Finding just the right team to lead a non-profit (or any) organization can seem daunting, especially when you are seeking pioneering change makers.
But after a widespread search, during which Sandi Fiske acted as interim executive director, the Board of Governors of the Seaside Institute has been fortunate to attract two well credentialed additions to the team: veteran business executive Bob Irwin, who will serve as executive director, and non-profit manager Janie Henderson, who has been named operations manager.
The duo will be tasked with leading the Seaside Institute, whose mission is to be a catalyst for change in new urbanist communities, including taking on the challenges of aging populations, transportation and traffic. It also serves to enrich the lives of residents and visitors with educational and cultural activities, and to provide leadership in areas of new urbanism. The Academic Village, which the institute manages, provides a venue for workshops and other educational activities, as well as housing for participants.
Irwin comes to the Seaside Institute from several positions as chief executive officer in (primarily) software companies throughout the United States. A longtime Seaside homeowner, Irwin jumped on the opportunity to provide administrative leadership to the Seaside Institute.
“The first time I read the job description, I knew it was my dream job,” he says. “Mary Beth and I have long dreamed of living, working and playing in Seaside and to be able to make a significant contribution to Seaside, the community and the future of the institute is a dream.”
The Irwin family has been coming to Seaside since their daughters Elle, 24, and Eliza, 23, were babies. “On our first visit, we stayed at Time Out on Savannah Street and were mesmerized by the people, the beach and the town,” Irwin says. “We’ve been homeowners on Tupelo Street for over 15 years. Elle was engaged on the Tupelo Street pavilion, was married in the chapel, and had her reception on the lawn at the lyceum. For our daughters and our family, Seaside is home.”
Janie Henderson joins the institute with a B.S. degree in media studies communication and certification as a non-profit association management professional, with extensive experience in event planning. Like Irwin, Henderson jumped at the chance to work at the Seaside Institute, and knew it was the job for her from a first read of the job description.
“I found my niche in event and program management for the nonprofit world a few years ago. However, I’ve been trying to escape the suburban sprawl of Atlanta for most of my life. I love everything the institute stands for, specifically the concept of new urbanism. And of course, the beaches of South Walton are a significant added bonus,” Henderson says.
“My parents have visited essentially every state park in Florida. And I’ve tagged along since birth. I can remember visiting the ‘Hippie Village’ in Grayton Beach and thinking to myself, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to move here.’ And so I did.”
In conversations with Irwin and Henderson, several topics were explored:
Beverly Walters (BW): What do you see as the future of the institute within Seaside?
Bob Irwin (BI): I see everyone in Seaside working together for a common cause: to help people lead better lives, to accelerate the impact of new urbanism, and to bring arts, culture, and education to our community. The more we work together, the stronger we will be and the bigger impact we will have.
Janie Henderson (JH): I look forward to a future full of collaboration and progress within Seaside. The culture within this community is lively, innovative and unique. I would like to see our programs mimic that culture, and in turn provide more workshops and activities that we could all enjoy and benefit from.
BW: Do you see a role for the institute outside of Seaside, e.g., along the 30A corridor and beyond?
BI: I see the institute connecting with all of the communities along 30A and, together, championing new urbanism thought leadership and collaboration, catalyzing civic enrichment education and engagement and leading the implementation of cutting-edge initiatives.
JH: I see a role for the institute for 30A and beyond. I would encourage locals, public officials and organizations to think of us as the 30A hub where we can gather together and brainstorm new ways to make all of our communities better.
BW: What do you see as the main challenges facing Seaside and the other communities along the 30A corridor?
BI: With the success of new urbanism and the growth of communities up and down 30A, we’ve created our own challenges with traffic, parking, and congestion. One of the benefits of working for the institute is that we can attack those problems and create solutions that work for Seaside, for our entire community, and for the world.
JH: I think the obvious struggle for 30A is traffic and parking. I think it’s in South Walton’s best interest to focus on this challenge.
BW: How important do you think the work of the Academic Village is to the civic life of Seaside and the South Walton area?
BI: Enriching civic life starts with bringing arts, culture and education to our community. The Academic Village is a unique and special asset that allows us to gather thought leaders, experts, students and practitioners from our community and from around the world in a collaborative environment to learn and to grow together.
JH: The Academic Village is unique because it makes it convenient for professionals to visit Seaside and share their ideas with us, and it does so in such a new urbanist way. I often overhear visitors admiring not only the village, but the assembly hall and schoolhouses as well. I think it sends a message that Seaside is not only a vacation destination, but a mecca of forward thinkers and innovators.
BW: How would you like to see the institute evolve in the future?
BI: I would like to see the institute push the envelope for far-reaching initiatives. Just as Seaside conceptualized new urbanism, implemented new urbanism, codified new urbanism, and made a global impact with new urbanism; I am confident that we can do the same with initiatives like mobility and with aging in place.
JH: As the institute develops more programs, I specifically would like to see a push for workshops that focus on cultural arts. People are drawn to Seaside culture for a reason, so it makes sense for us to offer programs that encourage a sense of creativity and innovation within our community. c
Beverly C. Walters, M.D., is chair of the Board of Governors of the Seaside Institute.
Visit The Seaside Institute online.