Friends board members met in January for a strategic planning meeting at the Plantation on Crystal River. Refuge Manager Andrew Gude and Assistant Refuge Manager John Stark also attended. Though not all board members could attend, the majority did.
The itinerary included a stop at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and Friends Nature Store. We wanted to get an idea of what other Friends groups are doing for outreach. Well this facility is over the top and includes dioramas, interactive activities, and merchandise for sale all with the ever popular manatee themes. Friends staff exchanged information about our two chapters and board member Boyd Kimball took copious notes about the merchandising operations at the Nature Store.
Next stop was the Plantation on Crystal River for a guided river cruise in search of living and breathing manatees. The weather was kind and as we cruised along the entertaining guides pointed out several manatees to the delight of all. Amazingly gentle giants.
After the cruise, it was check-in time, preparation exercise for next day's meeting, an enjoyable social hour and then a nice dinner at the hotel.
In the morning, it was time to get down to business, and boy did we. The meeting was kicked off by Friends President Ginessa Mahar. The agenda included revisiting our Friends mission statement to ensure we were spending our resources, time and effort on the key elements including providing advocacy, awareness, and physical support to the Refuges. We thought of it as a three-legged stool - that being a symbol of stability that brings balance to the user - if one leg's removed the stool fails.
Following the introduction, Refuge Manager Andrew Gude summarized his priorities for the coming two years. Key items included completing a volunteer camper's infrastructure on the Vista Camp site, law enforcement guidance to staff and volunteers, more interpretive signage, ADA compliance, and trail repair and enhancements.
Next came hashing out the nuts and bolts. An exercise called SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) was conducted to flush out how our Friends programs, projects and activities mesh with the mission. Examples of strengths included robust communications (website, newsbrief, brochures); weaknesses (not tapping into involvement of broader membership), opportunities (partnerships with UF, native plant society, and others), and threats (volunteer burnout).
After a break, we divided into three groups (advocacy, awareness, and physical support) to come up with lists of actionable items.
Finally, we wrapped up the meeting with a comprehensive list of actions that are considered priorities to both Friends and the Refuges, and are also achievable. These include:
I believe the participants in this meeting will agree it was time well spent. Friends budget covered the cost of the meeting room and board members paid for their own room and board including the river cruise.