Posts from an Emerging Leader: Reeds in the Wind – Flexibility and Leadership

Posted on by Kacy O'Brien, Lead NJ

September 2015 Seminar
This blog is part of a ten-part series capturing my experiences as part of the 2015 Lead NJ Class, which follows the monthly two-day seminars our class participates in over the course of one year. For the next several weeks I’ll be posting a blog every Monday up through my graduation in early December 2015. You can read it here and in occasional posts on the Dodge Blog.   

Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien

It’s early September and the clouds intermittently scuttle across the sky, stragglers from the rainstorms of the night before. I gaze out across the grasslands and salt marshes of the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, watching the grasses wave in the breeze that flows across these lands, watching the reeds bend and dance and right themselves again.

We’ve spent the last two days learning about environmental issues in New Jersey, and this is the last stop: The Refuge, a resting place on the largest migratory route for birds in the Americas.  It’s astonishingly beautiful and I absolutely recommend that people take advantage of this 47,000-acre coastal zone that stretches along the Jersey shoreline from Mantaloking to Atlantic City, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

This particular patch of land sits just outside of Atlantic City, and I can see the high-rise casinos and windmills in the distance, out over the reeds. From an observation tower my classmates and I look through binoculars at egrets, wood ducks, blue and grey herons that look, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver says in Some Herons, like preachers and poets in their white and grey robes. We watch swans charge each other to mark the boundaries of their territories.

But I keep coming back to the reeds.

Nature has always inspired me and in watching the resiliency of the reeds, the way their stems flex and swing without losing their shape I reflect on the lessons of the last 48 hours.

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, things just don’t go according to plan. When that happens, you can choose how you will deal with those moments: will you be flexible and make the most of whatever the new circumstances are? When when you feel buffeted by a changing landscape around you, do you lean into the wind or let it propel you along? And how do you handle the tension between everyone’s needs, opinions and desires?

Part of strong leadership is the ability to stay flexible, and to find a way to balance those tensions as best as one can. Sometimes, you end up experiencing or learning something that wasn’t even on your radar.

I had just such an experience during our Environmental seminar this September, during which circumstances changed our plans and brought me a deeper understanding of the subtle dynamics of good governance and good stewardship.

Atlantic-Jersey_Wind_FarmDay One:

  • The plan: to go canoeing in the Pine Barrens with naturalists from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
  • The reality: lighting storms and torrential rain = no canoeing.

Day Two:

  • The plan: to tour either a waste treatment facility and wind farm run by Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) or the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.
  • The reality: the bus company had the wrong dates down, so a small group of us crammed into a limo sent by the company to the wildlife refuge while the rest climbed into other limos and a bus to take a tour of the ACUA’s facility. All kudos to the LNJ staff for handling a surprising turn of events calmly and efficiently and demonstrating the flexibility needed to be good leaders.

6627_thumbnail-1024I’d been planning for weeks that I’d jump on the bus to the ACUA waste treatment and wind farm facility – I was intensely curious about how waste is managed in the most densely populated state in our nation, but was quickly ushered into the first limo when it arrived, which I discovered too late was destined for the Wildlife Refuge.  I was disappointed, but there was nothing to be done.

At the education center of the Refuge, we watched a video that gave us background on the formation of the Refuge, the species we could expect to find, the resources that the Refuge protects, and some of the uses of the Refuge – which included hunting for deer.

The latter sparked a debate among our group about the ethics of opening a refuge to hunting, balanced with the need for population control and more discussion around what route is more humane – culling herds of deer or watching populations run out of food and starve. There were, unsurprisingly, differences of opinion and passionate advocates for each point of view.

What struck me in the course of this discussion is how challenging stewardship of places like the Wildlife Refuge, or any embattled area of land, is. Organizations often have to make unpopular decisions based on the available information with vocal, sometimes angry, advocates on all sides lobbying for their needs and desires. And, if we’re honest about human emotions, oftentimes these organizations have to save humans from our own short-term reactions to circumstances.

