Change Begins Here: Friends Represented at the Leadership Institute

2022-23 Leadership Institute in Portland, Oregon

April 28, 2022

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world,” Margaret Mead once famously said. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

From April 24th to the 27th, our Executive Director Jeff Rennicke joined a small group of thoughtful, concerned leaders from Friends groups across the country at the first in-person gathering of the 2022-23 Leadership Institute in Portland, Oregon. Representatives from Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Virgin Islands, Acadia, Shenendoah, and Cabrillo National Moment were also in attendance.  

A program of the National Park Foundation, the Leadership Institute is an intensive 15-month course that helps to identify and groom leaders within the national park partner organizations. It combines broad philosophical discussions about the role and meaning of leadership with a detailed, hands-on approach to the work being done by Friends organizations and their parks. 

“Today the relationships between national parks and their Friends groups, as well as the issues they face together, are deeply complicated,” says Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke. “It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details. This program allows us to talk through the details of the daily issues but also encourages us to ‘get on the balcony.’” The “Balcony” is a reference to the work of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky called Adaptive Leadership  which urges leaders to “get off the dance floor and .. to the balcony” on occasion to take the long view of their actions as well. 

Other topics throughout the three-day session included establishing and maintaining trust between an organization and its park, its board, and its members, the difference between “outcomes” and “process” issues, identifying “core values” in an organization, and the power of strategic storytelling. In addition, a large part of the session was devoted to “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” training, an important issue facing both the national parks and many organizations across the country. Guest speakers included Roey Thorpe (a social justice activist who has served as the Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation) and Greg Wolley (the principal consultant of Creating Tomorrow’s Workforce, and the co-founder of the African American Outdoor Association). 

Felicia Tripp Folsom (Executive Director of The Contingent)

Felicia Tripp Folsom, conference facilitator

Greg Wolley at Leadership Institute

Greg Wolley, African American Outdoor Association

The year-long Institute will continue with monthly online meetings, assignments, guest speakers, and will culminate in March 2023 at the annual conference of the Friends Alliance and the National Park Foundation. 

“The Apostle Islands can sometimes seem set apart from the rest of the world,” Rennicke says, “but the Leadership Institute is a reminder that we are all connected, we all face some of the same challenges and opportunities, and that together we can forge solutions that work for all of us.” 

Generous donations from board members and supporters of Friends, as well as a scholarship from the National Park Foundation “Strong Parks, Strong Communities” fund, will cover all the associated costs of the program allowing Friends to take advantage of this important opportunity and continue to support their programs and projects in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.

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