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Networking Done Right

By Amy Nielsen

I arrived today with a gust of wind that propelled me through the door with such force that I almost fell over the six-foot-tall rooster.

The wind whipped and the sun glared an ineffective attempt at warmth. I was at the County Revival and Renewal Conference, a networking opportunity I decided I couldn't pass on, even if it meant skipping a long-planned family trip into the city.

The conference was presented by the county revitalization and renewal, non-profit collaborative organization. They have been in charge of the beautification of the county for the last 15 or so years. And, in the last year, the county was awarded the right to build a casino.

Bids went out, a company was chosen, and the building is rising. This potential economic windfall is the impetus to step up the game in the county, to do more than just beautify the county for this organization.

With the addition of another, smaller, satellite non-profit organization, the revival collaborative is reshaping themselves to focus on the health and wellness of the county and help it become more of a destination, rather than just the zip code of the resort casino.

This county is already a mash up of world class resorts and stunning poverty. Our county routinely ranks low, if not lowest in the state, for health and wellness yet is located in the heart of a beautiful wilderness area. There is a need and a desire to put great effort into changing that statistic.

By health and wellness they have defined several very specific areas of interest: place making to promote not only downtowns but inspire people to walk in downtown areas, creating centers of wellness focusing on total mind, body, spirit and health for all ages and accessibility needs, and lastly focusing on teaching health and wellness to the youth through public and private partnerships in the public schools.

The conference sponsored a small vendor showcase of local organizations and businesses that all offer health and wellness oriented services. While browsing among the local organic breads and cookies, community supported agriculture options, and the local worm farm and compost distributers, I saw a woman knew.

I had interviewed with her for a position we both knew I was ridiculously overqualified for and just as equally passionate about. She had moved on from that organization and was here promoting her latest health initiative collaboration. I knew instantly that I was in the right place.

The first order of business was a small awards ceremony for the volunteers of the past year. There were some impressive folks being honored, many with years of dedicated individual service to not only this but several other local community civic groups. Equally impressive were the public private partnerships that were showcased. This organization, like all civic oriented non-profits, runs on its volunteers. Having spent a large portion of my life in and around such organizations I know the value of a good volunteer. They are worth their weight in gold. If I don't land a job with this group, I will certainly be looking to volunteer for them.

Next up was the keynote speaker. I had only read a little about what she was going to speak about because I was focused on a specific afternoon breakout session. I planned to listen politely and work on my crochet for this portion of the day. I got my tea during the break, pulled out the vest I’m working on and settled in for the next hour. As far as I am concerned, I will learn something new, no matter what she talks about.

The topic was fascinating and her delivery was delightful. I learned about a whole new way of looking at planning a public access space. I learned how to get the most bang out of the extremely limited bucks that go around for things like effective signs to direct pedestrians from the parking areas to main street. Totally cool. I never put much thought into who makes those kinds of decisions. So now I, and you, know. Go out and help beautify your town.

As I said, interesting, but not what I was really here for. Up for lunch. This place knows how to do world class food. It was good, plentiful and not rushed. Then, finally, what I came for. The afternoon breakout session. I had read in the pre-conference information that one of the sessions was going to focus on improving school food and the ways and hows of instituting a school garden. This is exactly what I want to be doing.

I got down to the room a little early to scope it out and get a good seat. I was hoping to meet the presenter ahead of the class and at least introduce myself. I was in luck. She was just finishing setting up her materials. We chatted briefly then she went to grab her lunch before her time started. I checked out the materials in the back of the room, collected each of the handouts, and sat down to read a bit before the session started.

As it happened the presenter was an invited guest, not actually from the local organization as I had thought. She had started a program the county is hoping to implement once they get the funding and the personnel lined up. When she returned from lunch she introduced me to the woman who invited her and who was in charge of the project for the county.


This was exactly the woman I needed to meet. In fact, when I told her what I do and what I want to do, she had to sit down because, in her words, I was, “the answer to all her prayers.” She introduce me to the other educators in the room who are already on her team. We collectively figured out that I know several of the same folks in our hill towns and will fit in very nicely, thank you very much! I am the missing piece. The link to make it all go.

We have a lunch date next week to meet again and discuss the proper ins and outs of exactly what I can do for the organization and what the organization can offer me in return. I am getting in at the ground floor of a supremely exciting project for which I am uniquely suited and talented. This is what it means to step out of your comfort zone, put on the big girl panties and go forth to conquer your destiny. Cape flapping.

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