ACUA hazardous waste recyclingSo what do you do if you’re a governing body for that land? How do we balance protecting the wetlands along our coast with the development or the lcoation and treatment of the millions of tons of trash we generate? How do we balance access to fuel and utilities – which many of us take for granted, like the sun rising each day – with keeping our essential aquifers pure and replenished? What changes warrant federal or state legislation changes? What changes need to be driven by government versus citizens?

And who is being represented in the conversations? Do our lower-income residents have enough of a voice and equal access to those with decision-making authority when it comes to the location of waste facilities, fuel lines and wind farms? Even if you’re fighting a losing battle for access or development, do you stay rigid and fight as hard as you can so people will think twice before attempting similar endeavors? Or do you bend just enough to be able to spring back when the wind dies down? How the heck is a simple little reed expected to withstand all of that?

I thought back to the previous day, when we started our seminar at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s facility in Southampton, NJ. There we were introduced to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which “serve[s] as the public’s watch-dog over government, going to meetings and analyzing the actions and documents that most citizens cannot monitor on their own,” and the Pinelands Commission, an independent state agency whose mission is to “preserve, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the Pinelands National Reserve, and to encourage compatible economic and other human activities consistent with that purpose.”

Our speakers were Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Alliance and Larry Liggett, Director of Land Use and Technology Programs at the Commission. The thing I will always remember and respect about these two gentlemen is that, although their organizational roles often pit them against each other, they still treat each other with respect and civility, and they listen to one another.

They fought for their points of view but understood the value of compromise and flexibility. They understood that it is essential to separate the person from the decision. As one said with a wry chuckle (and I’m paraphrasing slightly), “We disagree with each other on some of the decisions being made about the use of the Pinelands – to the point of occasionally having to sue each – but it’s important to remember that we’re after the same thing: protecting this unique environment to the best of our abilities, and in alignment with the organizations we represent.”

flexible_business_exit_planningLeaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions. Leaders also understand that tension – and contention – is not always a bad thing. As Chip and Dan Heath say in their recent book about creative and smart decision-making, Decisive, “The point is not that compromise is a necessary evil. Rather, compromise can be valuable in itself, because it demonstrates that you’ve made use of diverse opinions, which is a way of limiting risk.”

To stay flexible, as a leader, can often mean trying to understand where a person with a contrary viewpoint is coming from, and why they believe what they do; to fight entrenchment of opinions and to make the space for people to be heard; to the best of our ability, explain why we make the decisions we make, but to also acknowledge that there is still disagreement. Each of us is a single reed, but we don’t grow in isolation, we grow together and the wind tosses us all. Flexibility is required in order to be good stewards of our lands…and each other.

Windfarm image: “Atlantic-Jersey Wind Farm” by TruffShuff – Flickr: IMG_2666. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Kacy O’Brien is the Program Manager at Creative New Jersey, a statewide initiative dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture, in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

This blog is part of a ten-part series capturing Kacy’s experiences as part of the 2015 Lead NJ Class, which follows the monthly two-day seminars her class participates in over the course of one year. Topics range from policy to the economy, to education, arts and culture, energy, criminal justice and healthcare, with a focus on New Jersey’s current state and its future. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Lead NJ, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Creative New Jersey, their staffs, and/or any/all contributors to this site.  For corrections or questions, please email Kacy at:

Kacy gratefully acknowledges Lead NJ and The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for their support of her participation in the 2015 Lead NJ program.

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Dodge Week in Review

Posted on by Dodge



The Geradine R. Dodge Foundation’s weekly round-up of news and stories highlighting the work of nonprofits dedicated to making New Jersey great, plus great ideas, inspiring reads and what’s new from Dodge.

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Poetry Friday: Festival Videos – Alberto Rios

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

Rios WebEnjoy this reading of “Refugio’s Hair” and “Perfect for Any Occasion” by Alberto Ríos at the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. For more information on Alberto, check out our blog about him, or visit his website.




Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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Three New Jersey Towns Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

Group of Kids Picture

New Brunswick, Ocean Township and Park Ridge Borough look to the future

Donna Drewes

Donna Drewes

Yesterday was the Sustainable Jersey Annual Awards Luncheon held in Atlantic City, despite an often busy lead-up to the actual event, I am proud to report that I did what I call my ‘happy dance’ to celebrate the work of Sustainable Jersey.

This year 50 towns achieved Sustainable Jersey certification. Currently 191 towns are certified and Sustainable Jersey’s 430 participating communities represent nearly 76 percent of the state’s municipalities, and 88 percent of the state’s population. Three towns received Sustainable Jersey awards for their innovative and inspiring work.

Stop-Think-Go Green – Keep New Brunswick Clean!

In an effort to reduce litter, the City of New Brunswick has implemented a litter reduction educational program: Stop-Think-Go Green – Keep New Brunswick Clean! The litter reduction educational program supplements the placement of additional City litter receptacles, continued mechanical and hand street sweeping, continued Clean Communities volunteer clean-ups, School Kids Sweep Up Day, Urban Clean-up Week, inspections and the Clean City Block Captain program

RU and Clean Communities Nov. Post 2015Staff from the City of New Brunswick attended the Sustainable Jersey Annual Awards Luncheon to accept the City’s very first Sustainable Jersey certification designation and the 2015 Sustainable Jersey Creativity and Innovation Award for its litter reduction program called the Clean City Block Captain program. The Creativity and Innovation Award recognizes the development of best practices and strategies by which to pursue sustainability. The New Brunswick Clean City Block Captain program engages neighborhoods through direct community involvement.

“When we’re thinking about being ‘sustainable,’ it is looking beyond making things better for ourselves presently. We’re thinking about how the future will be better for others and how we can keep the sustainable snowball going for generations to come,” said New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill.

All residents were encouraged to become Clean City Block Captains. Captains conduct mini clean-ups on their block and educate neighbors about the importance of keeping their block clean. The grass roots effort keeps litter off the streets and builds community bonds block by block. The City provides Block Captains with bags, gloves, educational materials in both English and Spanish along with technical support. Block Captains also promote the City’s “Stop-Think-Go Green – Keep New Brunswick Clean” slogan which encourages people to use trash receptacles and recycle.

Twp of Ocean Arbor Day

Ocean Township Recognized for Sustainable Leadership

Ocean Township, commonly referred to as “Waretown” by local residents, is located in Ocean County and has a population of about 8,332. This year Ocean Township received the 2015 Sustainable Jersey Leadership Award. This award recognizes sustainability efforts that make the most of local resources through exceptional dedication and leadership.

Ocean Township’s strong leadership team has mobilized community volunteers and municipal staff to obtain bronze-level certification and silver-level certification in one year’s time.

The Township of Ocean in Ocean County is striving for a greener future and improving the community’s resiliency is a major focus. As a bayfront community, Ocean Township was affected by Superstorm Sandy with homes, infrastructure, and parks being damaged. The town adopted a 2015 Township of Ocean Floodplain Management Plan that identifies and assesses flood hazards within the Township of Ocean, establishes goals and objectives for floodplain management, and presents a series of actions designed to minimize flooding and migrate the impacts from flooding in the future.

The township is committed to improving resiliency, implementing public outreach and educational events, offering convenient methods for recycling, protecting the environment and wildlife, while building healthier ways of travel with pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths.


Park Ridge’s Collaborations Advance Sustainability Initiatives

How do you achieve Sustainable Jersey certification when you are a small borough? Well, this year Park Ridge Borough rose to the top by focusing on collaborations. The Borough of Park Ridge is a 2.6 square-mile residential community with about 8,800 people located in the north-central part of Bergen County in a nine-community area known as the Pascack Valley.

