NPO 025: Creating your Support Network (Jen Cole, Clean Fairfax)

Today's Guest: Jennifer Cole (email:
        Jennifer Cole has been the Executive Director for Clean Fairfax Council since January 2009. She served as the President of the Virginia Council on Litter Prevention and Recycling, a member of the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia and serves on the County’s Trash Team, a task force made up of County agencies, regional authorities and non-profits working on keeping area streams and special places clean and litter-free. She has also served as Vice President of Awards for the Community Appearance Alliance and currently fosters and socializes litters of feral kittens for Animal Allies and Tree of Life Cat Rescue.
        Hailing from Providence, RI, she was Executive Director of Groundwork Providence, an agency whose programs include street tree plantings, recycling education, neighborhood cleanups, brownfield and “green collar” job training, youth environmental education and stewardship, city beautification, and community garden management.
        In addition, she served as Director of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (planting over 5000 large trees on city streets with the help of residents and volunteers) and as Advocacy Coordinator for the Rhode Island office of the Conservation Law Foundation, working on complex environmental justice issues and successfully bringing polluters to justice. Jen was appointed by Mayor David Cicilline (now Congressman) to a five-year term of the Providence City Plan commission and served as the “environmental voice” for development and in the renewal of the Comprehensive Plan.
        Jennifer holds a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis on Urban Environmental Policy from Norwich University and a Certification in Advanced Business Sustainability from University of Vermont. She lives in Prince William County, Virginia with her husband, dogs, cats (all rescues,) and honey bees. Hobbies include writing, cooking, gardening, roasting coffee and knitting.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Clean Fairfax
The mission of Clean Fairfax is to encourage environmental stewardship and urban sustainability in Fairfax County, Virginia through education, programming, and community involvement. Clean Fairfax seeks to reduce littering and to encourage recycling, reusing, and reducing consumption, promote community action by supporting clean-ups and adopt-a-spots and serve as a clearing house for environmental information in Fairfax County.

Lessons Learned:
In our conversation, Jen shared about transition, building a community of support and finding ways to navigate the often tricky dynamics of partnership when people are not mindful of your mission.  Here are a few of the main lessons:

1.  Build a community of support: Outside of your board and outside of your staff, find people who you can connect with periodically who are champions of your cause and believe in you! These people will be great to bounce ideas off of, but will also serve as important community voices to give you necessary constructive criticism. You may even get lucky and find people who feel like family! 

2. In transitions, recognize the changes that need to be made, stand firm with your board of directors and be patient. Persist through the challenges that will inevitably arise and keep your eyes on the results you know are necessary for the organization.

3. When partnering with other organizations, speak your mind when their programming goes against your mission. In Jen's case, this meant speaking up when a partner offered single-use water bottles at a conference. Speaking up is one of the very best ways to encourage change in the future.  

Find Clean Fairfax online:

Story of Good: Interns
Jen shared a story about an intern she had who has become a passionate environmentalist, but who also gave Jen a new appreciation for a different faith and culture. Jen's intern was Muslim, devout, from a large family and over the course of the internship, she and Jen became very close. She has now become someone that Jen hopes will be part of her cheer-leading crew!