My last day

Farewell, Friends

A letter of gratitude from Jessica Jens, our outgoing Executive Director

Dear Riveredge Family,

Today is my last day as the Riveredge Executive Director. As I move on to my next professional chapter, I am overcome with nine years of memories I would have never expected. Please grant me a moment to say goodbye, in the casual, personal way we have come to know each other.

Not surprisingly, over the last nine years, my family has grown up and I’ve grown older. Just 2 ½ and 7 years old when we arrived in 2013, our children are now in the midst of middle school and high school. Their childhoods solidly revolved around Riveredge. They learned how to catch frogs in a way that doesn’t harm, the best rocks to look under for crayfish, the way the tops of trees sway in even the smallest wind while they ascend climbing ropes to dance among the branches, the leathery feel of young sturgeon as they are released into Lake Michigan, the quiet stillness of a winter night snowshoe, and the hard work it takes to make fundraising events fun. Our kids are Riveredge Kids, and those experiences will positively influence them for the remainder of their lives.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a team of staff members who represent most chapters of Riveredge. Staff members with over 20 years of experience and have adapted to the ups and downs of the nonprofit world with ease; they continue to form the bedrock of this remarkable organization. Staff members who joined as we launched an audacious goal, contributed new ideas, energy, and creativity, and drove growth that doubled participation and membership levels. Some are still contributing to Riveredge while others have moved on to help other nonprofits grow and thrive. Since the beginning, Riveredge has served as the pebble which starts a ripple, and Riveredge staff and volunteers have contributed to the success of environmental nonprofits throughout the region for decades. This continues today. And I am thankful for those newest staff members who have recently joined or will join soon. It is easy to be over-the-moon excited for the future of Riveredge when you see, feel, and hear the passion in their voices, the energy in their conversations, and sparkle of all that is possible in their gaze. Yes, I am forever grateful for all the staff members who make up the quilt of my Riveredge years.

And the volunteers: those that are quiet, those that are loud. The volunteers that run circles around me on my most energetic days and the volunteers who have the ability to sit quietly for hours to calculate, contemplate, or count the wonders of the natural world. The volunteers who greet those who enter the Visitor Center with a kind smile and the volunteers who shepherd classes of students in and out of the river. The volunteers who will always lend a helping hand in the kitchen and those that come through and make sure every bulb is working in the staff offices. The volunteers who served as my many “bosses” on the Board of Directors and pushed me to be the best version of myself every day. Volunteers show up because they want to, and for no other reason than that. And for all those volunteers, I will always be thankful.

And the memories go on. The memories of swinging in the tree tops, watching the young sturgeon receive their PIT tags each year, welcoming the first classes of students to the River Outpost, eating the first pancakes at the Sugarbush House, building yurts without really knowing how to do so, laughing and smiling with the first students of The Riveredge School, signing the conservation easement to forever protect the Riveredge sanctuary, trekking through new Riveredge land, dreaming, visioning, and believing in the future. Saying yes. Yes, Riveredge can do that. Yes, a nature center is critical to its community. Yes, the natural world is important. Yes, we can make that happen.

Thank you for these years. They have been a gift. YOU have been a gift.

With the greatest of gratitude,
Jessica Jens
Riveredge Kid Since 2013

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