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This month's issue content is provided by Tim Riley, National Conservation District Employees Association President from Dover Delaware

Did You Know..... 

Please join me on a journey through time with a Conservation District Board of Supervisors that are Champions of strong conservation partnerships, and encourage their employees to do the same.  Through this encouragement and empowerment, their employees have been able to broaden their knowledge and experience far beyond their District borders.  On this journey we will learn how this empowerment has fostered a more successful relationship with partners of their State Conservation Partnership.  In addition, this same Board encourages district employees to attend meetings and trainings at all levels of the Conservation Partnership; State, regional, and national.  Follow along through this informative, timely, and lucrative tale of just some of the benefits derived through their open-minded and forward thinking methods of encouragement and empowerment.

We will begin our story in 1992 when the aforementioned District Board took the main character, a 4-month District Employee at that time, to his first National Association of Conservation District’s (NACD) Annual Meeting.  That meeting was held at the Bally’s Reno Hotel in Reno, Nevada.  Yes, this is the same exact physical location that the 2016 NACD Annual Meeting will be held January 30, 2016 – February 3, 2016, which is now known as the Grand Sierra Resort.  This location and the 1992 meeting is particularly significant to our story for three reasons: first it is the last time the NACD meeting was held at this exact location; second, it is the first NACD Annual Meeting that our non-fictional conservation district employee ever attended; and last and most importantly, at that 1992 meeting, based on the recommendation of an NACD Special Committee on District Employees, the NACD Council voted to accept the National Conservation District Employees Association (NCDEA) as an affiliated organization.  With this vote came NACD’s commitment to provide the NCDEA with the same privileges, rights and services as other NACD affiliated organizations.  In turn, NCDEA committed to having the same communication with NACD as other affiliated organizations.  To date, this commitment by both parties is as strong as ever, and was most recently re-affirmed with the signing of the National Conservation Partnership Memorandum of Agreement in February 2015, at the NACD Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Thanks to continued empowerment, support and encouragement from his Board of Supervisors, our character was in attendance at the 2015 meeting, and in fact has been in attendance at nearly every NACD Annual Meeting from 1992-2015, with plans already in place to attend in 2016.  But I digress; following the 1992 meeting, the next annual meeting to focus on is the 1997 meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.  You see, it is at this meeting that our character, along with a fellow employee from his district attended a breakout session on raising funds for your district.  At that breakout session those employees learned of a tool being sold by the presenting company called “Event in a Box”.  This tool was literally a box filled with instructions, timelines, a computer program disk, balloons with a pre-printed event logo on them, etc. Hosting an event intrigued the young district employees for no other reason but an excuse to bring the community together for a fun event in the name of the conservation district.  The next step was to sell the idea to their District Board members in attendance with them at the meeting in order to get authorization to spend the $50.00 on the “Event in a Box” program.  After locating them in other breakout sessions, the Board Members proved their faith, trust and belief in their employees by agreeing to purchase the program with the understanding that the eventual use for the funds raised would be determined in time.

Back home, the first decision to be made by the entire Board was the purpose for the event.  After a very short debate, the decision was made to utilize the event to raise funds for the State’s Envirothon program.  Now with the purpose, empowerment by the Board, and “Event in a Box” in hand, the District Employees began the planning process for the first event.  In trying to decide the type of event to have, it didn’t take long for the employees to determine they liked the example event that came in the box materials which was a Barn Dance.  With an “all district employees’ hands on deck” approach in planning, the year of the first Kent Conservation District Barn Dance was 1998.  Fast forward 17 years, and 16 Barn Dances later, the Kent Conservation District (KCD) has raised $167,550 for the Delaware Envirothon Program.  It has become, by far, the largest contributor to the Delaware Envirothon budget.  All the KCD Board Members and staff, both past and present, that helped in the planning efforts over the years, and the volunteers that help to make the event run smoothly deserve all the credit for the its success each year.  The event has become a gathering of community folks, but also a gathering of Delaware Conservation Partnership leaders and staff.  Representatives from statewide Conservation District Boards, district staffs, the State Conservation Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and RC&D Council all pay their own way to attend, and volunteer at the KCD Barn Dances.  The value of the Barn Dances goes way beyond the dollars they provide, and in fact are immeasurable, as they have proven to enhance and strengthen the relationships of key staff and leaders of the entire Delaware Conservation Partnership.

To this day, the two original KCD staff members that attended that 1997 meeting and received the Board approval to purchase the “Event in a Box” are still a part of the Delaware Conservation Partnership.  One staff member now works for the State Conservation Agency (Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control) and is actively involved with the Delaware Envirothon, while the original character in our story is still with the Kent Conservation District.  After having attended that first meeting in 1992 and learning of the formation of the NCDEA, he began his involvement with employees associations, first on the state level, followed by the regional, and ultimately the national level.  In fact, that employee held numerous officer positions every step of the way and is now the President of the National Conservation District Employees Association.  He is also now involved in the effort on the National level to encourage the strengthening of State Conservation Partnerships.

None of this story would be possible without the trust and empowerment of his Board of Supervisors.  They have encouraged and supported him and all district employees every step of the way.  Please follow their model; empower your employees to expand their horizons, and encourage their involvement with all members and activities of the conservation partnership, (NACD, NASCA, NCDEA, NRCS, RC&D), on your local, state, and national levels.  Budgets may limit travel opportunities, but they do not limit information, idea, and experience sharing through conference calls, emails, and social media.  As we know, the tangible benefits of a well-rounded and knowledgeable workforce and strong partnerships are evident, but the intangible benefits cannot or are more difficult to be measured.

Will your state or conservation district yield the next “Event in a Box” success story or National President?  Be a champion of your local and state conservation partnerships, empower your employees to do the same, and let’s find out!

Timothy M. Riley
NCDEA President
District Coordinator
Kent Conservation District
Dover, Delaware

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