Four Years on Hudson: My time at Riverkeeper

Since finishing my two-year FAO Schwarz Fellowship in August 2017, I have stayed on at Riverkeeper continuing in my role as Outreach Coordinator. While in this position over the last four years, I’ve organized our annual day of service each year called the Riverkeeper Sweep.

In its eighth year, the annual Riverkeeper Sweep has brought thousands of Hudson Valley and New York City residents down to their local stretch of shoreline for volunteer projects such as cleanups, tree planting, and invasive species removal projects. Over the years, 737 Sweep projects have occurred, removing almost 10,000 bags or about 259 tons of debris from the Hudson River Estuary including 1,365 tires and the program has scaled from 30 projects its first year, to 120+ in 2019.

Over the years the Sweep program has taught me several lessons about managing a big project:

Systems, systems, systems! When taking on a project, set up workflows and filing systems to make sure you and anyone you may be working with can find any materials or information they may need including project timelines.

Regular check-ins with clear agendas. Whether you’re working with others on your team or across departments on a project, it’s important to stay closely coordinated to triage new developments, adapt to issues that arise, keep things running on time, redistribute work, or rework the plan or timeline. Agendas provide structure to help participants stay focused and ensure all topics that need to be discussed are covered.

Systems and processes can always be improved. New is not necessarily bad, and often can be better! Accepting feedback is a difficult lesson to learn, but a valuable one. Often times those seeing something with fresh eyes can provide valuable insight.

Take care of yourself! When you’re in a busy period at work, try to find ways to take time to take care of yourself. When you have a little time, head to the gym, make a homemade meal, take a nap or a walk.

You bring a unique perspective into a project or program. Even as a recent college graduate, you bring valuable perspectives and opinions.

Last August, a second FAO Schwarz Fellow, Nick Mitch joined the Advocacy and Engagement team at Riverkeeper and has joined me in organizing Sweep, managing volunteers, and working on Riverkeeper’s advocacy campaigns. Nick has brought new energy and ideas to this work, including creating new youth engagement materials and activities, and new ideas to Sweep. I’m lucky to share in this work with Nick and to have such a thoughtful and determined co-organizer and colleague. 

Riverkeeper is grateful to the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation for the opportunity to host a second FAO Schwarz Fellow and for the support the foundation provides to current and alumni fellows.

 

Jen Benson completed the FAO Schwarz Fellowship in 2017. In addition to her role at Riverkeeper, Jen recently relocated to Kingston, NY to pursue a Masters in Environmental Policy at the Bard College Center for Environmental Policy.