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From One Generation to the Next-Passing the Torch

By Darryl Birkenfeld, Ph.D.

There is a saying about growing perennial plants: “first they sleep, then they creep, and finally they leap!” 

Twenty years ago, OC was entering its fourth year of existence—slow growth had been taking place through a couple of annual conferences.  By the end of 2002, after an organizing meeting in Burlington, CO, I was on the path to becoming the organization’s Executive Director.

Darryl hiking the Middle Tule Draw in 2016

My first years as Executive Director were definitely a time of gestation (sleeping, so to speak), as the organization slowly forged a path with the guidance of a Steering Committee.  Starting out, we were very much the “Ogallala Commons Project”…with an annual budget of less than $30,000. 

By 2005-2013, OC entered the creeping stage—taking on Youth Engagement outreach, conducting some community development projects, and creating dozens of Community Internships.  It was a time of building partnerships in communities across six states.  We also added a few new staff contractors, building out digital tools and organizational capacity as our annual budget grew to $300,000.

OC Staff Contractors, April 2018, (l-r): Kade Wilcox, Darryl Birkenfeld, John Wittler, and Kristin Dickey

Around 2017, OC shifted into the leaping stage of growth.  Our Board of Directors had a retreat to begin formulating a Strategic Blueprint.  By the end of that year, OC added our first Regional Coordinator. We connected with new funding partners to support 4 Core Programs, and as a result, OC’s revenue budget nearly reached the $500,000 level in 2018.

Currently, we are entering another stage of vigor and maturity.  In 2021, OC Board of Directors approved a two-year Executive Director transition.  Therefore, at the end of 2022, I will be stepping out of the ED position–after twenty years, it is time for new vision and energy at the organization’s helm. I will continue to work full-time for OC in various capacities.

John Wittler and Darryl Birkenfeld at OC Orientation Retreat in June 2022

Individuals, families, and communities—we all live through changing seasons and histories.  Ogallala Commons is no different. I want to conclude this blog by introducing you to the person guiding the next stage of the journey.  OC Director of Development John Wittler has 5 years of working for our organization–he has been working side-by-side with me since 2020, and he is fully trained to officially become OC Executive Director on January 1, 2023.  

Based on what OC has experienced in the past two decades, I foresee even more reinvigoration, deepening collaboration, and new cycles of program growth over the next 20 years.  It will be another generational journey led by John, OC Staff, and our Board of Directors.

Darryl Birkenfeld, Ph.D., lives with his wife Joann Starr in Nazareth, TX, and has served as Executive Director since 2003.