Last Thursday was a humbling day for the staff of The Conservation Foundation. We stood in awe of the dedicated conservationists who filled Cantigny's Le Jardin restaurant for the inaugural Strengthening Our Foundation luncheon. We were uplifted and inspired by the in-person and video testimonials of our leaders, volunteers and donors who shared what our work means to them at deeply personal levels. And we were flat out overwhelmed when after the warm and happy hour-long event was over, we did the paperwork and realized that the total of the leadership gifts, pledges and cash donations was more than $250,000!
We are all very passionate about the work we do, but last Thursday made us feel more than ever before how much it matters to other people, and the strength of the collective momentum propelling our mission forward.
Following are the words of our President/CEO Brook McDonald, who shared both his personal convictions and vision for the future of The Conservation Foundation:
My name is Brook McDonald and I have been the President/CEO at The Conservation Foundation for nearly 20 years. Prior to that, I was a volunteer for The Conservation Foundation for 7 years. So I have been with this organization in some capacity for more than half of our 42 years of existence.
I choose to be here. And I choose to be here because of the people I work with, our staff, board members, volunteers, and YOU, our friends and generous donors. I have met some of the most interesting and coolest people in my life through The Conservation Foundation. I am here because this is where I feel I can make a difference, and think globally and act locally. This is something I seek personally in my life and something we seek here as an organization. You seek this too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. We all want to make a difference.
I choose to do this work because Nature is very spiritual to me. Nature is where I find truth and meaning in my life. In nature there is no political spin, there is no propaganda, there is no marketing. Nature doesn’t lie. Nature is 100% the truth and it’s 100% real. If you want to be grounded in truth, you will find it in Nature.
Nature is where I go to find my gravity. It’s my balance. Nature also reminds me of my values, of what is important in my life-- being a good person, a good husband, a good father, a good friend, and being a good steward of this Earth.
I just can’t imagine doing anything else in my life other than working with people to preserve our planet for future generations. I continue to do this work to make a difference.
Our mission to preserve and restore open space and natural areas, protect rivers and watersheds, and promote good stewardship of our environment is sacred to me.
And we have made a profound impact on our mission over the past 42 years.
• We have helped preserve nearly 33,000 acres of open space for people to enjoy and for wildlife to thrive.
• We have restored and cleaned up miles of rivers and streams, improved water quality and removed 250 tons of trash from our local waterways, helping to reduce flooding.
• We have educated thousands of kids through our Mighty Acorns and other educational programs, and engaged them in nature and the outdoors.
• We have even brought the conservation message right to your front yard through our Conservation@Home and Conservation@Work programs, certifying 1,000 properties as environmentally-friendly and installing more than 10,000 rain barrels on your downspouts.
These achievements make a difference in our communities. But to me, this has been just the appetizer.
Our long term vision is to make sure that conservation becomes part of the culture in each community we serve. That it becomes a core value where people expect clean water, they expect clean air, they expect to have open spaces close to home where their children can play and explore, and they expect to have wildlife living near them.
So, what specifically do we want to in the future?
Over the next five years we want to preserve 35 new parcels of land that will create thousands of acres of open space for people to enjoy close to home. This will only happen if we can create new partnerships with private landowners and local units of government, like we did in Ottawa with the Dayton Bluffs.
Over the next 5 years we want to certify 1,000 additional Conservation@Home and Conservation@Work properties, distribute another 10,000 rain barrels, and plant thousands of oak trees on our suburban landscape through the regional Oak Recovery initiative. To accomplish this we need another full time staff person to work with homeowners and local businesses and take a huge step towards creating an urban oasis for people and wildlife. This will lead to cleaner water and cleaner air, bring nature right to our front door steps, and make it easier for all of us, especially our children, to experience nature close to home.
Our future lies in the hands of our children. We want them to grow up and make good decisions as adults and train them to be our next generation of conservation leaders. We want to reach 20,000 kids through our environmental education program over the next 5 years, and engage more families in protecting and cleaning up their local rivers and creeks right in their neighborhoods. To accomplish this we need an environmental education coordinator that can establish more partnerships with area schools and youth groups, expand our Mighty Acorns program, and work with local homeowners associations on neighborhood-scale conservation projects.
So you know where we are today, and you know where we need to be in 5 years to be more impactful in our local communities. We need to work together to get there. It’s our collective power that will move all of us forward and push back that wall of resistance.
So thank you for hearing what nature means to me and our vision for the future. And thank you to those who have supported us in the past. We will continue to work together with passion and conviction. Our past success has been your success. Our future impact belongs to all of us.