Linda’s years on the board were marked by struggle and resilience. When I asked her about her greatest challenges — she presided over the board as Chair during the 1997 flood in Yosemite and government shutdowns of the parks that housed NatureBridge’s campuses — she was more focused on what grew out of them.
“One challenge was certainly Mother Nature, and that turned into a financial challenge for us,” she says. “We held a brainstorming session at the Headlands Institute (now NatureBridge’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area campus) with all the senior management team, and we literally went line item by line item through the budget and discussed every single part of the organization. Sometimes it felt like it was cutting into your heart to do what we had to do.”
A week later, the board met to review the recommendations of that brainstorming session. As programs were cut and layoffs were considered, one mantra began to crystallize that would stay with Linda throughout her board chair tenure and beyond:
“It’s the kids, stupid!” she laughs.
The play on James Carville’s famous “It’s the economy, stupid” line from the 1992 presidential election came from Karen Collins, a board member who was also Associate Superintendent of California State Parks.
“We were reviewing all these recommendations and cuts and Karen just stood up and reminded us what it was all for. ‘It’s the kids, stupid.’ That’s what was at the core of it all. Everybody wanted to save this thing. Everybody got inspired. Everybody got creative. Everybody wanted to work harder to make sure that the organization survived and thrived. Everybody cared about the children and giving them the opportunity to be in these unbelievable programs most of all.”
Another challenge was the expansion of NatureBridge’s programs to more diverse communities, where Linda played a pivotal role.
“Just like the board was mostly white, the students we were serving were mostly white. That didn’t reflect California and Washington, which were dramatically changing in terms of demographics.”
Adjusting to service the needs of those rapidly changing populations required patience and experimentation. NatureBridge acquired funding to run a program called Teen Environmental Action Mentorship (TEAM), which brought students from historically marginalized communities in the Bay Area to the Golden Gate campus for an environmental education series.
“From there, with Ty Cobb as CEO, we built the corporate competence to begin to raise money. That enabled us to start the Diversity Initiative where we were then able to scholarship kids to bring them to the campuses.”
A third challenge was creating NatureBridge’s strategic plan; a carefully crafted vision that took into account everything from potential new funding to core learning principles, with the goal of outlining the financial, programmatic and structural future of the organization.
“It took nine months because we wanted buy-in from — and I mean this literally — every single person in the organization,” she says. “By the time we’d been through all the iterations, it was very easy to pass since everyone was already on board.”
After the strategic plan was passed, Linda arranged with Ty to bring in a Harvard Community Partners team to perform an organization-wide governance study. These three volunteer consultants — Allan Prager, Phil Lamoreaux and Dorinda Nyberg — made recommendations that created a governance structure and policies that would take the organization forward in powerful ways. All three were so inspired by the work of NatureBridge that they assumed roles as directors and advisors for many years.
Linda retired from the board in 2005, leaving an immediate and deeply felt legacy. As parting gifts, she received a print of the famous Earthrise photograph from Bill Anders, himself, as well as a going away dinner at the Golden Gate campus in the Marin Headlands. At that dinner, friend and staff member Lisa Hale gave Linda a set of custom bandanas that displayed her accomplishments as Board Chair in the form of a mind map — an educational tool often used in NatureBridge programs.
“I think mind maps are brilliant. They make sense to kids of every ability and every background. Ever since I was introduced to them, I just loved mind maps. So that was special to see all my achievements made into one like that,” says Linda.