DIRECTOR’S NOTE: My First 15 Years…

DIRECTOR’S NOTE: My First 15 Years…

Thank You for the Opportunity

Jill Ryan, Executive Director

I began my first day of work with Freshwater Future, then the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund, on a cold, snowy day in January 2000. The organization‘s Advisory Panel was meeting in Harbor Springs, Michigan for a weekend of policy discussions, governance meetings and camaraderie. What a great way to start my new role as director, with an amazing group of leaders from the Great Lakes region serving as mentors.

That amazing meeting set the tone for my first 15 years of work with Freshwater Future and still guides us today. First, the group reinforced that grassroots, or individual action, is critical to environmental work—we need passionate residents acting as watchdogs and stewards of their local waters. Second, they showed me the importance of balancing local actions with an eye on protecting the whole system—we can’t protect one area in isolation because everything is connected. And third, by providing links between policy action, funding, and expertise we help local communities maintain the quality of life that is important to them while protecting and restoring the Great Lakes system as a whole.

Freshwater Future was started by the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council based on these ideas because they understood that they could not protect their service area in northern Michigan without helping other communities to do the same. When I joined the staff in 2000 I was part of a staff of one and a half. By 2006 the demand for our programs was growing and we recognized we couldn’t effectively grow to meet those demands within the Tip of the Mitt’s local structure. After much planning and discussion, we agreed it was time to leave our safe home and spin off into an independent organization. When we began operations as our own nonprofit, we had three staff and a very tight budget.

As of 2014, Freshwater Future has grown to meet the new demands for our services. The grants programs have been increased fourfold; the policy program has grown and diversified, encouraging local engagement on basin wide issues such as invasive carp, climate change, sulfide mining, fracking and harmful pavement sealcoats; and we developed a consulting program that helps organizations grow effectively, accomplish their missions more strategically and develop internal systems for sustainability.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had the honor of working with Freshwater Future, our outstanding staff and board, incredible partners, passionate individuals and generous donors over the past fifteen years. Thank you all for your work, your collaborations and your passion for all of the waters in our Great Lakes region.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.