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Kelly Herrenkohl has left Vetri Community Partnership after 13 years — she started as a volunteer special events auction coordinator and worked her way to a top staff position as chief operating officer — to become vice president of communications and engagement at Natural Lands.
Natural Lands is a nonprofit that saves open space, cares for nature, and connects people to the outdoors in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Herrenkohl will work from the Hildacy Preserve, a 55-acre property full of native grasses and protected bird habitats, that was part of a William Penn land grant in what is now Media, in Delaware County.
If it seems like that’s a long way from Vetri Community Partnership — which was founded by chef Marc Vetri and restaurateur Jeff Benjamin to help kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living — Herrenkohl says there are more similarities than you might think.
Generocity caught up with Herrenkohl on June 11 — the day after she started at Natural Lands — for a quick Q&A.
Generocity: What drew you to the position at Natural Lands? What do you hope to accomplish while you are there?
Herrenkohl: When I am not working or hanging out with my family, I have to be outside. Actually, my work colleagues and my family will tell you that I’m always trying to drag them outside with me for meetings, meals, walks … you name it. I spend a lot of my weekends, evenings and vacations exploring various outdoor areas in our region.
Last December, I googled “hikes near me” and discovered Hildacy Preserve, a Natural Lands nature preserve in Media, which is only about 20 minutes from where I live. That led me to Natural Land’s website, which led me to a job posting for vice president of communications and engagement. The main focus of the position to leverage relationship-building and partnerships to increase the public’s awareness of and engagement with Natural Land’s amazing resources — 24,000 acres of thoughtfully preserved land that are open to the public.
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So much of the work I did at Vetri Community Partnership was just that – building relationships, creating partnerships and working with a talented team to bring innovative culinary and nutrition education programs to the community. And while learning to cook and connecting to nature don’t seem closely related at first glance, they are actually flip sides of the same public health coin: moving your body and experiencing the outdoors is just as important to your physical, mental and emotional health as eating fruits and vegetables.
How will it be different from the work you did at the Vetri Community Partnership? Are there any similarities? What made you decide that the time was right for you to leave Vetri?
Herrenkohl: Well, the office environment is about as different as you can get – while Vetri Community Partnership’s office is in center city, the Natural Lands office is actually on a nature preserve — the very one I hiked on back in December. So instead of the city skyline, I’m looking at trees — lots and lots of trees.
I think I’ll have the same opportunity at Natural Lands that I enjoyed at Vetri Community Partnership to work with a really engaged and passionate team to do work that is really important to me.
It was a really hard decision to leave Vetri Community Partnership. I had been on staff for eight years and had volunteered for five years prior to that, so I got to see the organization grow from a true start up (my first office was in the storeroom above Vetri Cucina on Spruce Street) to a thriving organization with 20+ full time staff and 20+ part time educators.
I have a close friendship with both of the founders, Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin, and great relationships with the rest of the board. My colleagues at VCP are super hard working, really fun, and passionate about their mission — which is what you dream of as a non-profit leader. That actually was a big part of me being able to give myself permission to move on — the Vetri Community Partnership team is immensely capable to step in and take over where I left off.
It was the combination of knowing that I was leaving the organization in such capable hands plus the unique leadership position and mission at Natural Lands’ that is so perfectly tailored to my own interests that led me to make the decision.
Tell me about the personal trajectory that puts you at Natural Lands at this particular moment in your life. Will it be difficult to transition from a job in Philly to one in Media?
Herrenkohl: I find myself in the interesting position of being the mother of four teenagers (enviable position? Wouldn’t trade you for a million dollars position? Not entirely sure!) They are 19, 17, 14, and 13 ranging from rising sophomore in college to rising 8th grader. When I came home from the hike and said I had seen this job posting — they were biggest cheerleaders, telling me to go for it.
They actually were amazing as I went through all the emotions associated with a big career change — nervousness, fear, hope, feeling unsure, worry, happiness, sadness, excitement. Throughout the whole process, I felt like I was giving them an example of stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk — I hope they’ll recall that someday and go for something big themselves.
My office at VCP was 7.3 miles from my house and my office at Natural Lands is 7.3 miles from my house — but I’ll be using lots more car and lots less train. Lots less food options near the office (good thing I learned how to cook pretty well from my time at Vetri and can make myself lunch) — but way more walk-in-the-woods-over-lunch-break options.-30-
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