We’re delighted to welcome Lucy Crocker Abisalih as our new Board Chair! We asked her a few questions so you could get to know her.
Welcome, Lucy. November 2022 marks your debut as Board Chair of the Georges River Land Trust. How does it feel so far?
Well, it’s very early and, of course, following Alvin Chase is not to be wished upon anyone. At this point, I am honored by the faith and trust of my fellow Board members who elected me. I view this role as being in service to the Board and I am pleased to be able to help GRLT in this way. This is a very supportive group.
You’ve had a lot of experience as a director on other boards, including ours, and as a Board Chair on another land trust. Why are you interested in taking on this role?
Just to be clear [laughter] this is not a position I sought out. I’m motivated by optimization and change-making when it’s productive, and it feels good to contribute when and where I can. Being Chair doesn’t make my opinion any more important than that of any other Board member. What I look forward to most is helping to harness the thoughtful, diverse ideas of this Board and our members, to benefit the Land Trust. Part of this role is acting as a liaison between the Board and organizational leadership which means I get a somewhat broader view of how the organization functions and can, hopefully, continue the important work Alvin did building a culture that brings out the best in all of us and advances our mission.
Where did your interest in good governance come from? What skills does it require?
My mother was a wonderful role model. She served on many boards when I was growing up. I was intrigued by work that seemed so impactful. I was asked to serve on one of those boards when she retired. I was barely 30. That was quite a legacy to follow. She encouraged me to express myself gently but firmly in what were some intimidating boardrooms. So, I played to my strengths and led with my conscience.
Good governance occurs when leadership that is inclusive is combined with good process. Our Board members have a variety of skills in business, fundraising, environmental science, etc. The key is to draw on those skills to benefit GRLT. My personal strength derives from years of nonprofit leadership. I have no specific professional training; I’m the liberal arts version, I suppose.
In terms of skills, no one’s good at everything. Being a good listener and valuing diverse opinions is my M.O. I try to keep an open mind and draw out the voices of the smart people around me. We’re all learning together.
Why do you think the Georges River Land Trust is important?
Let me count the ways… I don’t want to be all gloom and doom, but survival comes immediately to mind. The sooner everyone understands that the health of their parents, children and grandchildren is directly related to the health of the planet, the better. GRLT was founded to conserve land and that is our stated purpose – to protect the health of the watershed. But we know that hoarding land is not the answer – access and education must be part of our work. For decades, American society has “advanced” by manipulating and controlling natural systems. People have become so separated from nature in its raw form that we are now at a point where many people become anxious in a natural environment. We have got to bring our expertise and resources to bear to re-connect more people with nature, so they understand why this work is important. GRLT is building community around land conservation – inspiring connections and raising awareness. This work couldn’t be more important.
What are some of the things you think we can do to bring the community together and inspire more urgency around these issues?
If only environmental groups could control the national narrative, then the urgency would be better understood. GRLT needs to create different ways and reasons for people to connect with nature. People who hike, mountain bike, bird watch and hunt know the value we bring and are the strength of our organization. We need to find ways to engage those whose have, by choice or circumstance, distanced themselves from nature. Collaborating with other organizations and providing access to nature to people who don’t otherwise have it, is important. This is why I love the Rockland Bog project and the concept of the Waterfront to Wilderness Trail linking downtown Rockland to the Bog. We will be inviting city-dwellers and visitors to walk out of downtown and into nature where they can learn something new. What we want to avoid is perpetuating a we/they dynamic between the outdoor enthusiasts and the rest of the community. Everyone can learn to appreciate and enjoy nature if given an opportunity that resonates for them. Let’s host those opportunities.
I know you’re also looking at the eventuality of a few key Board directors stepping down. How do you inspire commitment from other directors?
GRLT is extremely fortunate to have had the commitment of some outstanding Board members over the years. And every time one of them terms off, we, and they, wonder how things will feel going forward. The good news is that those Board members don’t just disappear when they’re no longer sitting at the table. In fact, they are sometimes more visible in the community and can tell our story just as well as they could when they were actively serving on the Board.
And…the Board adapts and carries on developing its next irreplaceable Board member! A strong, dynamic board inspires commitment. People come and go and that’s healthy. We are creating a culture where Board members understand that they’ll be tapped for a lead role at some point (officer or committee chair). If we thoughtfully populate the Board with team players who have diverse, complementary skill sets, then meaningful conversations take place. Most people find that the deeper their engagement, the more rewarding and fun the work is. Emphasizing a shared leadership mindset makes room for everyone, and that’s a room people want to be in – high engagement, high impact.
What would you say to someone who might be interested in joining the Georges River Land Trust’s Board?
We are always on the lookout for future Board members to bring new skills and perspectives. Most years we have Board members terming off, so if you are motivated by any aspect of our mission and want to join the team that partners with the staff to set strategic direction, and oversees the ‘business’ of the Land Trust, reach out to one of us! You don’t have to be an expert in how a land trust functions. We’re a collegial, respectful group. This is high impact, rewarding work and the land conservation landscape is shifting as climate change creates new environmental and economic pressures. Let us know if you’re interested; there are many ways to be involved as a Board or committee member and in other volunteer capacities.
Lucy Abisalih first dipped her toes in the water of the Georges River about 50 years ago when, while sailing, her family sought refuge from the fog in Pleasant Point Gut. They were fogged in for two days. Her parents went ashore, met up with a realtor and since that time Lucy has had the good fortune to spend summers in Cushing. They landed on a plot of land called Burying Point, which immediately engaged them in the local traditions, long history and natural beauty of Cushing and the Georges River.