Kafka Announces Departure, New Director to be Hired in 2018

Nancy Kafka served as Executive Director of Belwin Conservancy from 2012 to 2017.
Nancy Kafka served as Executive Director of Belwin Conservancy from 2012 to 2017.

“It is with a sense of accomplishment and excitement for Belwin’s future that I am announcing I will be stepping down as Belwin Conservancy’s executive director on December 31, 2017.

“Leaving is always difficult — it’s hard to look backward when you are going forward. When I do reflect on my time at Belwin and my career in general, it is amazing to see what has been accomplished.

“We all play to our strengths and one of my strengths is to lay down a strong foundation on which other things can happen. At Belwin, that has included working with the board on creating and then implementing our 21st Century Master & Strategic plan, developing a structure that supports where the organization is headed, and empowering the Belwin team to create their path forward. These internal pieces have been very important to me.

“While the internal work is mostly unseen, over last five years Belwin’s membership and the general public have benefitted as well. Belwin went from hosting two large events per year (winter open house and spring bison release) to four large events (Night in Nature, winter solstice bonfire, winter open house and bison release). We also began hosting Open Third Saturdays every month and implemented a broad array of interpretive programs. These more-public activities have helped to double membership and dramatically increase individual contributions to Belwin.

“People often ask me how I got into this field. Well, it was rooted in fulfilling a need. Back in 1978, I was living in Boston and the effects of white flight and urban decay were everywhere. There were federal and state policies in place that encouraged the creation of community gardens on what were called infill lots (where housing had been demolished). The lots attracted illegal dumping and other illicit activity. The vast majority of these lots were in poor neighborhoods. A movement began to reclaim these lots and allow residents to plant vegetable gardens so that they had a food source they controlled (think of today’s food security movement).

“My neighborhood, the South End, had many of these vacant lots that had been reclaimed but were not permanently protected. In partnership with the city of Boston, the Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG) and the Trust for Public Land, the residents and I formed a community-based land trust and requested the city transfer ownership of the land to the land trust, which it did.

“That was an extraordinary moment and propelled me forward on a path I could not have imagined. From community gardens and greenways in Boston, Providence and Stamford, to permanently protecting the waterfront in the city of Red Wing, Minnesota, each and every step has been filled with creative joy.

“Belwin Conservancy has been the culmination of a 30-plus year career that has ultimately been about helping communities realize their potential — embracing their power in order to permanently protect land so that it is available for a public purpose; helping people connect with one another through a shared and meaningful activity — all through engaging with the land. It’s always been about the land.

“My next phase will be focused on renewal and reflection, and begins with a year-long program through the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.

“Belwin will begin its search for the next executive director in the new year. For questions about the search, contact board President David Hartwell (david@dbhartwell.com). For questions about Belwin, please visit www.belwin.org or call the office (651-436-5189) and talk with any of the very enthusiastic and competent Belwin team: Justin, Susan, Marta, Eric, Martin, Connor, Sarah or Lynette.

“Please feel free to contact me and/or stay in touch: nancy.kafka@gmail.com, 651-500-8211.

With hopes of crossing paths at some future point,
Nancy Kafka