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Area non-profit salutes employee's 20-year tenure

ASHEVILLE — Twenty years in the same position at the same organization. That's something to celebrate in the non-profit field, or really any profession in the today's transitioning economy.

Graphic courtesy of SAHC.
Kristy Urquhart of Asheville has dedicated 20 years of her life to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, primarily serving as the associate director. Her colleagues threw a bash that echoes the positive energy that she gives to land conservation work at Highland Brewery Company on August 31.

SAHC's Executive Director Carl Silverstein said he feels privileged to have Urquhart as a colleague and friend. "She is one of the most insightful, intuitive people I have ever known," he said. "She has a sixth sense for what people need in order to move forward, and she is genuinely kind. Kristy cares unwaveringly about conserving the Southern Appalachians for future generations."

Attorney Lynn Cox, the organization's first executive director, remembers well the day she interviewed Urquhart and realized she was perfect for the job. "And I was right," Cox said. "I don't see how the Conservancy could be where it is without her. The best professional decision I ever made, and the one that had the most positive, long-lasting effect, was hiring Kristy to come to SAHC."

At that point, Cox was SAHC's sole full-time staff member and needed a jack-of-all-trades to perform a variety of duties. That is exactly what Urquhart did—creating a membership database, interacting with supporters of the organization, talking to government officials, writing grants, fundraising, training board members, planning events, mailing donor appeals, mastering financial software, creating filing systems, all among the minute details of running an organization, like moving chairs.

"Everything she did with great devotion," Cox said. "Twenty years shows her dedication to our mountains, to our natural heritage and to our cultural heritage."

Cox notes how rarely an employee remains with the same organization for two decades. "Non-profit work is challenging, and the financial rewards aren't as large as the private sector," Cox said. "Things are always changing, so the staff is continually learning new ways to present the organization's mission to the public."

Plus, constant fundraising is required. "It's something that has to be done year-end and year-out regardless of the state of the economy," Cox said.

Urquhart has not only responded to the challenges, but has also kept a contagious upbeat attitude, Cox said. "Kristy has an exuberance and zest for life," she said. "It was a joy to come to work and know I'd be working with Kristy."

Cox remembers how Urquhart would think of ideas that would evoke the participation of a diverse group of members at events. "Sometimes it's hard to encourage everyone to let their hair down and participate in free-form fun," Cox said. But Urquart found the perfect activity for one SAHC event: Karaoke. "Everyone joined in and loved it," Cox said.

Urquhart keeps this sense of fun as SAHC has evolved from a volunteer-run group to a professional organization completing complex land transactions and forming critical partnerships. Margaret Newbold, Associate Director of Conservation Trust for North Carolina, has known Kristy since the mid-1990's and interacted with her more closely in the past five years as 13 conservation organizations formed Blue Ridge Forever, a coalition dedicated to raising awareness and resources for land conservation.

"I go to Kristy when I want to talk about what may be going on with all the land trusts and get her read on it," Newbold said. "She gives me really good advice and feedback that is not a lot of fluff, but straight on. I value her opinion and her ability to think about the issues, balancing and respecting all the relationships involved."

Newbold points to Urquhart's institutional knowledge as a tremendous asset for the land trust community, as well as her tendency to always look for new opportunities. "She's not getting stuck in what happened 15 years ago," Newbold said. "She has that knowledge, and with her positive personality and sincere concern to protect land, she drives positive change."

Meanwhile, Urquhart's long-standing relationships with the community bolster the organization's reputation, Newbold said. "It speaks well for SAHC to keep someone as talented as Kristy for so long. She's really valuable to everyone—the community, the organization, and the coalition of groups too."

Article written by Megan Riley, owner of M R et cetera, LLC, a resource for social entrepreneurs. It was published on www.mountainx.com. Megan provides communication materials to help programs, organizations and mission-driven businesses grow to their full potential for the benefit of communities.