I just completed 14 1/2 years at the National Wildlife Federation. The timing is excellent for a change and I am so grateful for the opportunities and friendships – so I wanted to share some highlights from this journey.
Thank You For Hiring Me!
Before working at NWF, I worked for CBC Radio in Ottawa and Quebec, and American Oceans Campaign (now called Oceana) in Washington DC. The internet was a new concept. I was hired as part of the very first web team in February 2000. I am grateful that I was hired because it required filling in extra paperwork for my work visa since I did not have my green card yet. Maria Litman went through the hassle and three month wait.
My first big achievement was working with Craig Tufts from the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. Since 1970, the program had been paper-based. I volunteered as a Habitat Steward and learned how to coach people with gardening for wildlife. I earned the trust of Craig and the other program staff until they were ready to move the program to an online system. I worked with Erik Giberti to create that system, which exponentially increased the number of certified backyards.
Thank You for our Sunday Potluck Group
We used to have staff mixers where you would discuss various topics. One month was hobbies, so I brought in quilts. One colleague, Jessica Stine, came to ask me about my quilts. Long story short, we hit it off, and she invited me to her birthday. We had such a great time, and learned that this group of friends met every Sunday for a potluck on a theme. Many members of the web team attended these Sunday potlucks over the years. The group changed – people got married, had kids, moved. After a few years we stopped meeting every Sunday – but the friendships continue and are very dear.
In fact, the day that I found out that my role at NWF would be discontinued, we had dinner with them at an excellently timed reunion. They put everything in perspective and made me feel so loved.
Thanks for the Short Commute & Lovely Bike Rides
We did a lot of bike riding down the W&OD Railroad trail training for AIDS Rides and MS Rides. We used to leave from the National Wildlife Federation parking lot on Wednesdays after work and bike until dark.
From 2001-2003, I biked to work every day whether it snowed, rained or was stinking hot. I remember it being so hot that I had to rest in a book store half way home to get cooled off – and I have only a five mile commute! We organized very fun Bike-to-Work Days. Check out the ribbon that you would break when you arrived!
Thanks for Flexible Schedules & Parenting Support
We had two babies and I worked a reduced work week at times. Without that flexibility, I don’t know if I could have stayed working. We also got these cute baby blankets when our kids were born.
Many colleagues had babies at the same time, and we supported each other.
Thanks for the Family Nature Summits
When I started at NWF, there was a program called the Family Nature Summit every summer. NWF staff could attend without using vacation time. The program became a separate non-profit in 2006. I was faculty between 2001 and 2013, teaching handcrafts and organizing tours to meet local green innovators. These tours have had such an impact on my life, helping me to realize how much I love innovating around sustainability.
Thanks for Keeping My Family Entertained
My favorite thing I built while working at NWF was a database of activities to get families outside. It is now in the Family Fun website. If you look through the activities, especially in the Outdoors section, you’ll see hundreds of photos of my kids testing the activities. This was a multi-year project – both testing & photographing, but also working with the amazing David Ruckman to build it, and Openbox9 to design it.
Another fun project was helping to make various kids games for the website and mobile apps, including Name that Shark, Click the Birdie, Fish Food, Squirrel vs. Bird Feeder, matching games, crossword puzzles and find-a-words. You can hear my voice in this sound matching game making animal sounds!
My daughter Nora played an important role with the Click the Birdie game. She did the voice overs in the prototype, and the little girl in one of the worlds is called Nora in her honor.
Another year, we visited & documented 125 playgrounds as part of a partnership between National Wildlife Federation and Kaboom. We visited playgrounds all over northern Virginia, but also in Canada and Scotland. We found the Scottish playgrounds by using Google Maps street view and just “walking” down the streets where we knew we would be staying.
Then there were the annual Campouts and Hike & Seek events. Our family loved attending, taking photos and testing all the activities.
I remember one campout when Nora was a toddler. It was so hot and the cicadas were so loud, we could not fall asleep. Nora was running around inside the tent, wearing only her diaper. I had a hand-held fan that I said I would blow on her if she would lie still. A few years later, at another campout, Russell was only a baby in his Pack N’ Play. There was thunder and lightning, but we managed to all stay calm in the tent, and actually fall asleep.
My kids have enjoyed being featured in many publications over the years.
I learned about geocaching at work & our family has found many wonderful caches around the world.
It was also handy that we could visit Ranger Rick whenever needed. We visited him on Bring Your Kids to Work Day, once for Nora’s school project, and we brought Russell’s Cub Scout troop to visit too.
