James Pinsky: Supportive parents are important

James Pinsky


If you’re going to save the world, it helps to have supportive parents.

In Virginia, soil conservationists have just that, and the Virginia Association of Conservation Districts Employees is one of them.

The “Association” is composed of Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District employees, directors, and partner agency personnel who share our dedication to professional development, leadership, and voice to issues and solutions on behalf of conservation district employees.

It sounds quite formal, but rest assured the word personal is a far better description. In fact, think of the “Association” as a tree-hugging super mom with pom-poms, a map and some granola bars because above all else, the whole point of the “Association” is to care for, protect and raise all of its 271 members to our fullest potential.  And, if the “Association” is the mom, then the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts might be the dad since both work together to take care of the conservation family we have here in Virginia. I assure you they’re both gender-neutral roles.

“There is a different feel to it…or at least that’s what I get,” said newly elected Virginia Association of Conservation District Employees president Andrew Gilmer, who is the district manager for Clinch Valley Soil & Water Conservation District headquartered in Lebanon, Virginia. “There is a strong ‘build-you-up’ energy in the conservation arena (with VASWCD and VACDE, in particular) that I think is rare in other working environments. The state association (VASWCD) and their staff have always provided a positive attitude that constructs the foundation for the rest of us to build on. When your leaders inspire you, you are inspired to do bigger and better things. This inspiration has encouraged me to be a creative leader and to seek opportunities that may inspire others. “

That’s good parenting folks.

How do you make good parents? Easy, it starts with being raised by them, and Gilmer certainly was. “I grew up on a small farm with a single mother and a big brother,” said Gilmer. “Resources were thin but we managed to make it work. After my brother and I both attended Radford University and got a degree in geography (concentration of enviro. studies), we learned about the implications created when livestock have unregulated stream access. After talking it over with our mom, we signed the farm up under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. That was Post-Grad Conservation 101 for the both of us (and my mom, too!).”

Past “association” president Deanna Fehrer thinks Gilmer has the tools, pom-poms included, to be the next great “Association” parent, I mean president. “Andrew is energetic and enthusiastic and will be a great cheerleader for district employees,” said Fehrer. “He represents Virginia as the representative to the Southeast Conservation District Employees Association (SECDEA) in a very professional manner and will be a good leader for employees in Virginia.”

According to Gilmer, being a member of the “Association” and working for one of the 47 soil and water conservation districts across Virginia has some unique qualities compared to other conservation-minded organizations. “Historically, one of the things that has made us unique in our state is that we have had strong cost-share funding (at least for the last few years),” he said. “Amongst a few other folks, we can largely thank our state association for this funding support. The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts means so much to us and I believe Virginia’s soil and water conservation district employees acknowledge that.”

Gilmer spoke highly of the “Association,” but he also highlighted Virginia’s own commitment to conservation in the first place as a significant contributor to our success.

“One thing I can personally speak on as VACDE’s representative that has attended the Southeast Conservation District Employee’s Association (SECDEA) meeting over the last two years is that we are vastly fortunate in this state,” the Radford University Highlander said. “Most districts in Virginia get strong funding for both cost-share and operations. That’s not the case in many other states. What VACDE does and will continue to do is to ensure that all district employees have the opportunity to better themselves as conservationists within their state. The employee’s association was established for the employee but it’s up to the employee to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Like any good parent, the “Association” knows each of its employees has a wealth of potential and it has and will continue to help all of them be the very best conservationists possible. Gilmer said the VACDE will continue its primary role of providing support for district employees through professional development, training, and networking opportunities.

As any parent should, the “Association” doesn’t just show up for the best times, in fact, one of the best parts of the “Association” is its steadfast commitment, both emotionally and financially, to its employees during our very worst times. “If you’re a VACDE member and life throws you a curveball, the VACDE’s Benevolence Fund can help you get back on your feet again,” Gilmer said. “The benevolence fund is there for employees who have suffered a natural disaster, fire, or similar financial hardship.”

Like any good parent, the “Association” wants to and helps us make friends both near and far in the conservation world. Gilmer will continue to embrace this leadership trait of the “Association.”

“As a regional conservation leader, I believe one direction we should be focused on is helping to build up our partners in other states,” Gilmer said.  After all, we are all focused on a common objective in the conservation field, right? Perhaps we can advertise to other state leaders for potentially attending our Graves Mountain training, for example. ”

In the real world, conservation included, everyone needs friends and chances are our first best friend was our mom or dad, and just like the “Association” hopes to be, our mom and dads are best friends for life.

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.