft #4 focused on the theme “collaboration”. In my 16-person office, no one has just one responsibility.

Our work is a giant, multi-year, multi-decade group project that everyone is actually invested in… because there is a lot more than an ‘A’ riding on it.

Deep, I know. This post was scrapped for obvious reasons (I was trying too hard to be clever and match the quality of my peers’ blog posts). However, I stand by the core of that post.

One of my major goals for this year was to figure out what aspect of non-profit work I want to focus on and pursue as my career. I’ve realized that non-profit work isn’t that simple, especially in small offices. Everyone’s responsibilities are tangled together and, in order to be successful, you need to be well-versed in teamwork.

The title of Blog Post Draft #1 is “The Davidson Bubble Never Bursts” and was written two weeks into my fellowship. Because I had just started at the Thread Trail, it is about the community that exists outside the physical Davidson College campus and doesn’t really offer anything of value.

Blog Post Draft #3 is really just a jumble of thoughts written on post-it notes and in the margins or grant drafts.

First time I overheard someone talk about the Thread Trail outside of work

Day on trail vs day in office

Trails not just environmental- political. Healthy. Social. Transportation. Economic. -> look at things from diff. perspectives

Before I started to work at the Carolina Thread Trail, I saw it only as an environmental non-profit. We help build trails, plants species, and take people on hikes. What else would it be? But one day as I was talking to Tom Okel, the executive director of CLC and CTT,  he mentioned that the Thread Trail doesn’t identify as an environmental non-profit because it is so much more. Trails and preserved open spaces improve air quality and protect native species, sure, but that’s only one aspect. We’re a community development non-profit and a health organization. Trails bring jobs and tourism to the region. They act as transportation alternatives. They are gathering places and recreational facilities. They lower obesity rates and increase home values.  CTT doesn’t fit into one category. Our mission is to get people to support trails for whatever reason because in the end, we all benefit.

So there it is. My five months consolidated into one post. Hopefully I’ll get around to expanding / explaining things that I alluded to in this blog post. The important thing is that it’s out there and  I can throw away the jumble of papers littering my desk.

*I realize that I used a lot of different names and abbreviations to refer to the Thread Trail but, in the spirit of this post, I’m just going to leave them. The Thread, CTT, Carolina Thread Trail, Thread Trail… they’re all the same.

 

On Route to Munich

On Route to Munich

The Greek Fellows pose with our Arts & Culture Program Director, Susi Seidl-Fox (10/22/2014).

I am on route via train to Munich after a memorable, successful trip to Salzburg, Austria. My time in with the Salzburg Global Seminar staff in Salzburg was truly priceless on both professional and personal levels. Since my first week with Salzburg Global, I have consistently emailed, called, and Skyped with our staff “across the pond” to gather or provide information on program content and development progress. Many of our projects require collaboration between the Salzburg and Washington D.C. offices. Spending time in-person with my Salzburg colleagues allowed me place faces with names, learn more about how the organization works as a whole and move current projects forward after four months of electronic exchanges.

Before I dive into my time at Schloss Leopoldskron, let me first provide some background information on Salzburg Global Seminar and how I fit into the organization. And, since I am trying to kill time on this train, I will use a fictional conversation I had with a fictional stranger sitting across from me to explain. SCENE.

Stranger: So, why are you traveling from Salzburg to Munich?

Me: I am traveling for business. I work for Salzburg Global Seminar. Have you ever heard of it?

Stranger: No, I actually haven’t. What is Salzburg Global Seminar?

Me: Ah! This is a question I am more equipped to answer after spending a week in Salzburg. So, here goes. Salzburg Global Seminar is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that convenes “current and future leaders from around the world to solve issues of global concern.” I work in our Washington D.C. office location. With a few exceptions, all of our programs are held at Salzburg Global’s Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg. And, since our establishment in 1947, we have brought together 25,000+ Fellows to tackle important questions and international issues. Today, we categorize these programs into three crosscutting clusters: Imagination, Sustainability and Justice. My position with Salzburg Global is titled Davidson Impact Fellow. 

Stranger: Oh, I think I might have heard about that organization once before… What does it mean to be the Davidson Impact Fellow at Salzburg Global?

Me: My position is a product of a partnership between Salzburg Global and Davidson College. As the inaugural Davidson Impact Fellow, I work primarily with our Development team. “What is development?” you might ask. In the non-profit sector, development means fundraising. My position is unlike any other role with Salzburg Global, as I get to work on projects for both institutional and individual giving. This month, my typical day in the D.C. office consists of me juggling research for funding next year’s programs, spearheading the invitation lists for our annual Cutler Lecture, and supporting the design of Salzburg Global’s end-of-year email series to our fellowship network. But, my so-called normal day seems to change month-to-month with our added programs. On top of my development work, I also support the Office for the President with occasional projects.

Stranger: So, how long were you at the Salzburg office and what were you doing there? 

Me: I was working in the Salzburg office over the past nine days. The main purpose of my trip was to work, observe, and participate in the pilot session of Salzburg Global’s Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI). The YCI Forum is a ten-year program that brings together 50+ arts and culture leaders from around the world to develop their vision, entrepreneurial skills, and global networks needed to advance their organizations, their causes and their communities. Simply put, the idea is to have small groups of Fellows from 10-15 “Hubs” convene in Salzburg with other Hub groups year after year. After each YCI Forum, the Fellows return to their respective Hubs with access to a stronger local and international network of cultural leaders and innovators. Our goal is to 1) provide Fellows 4 applicable skills-training workshops for professional development and 2) facilitate collaborative projects within and across the Hubs. I was involved with some of the development research for this program, so it was very exciting experience the session from beginning to end. I attended a few of the workshops and met Fellows from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Slovakia, The Netherlands, Argentina, Austria, and the U.S. I am eager to see what collaborations evolve from the YCI Forum. Next month, I will join our Baltimore participants for a follow up meeting to hear their feedback on the program and thoughts for next year.

SCENE.

(And, the imaginary stranger was very blunt and uninterested in learning more). Until next time!

On Route to Munich

The YCI group gather in the Robinson Gallery to talk about the Hubs and projects in their local communities (10/19/2014).

On Route to Munich

Argentine Salzburg Global Fellows, Florencia Rivieri and Moira Rubio Brennan, during their visit into town (10/19/2014).

On Route to Munich

The view of Schloss Leopoldskron at night (10/20/2014).

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