Thank You For Having Halloween Costume Contests
I generally prefer to be collaborative more than competitive, but something about winning a day off with pay was very motivating. And thank goodness for the epiphany that if I made my costumes from trash, it would save me money AND I would win. It was the beginning of Trashmagination. You can read about my many Halloween costumes from recycled materials in this other blog.
Thank You For Letting Me Do Green Things
There have been many projects over the years to green NWF’s operations. I was a leader in the area of recycling and composting. We had a recycling center where we gathered hard-to-recycle items. (That’s where I got my amazing plastic caps collection!) We gathered compost in a bucket in the lunchroom and diverted more than 1000 pounds of compost over the years into our backyard composter. We hosted Freecycle events where everyone brought unwanted items and shared them freely.
And then there were the green lifestyles projects that I documented. The most successful was How to Build a Bat House, which remains the most consistently popular piece of content on our entire website – thousands of pages – for more than a decade.
Thank You For Helping Me Find Balance
One super special professional development opportunity was called the Leader to Leader program. It came at a time when my children were just big enough that I could start being an individual person, and helped me find space for myself again.
Thank You for Innovation Engineering
Doug Hall & his staff invested a lot of energy into National Wildlife Federation. I am so grateful that we were all willing to give it a try. From that first visit to Eureka Ranch in 2010 to earning my Innovation Engineering Black Belt this year, this work gave me so much joy and stretched my brain.
Through Innovation Engineering, I worked on a variety of projects, but the two that stand out the most were the Make a Tree Friend Kit (my first project) and Storytelling (my biggest project).
The goal of the Storytelling project was to gather stories about how we help wildlife, and to share those stories with our audiences. It had three areas – teaching people about the importance of stories, teaching people how to gather stories, and making a Story Bank. In one year, we gathered 150 stories on video.
To kick off the project, I had a series of brown bags that any staff could attend, describing the vision. After one brown bag, I got a call from a colleague named Becky Lentz in our Great Lakes office. We had only barely worked together in the 11 years before that. Becky was super excited about helping me figure this out. This started a creative partnership that I hope will continue far beyond today!
I went to Becky’s office and trained her team. It was the best time. We interviewed real people and learned a lot.
Later, Becky and Beth made a video about the oil spill on the Kalamazoo River and Beth’s leadership role in the region. Hillary Esquina edited it. I was the coach. The video won a Bronze Telly Award.
There were so many people who I had the honor of interviewing for the Storytelling project. I will try to write another blog about some of my favorite moments from that project since it would take up too much time right now. But interviewing them was the highlight of my career at NWF. Every interview filled me with hope and energy.
It was through Innovation Engineering that I built a special friendship with my colleague Schelli Dittmann. She has been my partner in so many things. Her quality that I admire the most is the ability to see the potential in anything. She gets so excited about the possibilities. She reminds me of my dad that way.
Thank You for the Celebrations
At one point, my daughter Nora asked if she could come to work with me because every time she came, we were eating cake. Yes – we had a lot of celebrations. My favorite was the one I hosted for my 10 year anniversary – called Learn-a-palooza. I asked my colleagues to teach something to each other. It was so much fun.
Another favorite was when I hosted a few Screech-Ins to make my colleagues into honorary Newfoundlanders. This ceremony took place at my house on my birthdays. I made a traditional Jigg’s Dinner, then act as the “Cod-mother” and have each person drink some Screech & kiss a fish while saying “Long May Your Big Jib Draw.” They also had to answer questions in a very tricky quiz.
Then there were birthday decorations in my cube – which usually involved Diet Mountain Dew and Cheetos.
Sometimes I could convince Bob to make one of his amazing cakes for a special colleague:
There was the time when some colleagues wanted to show their thanks for a very hard job with our Sitecore content migration:
And I loved making quilts & hooked rugs for colleagues:
Finally – there were the team days at the beach or a local park, where we took a moment to relax. Take one look at this group and you’ll know why I stayed for 14 1/2 years.
Right at this moment, I am catching my breath. Working at National Wildlife Federation is a very energy-consuming thing. I’m looking for a job that will teach me new things, with a culture of people who love collaboration. Meanwhile, I’m refilling my energy by taking courses I love in innovation, weaving, storytelling, drumming & entrepreneurship. I have a GIANT list of Trashmagination projects that I never get to work on. It’s a great moment to take stock and make sure I’m choosing a path that makes life extraordinary.
Thank you to all the people who spiced up my journey. As you can see, it is literally hundreds of people. I am buoyed up by this network of human energy – talented people who care a lot.
Thank you to my family who supported me throughout. You’ll see in the photos that the lines between family and work were often interconnected as being a mom gave me project ideas. We have a lot of fun being a family outdoors & I’m glad I could share that with a wider audience.
I’m a tremendously lucky person, you know?