Many of you know that my wife, Moira Branigan, is also an executive director for a regional nonprofit here in Mid-Michigan. Her first year should have been as challenging as any first year should be for a new nonprofit leader, but it turned out to be so much more. She began at the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region in August of 2019, and just a few short months later she was staring down the long and uncertain path with which we were faced in March 2020.
We have all faced an incredible series of challenges in 2020. Is anyone else as tired of the term “unprecedented” as I am? In our case, we had just completed a record-breaking February fundraiser. In Moira’s case, she had to cancel all their events for 2020, one after another. What does this have to do with cooperation? Well, since the pandemic began, we have been operating from home, in two spare bedrooms across the hall in our Bay City home.
It has become a bit of a punchline. In some cases, I have been on the phone with a donor or foundation, only to have them ask if they can talk to Moira, and vice versa. When that happens, I just walk my phone down the hall and hand it over. The most incredible thing, however, is just how much we helped one another navigate this unprecedented year.
There was no playbook for 2020, and our coworkers and boards of directors have had to put some faith in each of us to do what we think is best. There have been mistakes and there have been moments of inspiration, and through it all, we were there to critique, suggest, support, or improve one another’s ideas. Moira, I hope, learned a lot from me as I drew from my nine years of experience, especially with some of those aspects of the job you need to know from an administrative or operational standpoint. She, on the other hand, has lent a fresh pair of eyes to my work as she wades into her career at the YWCA.
The YWCA is dedicated to empowering women and ending racism. Their mission has been front and center this year. The SBLC has been as well, as we raise the voice of nature against the backdrop of regional flooding and help our municipal partners weakened by diminished resources.
Cooperation has always been at the forefront of what we do at the SBLC. We work with partners to accomplish things we could never have accomplished on our own. We leverage funds from donors and philanthropies to make agency and municipal resources go further. Just this fall, we began working closely with Shawna Walraven, the Bay County Treasurer. She realized that the County’s inventory of vacant lots and future vacant lots would need a well-designed approach to avoid blight and to reduce the resources necessary to maintain them. She called us, and now we are working on a series of lots around Bay City, planting nature-beneficial groundcovers in place of maintenance-intensive and non-contributing turfgrass,
Cooperating is not always easy. On the toughest days of 2020, sometimes you could sense a little tension in the air at the “Branigan Nonprofit Management Center” here at our house. Not every moment was perfect, but we helped one another, as we have in so many challenges throughout our lives. In our community, cooperation isn’t always easy, either. There are contracts and dollars to worry about; communications and deliverables that must be completed. But, it is worth it. Together, we are better than we are on our own.
I hope we can all remember that every day when we are queued up to drop our kids off at school and that other car needs to get in. I hope we remember it when we see a call for volunteers on a Saturday morning social media feed. I hope we remember it when our neighbor needs a hand with her lawn bags. I hope we remember it always.
With hope for our community and an open heart,
One of the most difficult challenges in our work is a lack of information. After we were permitted to resume operations in the field, but well before it was safe to gather groups of volunteers, we set out to change that. We decided to make productive use of our "down" time to develop a comprehensive land use inventory tool, with Saginaw as our first subject.
Funded by our donors and our own in-kind work as a staff, we visited each and every property in Saginaw. Now, we have a pilot tool that will allow us to develop searches for particular conditions, especially on vacant land, to help us determine where our service would be the most valuable. It will also provide powerful tools to our municipal partners for finding the best opportunities for economic development, where the worst problems exist for blight, and to better understand the residential landscape of the community. We are proud to present the SBLC Neighborhood Inventory Tool!
We eventually hope to expand our Neighborhood Inventory Tool to cover the entire region. This will allow us to track land use issues over both time and geography, matching demographic changes with land use issues. It will help both us and our partner local units of government make better decisions about how to deploy our resources. It will allow local philanthropies to better understand how they may direct their support. It will show progress and success in community revitalization efforts. We believe in this tool and we are proud to take on this responsibility here in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.
With love for our community and an open heart,
SBLC executive director
With such a heavy topic last week, I wanted to lighten things up a bit and talk about fall!
Fall is truly my favorite time of year, even if it is fleeting. Some years, we hardly register any sort of fall at all, when we transition from late summer warm weather spells that end abruptly with the gales of November!
Will Halloween be the same this year? I am sure it will not, which will undoubtedly alter how we make our way through the rhythms of Autumn. Maybe this is a year for new traditions.
How about Thanksgiving, and even Christmas? Hopefully, things improve and these traditions can remain in place. I know they would help us get back to some feelings of warmth, home, and family.
I am taking this opportunity to set aside a Saturday for something I have wanted to do for several years. I am headed out for a dedicated day of fall photography at one of my favorite places, Wakeley Lake, in the Huron National Forest. Just about ten miles east of Grayling, this huge lake is undeveloped and protected. It is one of the best-kept secrets in the Lower Peninsula!
Trevor and I decided we should open it up to more people and continue our recent photo workshops for an all-day hike and fall color photo tour. Observing COVID guidelines, we set aside just six spots for photographers who want to see a new and unique place and enjoy the most beautiful fall colors offered in Michigan. We have already sold four of these spots, so if you would like to have a full day of photo instruction and one-on-one photography with an experienced guide, we would love to have you with us.
This week we have a lot of work ahead. After the newsletter last week, and a viral Facebook post about our work in Saginaw, we had a huge outpouring of interest in what we do and how people could help. Stay tuned to our Facebook page to follow along as we complete our fall site cleanups, prepare many acres of land for late-season wildflower plantings, and get ready to prepare our conserved lands for winter.
With hope for our community and an open heart,