Incoming TPE Executive Director Debra Behrens tells the story of her journey into her new role.
Debra wrote this additional greeting for our newsletter, The Prairie Promoter:
It started as a wish. As a child visiting my grandparents in rural Minnesota, I fell in love with the vast prairie skies and the steady hum of insects on summer nights. Only later did I realize that this place filled with wonder had long since lost the complex beauty that once thrived there. This growing awareness gave me a sense of responsibility to do what I could to heal the land. But finding an answer to the question of what I can do has been a 20-year journey.
The actual seed of an idea wasn’t formed until I met my husband and realized we shared the same dream: to become stewards of the land. We nurtured our seed along through the lean early years of our marriage until we were able to afford a small homestead near Viroqua.
We thought we had achieved our goal, but as part-time residents we weren’t making much progress. And it was becoming harder and harder to leave the beauty and tranquility of our rural home to return to the city for work. We resolved to find a way to make this our permanent home and spent the next year rearranging our lives to make that possible.
I first discovered TPE while researching what to do about our problem with wild parsnip. I followed your progress through the years with interest. When the Landowner Services program was announced, we reached out to Dan immediately for advice on the projects we were finally ready to undertake on our land. Then I saw your job posting for an Executive Director, and my heart skipped a beat. Here it was: my ideal job! The more I learned, the more I became convinced that my 20-year career in nonprofit development, combined with my values and my connection to this mission, were a match.
You have built a strong organization, and you have the ability to grow. Some of the most rewarding work I’ve done involved helping nonprofits through the next phase in their organizational growth. I’ve developed an entrepreneurial approach to solving problems, focusing collective energy, and building momentum. Together, we’ll pursue strategies that improve our overall health and viability so that what we leave for those coming after us is a thriving organization.
It all starts with having clear goals. We will need to work together to define what we want for our future. This is a grassroots organization, with all the beauty and messiness that entails. We won’t always agree, but we need to be willing to trust one another and commit to pursuing our strategic goals together.
There is much to learn. In the coming weeks and months, I will be reaching out to gather your stories, ideas, and advice. But please feel free to share your suggestions at any time. There will be challenges ahead, and we’ll be prepared to meet them through the strength of our commitment — not just to our mission, but to one another.