Yampatika looks to future as it names new executive director
After an extensive search that began back in January, Yampatika has appointed Kristen Jespersen as executive director for the organization, which provides environmental learning opportunities for children and adults in Northwest Colorado.
“I think she has a great presence. She has a natural leadership ability — you can just tell … and she’s an effective communicator,” said Rachel Heltzel, vice president of Yampatika. ”I think she’s going to be extremely imperative for Yampatika as we continue to build those key relationships with stakeholders and the community.”
Jespersen already started the process of onboarding at Yampatika, but will not officially take the position until July 1. She has lived in Steamboat Springs community for the past 13 years.
She has been working remotely for RiversEdge West helping with river restoration work throughout the southwestern United States by removing invasive plants and restoring river systems. She has a Masters of Arts in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Reed College in Oregon.
“She’s got extensive administrative experience,” Heltzel said. “I don’t think she was exactly in the executive director role down there. She was in more of a developmental role so this was a step up for her — we are so thrilled.”
The search to fill the position at Yampatika drew more than 20 resumes with five finalists going through a more in-depth interview process. Yampatika’s former executive director, Joe Haines left earlier this year
“Joe Haines left the organization in January and became the development director over at Perry-Mansfield (Performing Arts School and Camp),” said Elliot Ludy, president of the board at Yampatika. “Joe did a ton of great things at the Yampatika organization and we know he will do great things over there, so we wish him the best.”
The hiring committee at Yampatika was pleasantly surprised when a local applicant rose to the top, and Ludy said the organization is super excited to have hired her.
Jespersen was drawn to Yampatika for a number of reasons, including her previous work with nonprofits.
“I have been wanting to lead an organization that has a specific mission of helping to grow the awareness and knowledge about our natural systems, an organization that provides education to schools, to youth and adults to help enhance local passion for these areas and to increase stewardship,” Jespersen said. “That’s a big draw, and I’m really looking forward to building on the 30 years that the organization has been doing good work in this community to help offset the growing demand in the area.”
Jespersen and her husband Soren are longtime residents who, like most people in Steamboat Springs, enjoy being outdoors and backpacking. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Lola who is in second grade.
“We really enjoy sharing our lifestyle with her and the people that we have developed strong friendships with,” Jespersen said. “I mean, that’s really the strong appeal of Steamboat in my opinion — it’s not just the natural spaces, but the community.”
Jespersen said she also loves the arts and dance, and has been on the board of Steamboat Dance Theatre since the summer of 2011. She was president of the board and is currently working as part-time executive director for that organization.
As she prepares to lead Yampatika — which reaches more than 6,000 people with its camps, summer, winter and school programs — her goal is to keep the organization on track while pushing for even more.
“I’m hoping to do some good outreach and listen to where there is a need for the services that Yampatika provides.” Jespersen said. “I want to foster partnerships that are logical to offer scholarships, so people of all backgrounds are able to participate in our programs, no matter their socioeconomic status because they know that can be a prohibiting factor.”
She also thinks there is an opportunity for the organization to serve as sort of the outreach arm for a lot of the emerging environmental issues, while it continues to offer educational opportunities for children, adults and visitors.
“Educating about our water systems, about soil and about the species that inhabit the Yampa Valley and western Colorado — that’s a really important piece of the work that we do,” Jespersen said. “Our goal is to educate not just people who live here and young people, but people who are visiting, and engaging adults in this work is important. We all love to recreate here, but finding ways to empower our community to take care of these landscapes is also an opportunity.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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