Pennsylvania Legacies #176: Taking the Lead

Featured image source: Lancaster Clean Water Partners

The Lancaster Watershed Leadership Academy provides learning and networking opportunities for people who come from a variety of backgrounds but share the same vision of healthy local watersheds. As the program prepares to welcome a new class, we speak with graduates Lindsey Deininger and Emily Smedley, and with Allyson Gibson of Lancaster Clean Water Partners.

All over Pennsylvania, people are looking for ways to make a difference in their communities. For some, that means volunteering or connecting with likeminded neighbors to take on small projects. For others, it can mean a full-on career change: leaving an established profession for something more in line with what’s really important to them. For many, it’s simply a matter of refocusing and enhancing what they’re already doing.

The first Lancaster Watershed Leadership Academy cohort. Image source: Lancaster Clean Water Partners

Nonprofits and mission-driven enterprises — especially in the environmental and conservation space — have an opportunity to bring in new blood and new energy, and to forge new relationships in the areas they serve. But gaps in knowledge, experience, networks, and institutional memory can create difficulties. More than ever, there’s a need for education and organization to close those gaps and channel all that passion in the most impactful ways.

The Lancaster Clean Water Partners (Partners) is one of many groups that are working to meet that need by creating opportunities for learning and collaboration among people who want to make a difference, but who might not know where to begin.

“There has been so much amazing clean water work happening in Lancaster County for a long time, but we need to expand that in order to meet these goals,” said Allyson Gibson, the Partners’ Director of Strategic Partnerships and Programs. “So we need more people to have leadership skills, we need people who know what the watershed issues are and how to manage them as a community-based effort. So the goals of the Academy are to introduce more people to those watershed concepts, the science side of it, but then also how to weave in the leadership skills.”

The Partners will soon select the next class of scholars for the Lancaster Watershed Leadership Academy — a year-long course that equips participants with both technical knowledge and professional skills to make them more effective, and better-connected, clean-water advocates.

Emily Smedley is a recent Academy graduate and Communications and Programs Coordinator with the Partners. She was new to her role with the Partners when she joined the Watershed Leadership Academy.

“[The Watershed Leadership Academy] was hugely beneficial to integrate me into this new role… seeing the landscapes, seeing peoples’ efforts and their perspectives was amazing. So I guess in a sense it was the networking opportunities… but also getting the space to explore leadership,” said Smedley.

 Lindsey Deininger also graduated from the first program cohort. The Academy covered a wide range of watershed management topics, from agriculture to urban stormwater. Many classes featured guest speakers and field trips, including an overnight retreat to the Chesapeake Bay.

There’s something for everybody in conservation.

“What’s usually good for people and communities is also usually good for business too. There are a lot of businesses out there that have nothing to do with conservation or clean water with their everyday purpose and work, but there are so many good businesses and nonprofits and faith groups that are integrating that work into their business models,” said Deininger.

During the program, Deininger worked in banking, but has since made the transition to a career in sustainability.

“The Academy did provide that network and the basis and maybe gave me the confidence to make that leap, so that’s been really good. I would say that programs like this and citizen science programs — there’s something for everybody in conservation, is what I’ve learned from this,” she said. “You don’t have to have a biology degree to do stream sampling, you don’t have to be an expert forester to get your hands dirty and go plant trees, you don’t have to be of a certain political party to care or get involved in your community initiatives.” 

If you’re interested in joining the next Lancaster Watershed Leadership Academy cohort, you can find more information about the program and apply here. Applications are due October 6th.