Once a Dodger

July 6, 2011

Michelle Knapik, Environment Program Director

Dear Dodge grantees and NJ philanthropic colleagues,

As I transition from the Dodge Foundation to the Surdna Foundation, I want you to know that my heart is filled with deepest thanks and gratitude. You have made my time at Dodge the richest chapter of my professional life to date. This has been no ordinary job – it is rare when every day someone or something reminds you that the work is about mission, aspiration, and impact. More importantly, though, this work has been rooted in relationship.

Your energy and passion provided constant inspiration, and you fueled my ability to better serve Dodge and its grantees. It has been nothing short of thrilling (by self-proclaimed policy wonk standards) to bear witness to the start-up and growth of Sustainable Jersey. In the same vein, I marvel at the new linkages between and among NJ urban farmers, rural farmers, ag land preservation specialists and local food market developers in this great Garden State.

I’ve also had the privilege of connecting more funders to environmental justice concerns in NJ’s urban centers, and I’ve been motivated to bring cross sector attention to green job opportunities and entrepreneurial environmental ventures in urban, suburban and rural areas of the state. And with some leaps of hope and faith, we’ve leveraged the power of philanthropic convenings to build diverse, multi-sector networks through initiatives like Common Ground and Dodge’s Food, Land and People cohort. Clearly, we are in political and economic times that call for “whole community” solutions (including eco and community artists) and I know that this work will continue and thrive based on the self-discoveries and relationships that have been kindled during our time together.

I have been honored to serve as your ambassador, and at times, your storyteller. These are roles that will continue no matter where I am. I also appreciate, beyond measure, the ways in which you contributed to the art and science of social change. I benefited as you shared your gifts of expertise, wisdom and perspective; and I hope I served you by helping to connect-the-dots within and beyond the NJ environmental community in terms of best practice and shared learning.

I leave Dodge for a mix of personal and professional opportunities – but I will weave my “Dodger” badge, and our shared causes and connections into the journey ahead. You – and the places you have taken me – are imprinted on my soul (and in my photo albums). My NJ nature encounters started my first week on the job when a mountain lion crossed my path in the Sterling Forest. Next up, Barbara Brummer blindfolded me and revealed rare and wild orchids in the Pine Barrens.

Tim Dillingham pointed out oyster catchers out on Sandy Hook; and I returned to the point many times to catch glimpse of black skimmers, ruddy turnstones, and other endangered shore birds.

The team at TPL transformed abandoned Newark fields.

Captain Bill cheered the return of the peregrine falcons and herons in the Meadowlands.

Eagles and osprey soared over the rivers in the Bayshore.

City Green, Greater Newark Conservancy, Isles, Camden City Garden Club, Grow it Green Morristown, and others planted and harvested change and produce in the toughest of NJ neighborhoods.

And from my NJ home town of Asbury Park, I have watched with pure delight the whimsical flight of least terns, never forgetting Cindy Zipf’s observation about the vastness of the ocean before me.

That sense of vastness just might capture what radiates from my heart when I think about my time with Dodge and with all of you.

Let’s stay connected! After July 19, you can reach me at mknapik@surdna.org