A New Kind of Leadership and Shared Vision for Life Lab
Amid the beauty of summer on the farm and the wonderful energy of our camp kids here, there was a different and very special Moment in July that we’re excited to share with you. On July 8th, Judit Camacho joined the Life Lab staff as Co-Executive Director with Don Burgett, an exciting opportunity for shared leadership of Life Lab toward a growing vision for our local and national programs. We are both so thrilled to have this opportunity to work together and with all of Life Lab’s community and partners! Here are notes from each of us on what this means to us:
I’ve known of Judit’s professional work and her family’s connections to Life Lab since 2013, and we had a chance to meet in person in April 2017. She was living and working in México then, but still offered to help Life Lab in any way she could. Amid the daily rush of Life Lab here, I was hard pressed to keep in touch, but I was looking forward to her return to Santa Cruz at some point and the chance to get her involved.
When Judit popped into our office in May, now living in Santa Cruz again, to volunteer for our Spring Benefit Brunch during a few open weeks in her otherwise full life, I immediately jumped from my chair to greet her and suggest we talk bigger things, too. About 15 minutes into our first two-hour meeting later that week, I said, “I just have to tell you that I have been dreaming of co-directing Life Lab with you.” Three weeks later, with enthusiastic support from our board and staff and an exceptional pledge from generous longtime Life Lab friends, we confirmed the creation of a new Co-Executive Director position and offered it to Judit. Her tremendous experience as a successful executive director and her deep personal connection with Life Lab had convinced me that I wanted her on our team when we first met in person in 2017, and all of our discussions in May and June strengthened that feeling.
There are many aspects to this partnership for me, but the key ones are:
~ I believe deeply in collaborative leadership and know that the benefits of having two hearts and minds sharing this role for Life Lab far outweigh the additional time we need to confer and communicate. Our decisions will be better, our intentions clearer, our thinking more strategic, and the impacts for Life Lab and the many children’s lives we touch more enduring.
~ This is a model of sustainability for the organization and for us personally as leaders. Life Lab gains more flexible, stable leadership compared to the solo model of relying on just one person in this key role. As people, Judit and I both know what it’s like to work long hours in that model, and sharing the role offers greater health and balance, which ultimately benefits Life Lab, too.
~ Judit brings a passion for our mission and a wealth of experience growing a nonprofit focused on educational equity. I’ve been so excited about the direction and vision of Life Lab in recent years and where we know we want to go, but I haven’t had the capacity amid other organizational needs to help us get there as fast as we’d like and the community needs. The timing is perfect for us to add capacity and accelerate our work, and Judit is the ideal partner for me and us in this.
~ Judit brings invaluably different life experiences to this role than I do. I have long been aware of my own privileges of being a man, white, and having grown up in great comfort. It is an honor to lead Life Lab in this position every day and use the benefits of my privilege to help it succeed. I’m also aware that sharing power is vital to our present and future work and world. We are a stronger organization – meaningfully and joyfully – with the addition of Judit’s leadership perspective as a woman, a Latina, a mother, and a child of farmworkers, like many of the children we serve. Our partnership in this role is strengthened both by our differences and by the skills, traits and experiences we share.
~ Judit is inspired by our commitment since 2014 to being an on-the-ground partner again for local schools, starting in the Pajaro Valley and with the vision to grow to all 40 public elementary schools across Santa Cruz County. She is excited to help us accelerate that growth to ensure that as many local children as possible have access to the benefits of our work as soon as possible.
~ It’s fun! Judit and I are so well aligned in this work and co-directorship that each (very full!) day is a new pleasure.
In my appeal to potential donors to support this vital strategic move, I noted:
“I have to hire Judit now for Life Lab’s present and future, in which we partner with all Santa Cruz County public elementary schools to have vibrant garden classrooms with academic, wellness and environmental literacy programming and benefits for 18,000 grade school children each year. We are growing to seven year-round partner schools in PVUSD this fall, and we will expand from there to the rest of the county’s grade schools, working with the highest need ones first.
Life Lab has grown from $500k annually in 2012 to $1M this year during my tenure to date, building organizational capacity and strength. Judit and I are mapping Life Lab’s path to being a $2.5M organization to meet that countywide vision while serving as a national leader, as well, through fantastic new long-term partnerships on that side of our work.
I dare you to meet Judit in person and not be inspired to help me make this happen!”
On behalf of Life Lab and myself, I am so grateful that this is coming to fruition!
I believe in transformative leadership, where we all share our strengths and power to provide others privilege and access. Over the last four decades, many people and programs have granted me these opportunities to engage in higher education and work in exceptional learning environments. I am now deeply inspired to serve Life Lab to strengthen its local roots and grow its national networks such that all children in Santa Cruz County and beyond have access to high quality Garden Classrooms.
I have witnessed the magic that intentional garden-based education provides children. My daughter and son, now teenagers, participated in Life Lab summer camps from ages 6 and 4 years old. Here at Life Lab, their minds were nurtured and their hearts were celebrated. This is what all children deserve, and I am honored to be invited to co-direct with Don to envision the next 40 years ahead.
Don has over 20 years of intimate experience with environmental education on the UCSC Farm and beyond. His passion for nature and gardens has traveled from Pennsylvania to Peru to Los Angeles and all over the magnificent West Coast. He cares for bees, an exceptional cohousing community, as well as melodic conversations. He is a renaissance man who cultivates honest and caring relationships with staff, board and Life Lab’s partners. He also brings an admirable confidence and gentle approach with every person with whom he meets. It is a joy to work with Don! Thank you for including me in your co-directorship dream!