“Four years ago, when we first got certified, it was a struggle,” said James McDermott, Chairman of the Park Ridge Borough Green Team. “We felt like pioneers moving into new territory. After the initial certification in 2011, the green team re-grouped and decided to focus on building relationships to make it an easier process. Our green team members get things done because they are passionate about sustainability. We realized that if we did not collaborate with others outside and inside our community, then we were not going to get where we wanted to be.”

On Tuesday, James McDermott and the Park Ridge Green Team received the 2015 Sustainable Jersey Collaboration Award. This award recognizes municipalities that work together or partner with other organizations to address sustainability issues in the community and beyond.

The Park Ridge Green Team partnered with the school district, principals and Parent-Teacher Organizations to implement a comprehensive recycling program. The green team also partnered with various borough groups and regional organizations. Partnership examples include:

  1. The annual stream monitoring program with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection Watershed Ambassadors, the Hackensack Riverkeeper Association and Park Ridge High School Environmental Science students
  2. A comprehensive Wildlife Interaction Plan with the Park Ridge Department of Public Works, the Borough Planner and various non-profits,
  3. The annual regional Bi-State Watershed Cleanup with United Water, Keep Rockland Beautiful, other green teams and towns in both New York and New Jersey
  4. Collaboration with the high school art students to create artwork for the rain garden sign
  5. Several Eagle Scout projects for park improvements, new water refill stations and a new monarch educational garden at each school.

“As a green team we reached high and asked organizations and private companies to help us,” James McDermott added. “Now these same companies and groups are coming back to us with ideas for sustainable initiatives that they want to work on. The opportunities are limitless, you just need to ask.”

The green team also partners with green teams and environmental commissions in ten towns, NJ Clean Communities, Bergen County Clean Communities, the East Brook and West Ridge Parent-Teach Organizations, NJ Tree Foundation, Bergen Audubon, Trout Unlimited, Hackensack River Keeper, Park Ridge Department of Public Works, PSEG, Walmart, United Water, Park Ridge School District, Our Lady of Mercy School, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Rutgers Water Resource Team, AmeriCorps, NJ Ambassadors Program, Boy Scouts of America, Monarch Watch, National Wildlife Federation, Park Ridge Day Camp, Keep Rockland Beautiful and Ciel Power.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: 

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Announcing the Return of the Jersey Give Back Guide

Posted on by Dodge


We are excited to announce the return of the Jersey Give Back Guide, a Jersey-centric online giving guide featuring some of the Garden State’s most effective and respected nonprofits.


It is designed to make it easy for everyone (that means you!) to give back and get involved with New Jersey nonprofit organizations whether you have $5 or $500 to give.

Using the Jersey Give Back Guide’s online “Generosity Generator,” you can choose from four categories — Community, Arts, Environment and Newark — to learn more about this year’s featured nonprofits. Pick one or more that fits your passion, and in just a few quick clicks, you can make a donation that will go directly to the nonprofit.

Each and every nonprofit is worth your investment.

How do we know? The Dodge Foundation and Victoria Foundation, sponsors of the Guide, chose organizations that excel in collaboration, innovation, and community engagement. All have excellent reputations for their work and reflect the programmatic and geographic diversity of the nonprofit sector in New Jersey.

Just look at this impressive list of organizations you can support through the Jersey Give Back Guide:

This is the third year of the Jersey Give Back Guide. In 2014, you helped raise more than $70,000 to the nonprofit organizations featured in last year’s Jersey Give Back Guide.

Our hope is that you can help us pass the $100,000 mark for the nonprofits part of this year’s Jersey Give Back Guide. We know that with your help, we can get there.

Please help us spread the word about the Jersey Give Back Guide and how simple it is to donate. Tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers, book club, pick-up basketball team, prayer group, yoga class and happy hour companions. Get them to help you make New Jersey an even better place to live, work and play.

Connect with the Generosity Generator on Twitter @JerseyGiveGuide and use #jerseygives when you tell your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram friends about your donation!

Please check out and get busy giving!

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