Changes Afoot at Wild Whatcom!

Leadership transition at Wild Whatcom on the horizon

Leadership transition at Wild Whatcom on the horizon

Dear Participants and Families,

In the spring of 2019, when the salmon berries are bursting and the barn swallows are carving S-turns over your head, Wild Whatcom will begin its next chapter under new executive leadership.

To that end, we have an important announcement. Emily Barnett Highleyman, after five incredibly successful years as Executive Director, has decided to depart the organization in May of 2019.

We have nothing but accolades for Emily. In fact, here are a just a few things (out of many) that occurred under her leadership:

  • In 2014 we provided nature outings for 400+ kids. Today that number is over 2,000.

  • Wild Whatcom now has a thriving partnership with Bellingham schools, serving over 1,000 youth.

  • We've grown our program impact from 30,000 participant Nature Hours to over 50,000!

  • We provide $20,000 in financial assistance to those in need - a five-fold increase.

  • Mentors used to store gear in their cars and prepare for outings at their kitchen tables. Today we have an office that serves a team of 25.

If you are reading this announcement then you have played a part in these accomplishments. Thank you!

Emotionally, it will be quite challenging to see Emily go. She brings the type of compassionate leadership this world needs; she is wise, collaborative, effective, passionate, visionary, loving, and on and on.  
Fortunately, it will not be hard organizationally. Why? Emily has strengthened the fabric of the organization at all levels. Systems are working smoothly, programs are supported by amazing staff, there is a well-configured budget, and best of all, there is a clear direction in which the organization is headed, endorsed and developed by the staff and board – toward a Wild Whatcom that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in all facets of its operations and programming.

Thanks to the long lead time, we have 5+ months to make a smooth and empowering transition. We are putting things in place to ensure that all goes well for Emily, for the staff, for our partners, for you, and most importantly for our participants. The kiddos getting muddy in Arroyo Park will continue to enjoy the beautiful outdoors under great mentorship and thoughtful programming as they always have.

Here is the plan. Our five-person Transition Team will announce the new position in early 2019. Between now and then we will be seeking basic input from a variety of stakeholders and consulting with executive transition experts. Interviews could be held as early as February and proceed from there. There will likely be a planned overlap between the new director and Emily, depending on timing.

We are tremendously grateful for all that Emily has brought to Wild Whatcom. We are healthy and vibrant thanks to her strong leadership and we wish her all the best in her next endeavor. Emily has a few words to share with you as well, below.  

Feel free to reply to this announcement with questions or comments and we will do our best to answer you as quickly as possible.


Wild Whatcom Board of Directors
To the wonderful Wild Whatcom community,

When I was hired in 2014, I made a personal commitment to 3-5 years. This May will be 5 wonderful years! Though I know I will miss being in the midst of such a phenomenal organization and team, the time feels ripe for me to move on to new endeavors and adventures.

What a fantastic journey these past 5 years have been! I am overcome with gratitude and awe for the amazing team of folks I have the privilege to work alongside. That is one of the hardest parts about deciding to step down as ED. And, it is also exactly why I can imagine leaving; the fact that we have such a solid and superlative group of leaders who will carry forth the mission of Wild Whatcom with great care and success.

As you know, they can’t do it alone. They need you - the wonderful community that you are - to continue to support the vital work of connecting youth to nature in meaningful ways. Together, we mentor youth to become empowered and compassionate stewards who take action as positive change-makers in their communities.

It’s hard to imagine more important work in this time of acrimony and environmental onslaught. Thank you for your sustained commitment to this incredible endeavor. I know that the skills, insights, and vision of the next leader will bring exciting new horizons to Wild Whatcom.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or input. I’d love to hear from you and hope to stay in touch far into the future!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

With gratitude,