Summer Meetings Inspirational for New State Chair
Jennifer J. Nieland, Wisconsin State Co-Chair
I was somewhat anxious, yet very excited to attend my first RMEF State and Regional Chair meetings at headquarters in Missoula July 28-31, 2011. After all, as a new state co-chair for Wisconsin, there were things I didn’t know about the position, and I really didn’t know many people. Would I fit in? Would I have anything of value to offer? With all the work, will this volunteer position be any fun? Did I pack the right clothes?
With those questions spinning in my head, the wheels touched down in Missoula, and I started my three-day pursuit in search of the answers.
First impressions stay with you, and stepping out in front of the RMEF headquarters in Missoula was no exception. Paving bricks emblazoned with the names of supporters (many familiar to me) led into the entryway where two spectacular bulls stand in a graceful, yet powerful battle pose. During my visit I had time to fully experience the Visitor Center and absorb the Foundation’s history and impact. There is no other place in the country where this volunteer gathering would have felt more appropriate.
The first day of meetings was like taking the reins for the first time. We learned the structure (staff and volunteer) of RMEF, including the chain of command and the relationship between volunteers and staff. Following this chain and using RMEF policy to resolve issues and answer questions as soon as possible builds strength and skills for the volunteer and credibility for the organization. Stir in a heavy dose of “communication, communication, communication,” and we should be on the trail to success!
We were then presented with the priorities for our particular division and what we needed to do to reach them by the end of 2011. State chairs had a lively discussion about how to measure chapter performance and shared ideas and perspectives for improvement. Seeing how RMEF uses tools and data to plan for and grow the organization made me feel more confident in how I could work with chapters to meet their goals. It’s not just a gut feel about how to be successful—it is success standing on the shoulders of experience and data.
On the second day I got a good dose of what RMEF is accomplishing on the ground. The deck of slides showing beautiful vistas from 30 land protection projects occurring in 10 states was inspirational—and something we volunteers don’t always think about when we are working our banquets. Seeing the photos made it real. Volunteers were also pictured with their hands in the dirt, pulling fence and planting trees—all with smiles on their faces, giving new meaning to the term “work party.” RMEF volunteers are really something special!
RMEF has now protected over 6.7 million acres of habitat, which led to an exciting discussion over dinner with some of us who have computer and GIS experience. What does 6.7 million acres look like if we placed it over a map of each state as a reference? That picture could be a powerful visual showing mission success in each of our states.
By the third day my “new state chair” anxiety had nearly evaporated. I realized that I definitely fit in, and that I do have a lot to offer. Regarding the question, “Did I pack the right clothes?” I can tell you I did not. I was embarrassingly lacking in RMEF gear. So I went to the gift shop and stocked up. When you see me at Elk Camp in Las Vegas next year, I will be emotionally and visually “Riding for The Brand,” a new, heart-felt phrase I learned from Russ Bumgardner.
I had also questioned whether being a state co-chair was going to be any fun. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but because of the passionate, committed volunteers, it is definitely a big “work party.” My hope is to not only make a difference in elk country, but also to grow new friendships that will last a lifetime.