On July 1, the Environmental Center officially absorbs reSource. Mike Riley, who has been running Resource, will become chief of the expanded Environmental Center. Shauna Quistorff will relinquish that title to become its publicity and fund raising chief. They say that together the two organizations will more effectively and efficiently serve what had previously been overlapping missions: generally speaking, to create and sustain a healthy local environment and encourage conservation.
Both organizations, at times, find themselves asking the same supporters for donations or volunteer time. Both wanted to increase their fundraising, but worried that doing so would strain limited donors and volunteers in the community. Each group had something the other wanted but couldn't get on its own. Resource has government grants and about $200,000 in cash reserves, which is treated much like an endowment, and the Environmental Center owns a nice building in a prime location downtown.
Merger discussions started about a year ago. "Instead of two organizations doing the same thing, we wanted to have one with a clearer picture," said Allen Engle, president of the Environmental Center's board of directors. "Center leaders want it to have a bigger presence in the community," he said.
"One problem the center faces," Engle said, "is that a significant number of people haven't even heard of it, or, if they have, they just think it's a place to get brochures and see slide shows. Many people just don't know what it's for, or what it's doing," he said. Quistorff acknowledges this: "Because (the Environmental Center) does not focus on one specific area, like wilderness protection or water quality, our efforts are more difficult to articulate and much less controversial, which means we're rarely in the headlines," she said.
Engle said having Quistorff entirely focused on communication and development should improve public awareness. Long-time board member Peter Geiser also said that the new leadership structure will be crucial in moving the center forward.
"Mike just brings a lot of experience in community outreach," Geiser said. "He's got great leadership skills ... and administrative skills, his vision, his values, his dedication. Now we have two people of that caliber working in partnership."
Creating the new, merged hierarchy wasn't easy. Quistorff, 34, and Riley, 46, were both executive directors who wanted to stay. They discussed their strengths and skills and agreed on the chain of command with Riley on the top, they said. Quistorff loses her prestigious title. Riley loses reSource. They both put the best interest of the mission first, they said.
"It was a little awkward. I gotta hand it to both of them, and for Shauna to step aside," said Geiser.
"It's an adjustment," said Quistorff. "I've been the (executive director) of (the environmental center) for nearly seven years and am very proud of what we've accomplished as an organization during that time."
She also said, "I believe the merger is going to enable us to achieve current and future goals much faster than we could have before."
There's talk of expanding the building at 16 NW Kansas, where the combined staff of nine people will work. After the merger, center leaders expect that the new environmental center will keep doing what both groups have been doing, but also shift toward more youth education. The center will also be more directly involved with the people it strives to reach, instead of primarily doing behind-the-scenes work. And that is exactly what Riley wants.
Riley is driven by his belief that the people solving the bigger problems are embedded in the local communities. It's a philosophy he picked up back in the 80s, he said. Before earning a degree in environmental science at the University of Washington, Riley spent 13 years leading wilderness expeditions and teaching everything from conservation to emergency medicine for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) all over the western United States, and in Mexico and Kenya.
"Overseas," he said, "effective organizations engaged local people in issues that mattered to them. But back then, that practice wasn't widely accepted in the United States: The environmental movement was rooted in Washington D.C.," Riley said. One example of how he'd like to involve more locals in important issues, he said, would be to create outdoor adventure trips that include environmental studies; like a whitewater raft trip for youth, with a heavy dose of water education and a splash of personal growth. He is planning to launch such summer programs for youth; something he might be able to combine with existing park district programs, he said.
"I believe in building local ownership of issues, getting locals to understand issues and solve the problems," he said.
Generally, Resource is focused on teaching individuals how to change their behavior on a daily basis. But, he said, Resource doesn't preach or judge, and he considers even the smallest of steps a success. Small steps might include empowering kids with the knowledge needed to recycle, or encouraging business owners to switch to more energy efficient lights in a building or install carpets that are not made with environmentally destructive products.
A Little History
Resource started as The Bend Recycling Team in 1978, to collect recyclables. It instigated curbside and yard debris recycling. Riley joined reSource in 1998, after serving as the executive director of the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility. By 2001, recycling was institutionalized here so the group sold the recycling center, Deschutes Recycling LLC, which now operates the recycling facility at Knott Landfill. The Recycling Team shifted to new programs focused on teaching the concept of "sustainability," and changed its name to Resource.
Among its projects: OregonSwap.org, think eBay for free unwanted items; EarthSmart, teaching school kids about conservation; From the Ground Up, education about water conservation and alternatives to pesticides in gardening and lawn care; The Sustainable Business Network, showing business and community leaders better ways to be green, socially responsible and profitable.
The Central Oregon Environmental Center
The Central Oregon Environmental Center, founded in 1987, has been an earth-friendly clearinghouse. Annually, the center provides information, volunteer and intern opportunities and referrals to nearly 2,000 people, and hosts about 150 environmentally focused meetings or slideshows, Quistorff said.
It supports approximately 40 member groups that range from Central Oregon Flyfishers to the Central Oregon Audubon Society. It has nurtured fledgling groups with good ideas; sometimes giving them basic tools like an address and mailbox or access to a copier machine, sometimes launching them into independent organizations, such as Commute Options (working to reduce the number of cars on the road) and 3E Strategies (pushing sustainable building, energy and economic practices) that have their own headquarters.
It funnels grants for projects such as stream restoration. It publishes a directory of green businesses. It links interns with member groups looking for volunteers. It fostered Bend's popular Earth Day festivities and Salmon Run.
The merger should not result in dropping any of these programs as of now.
"Once we complete the merger we'll do a strategic planning session," said Engle, the board president. "We, the combined boards, will be one combined board, we'll reexamine who we are, who we want to be and how we want to be seen."
For more info: http://www.envirocenter.org/ or http://www.resourceoregon.org/.