Passing the torch

Early this year, Sharon Gary-Smith, executive director of the MRG Foundation, told me, “who you put behind the podium at your summits sends a powerful symbolic message.” That got me thinking.

At the spring 2013 Intertwine Alliance summit, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the greenspaces movement with a retrospective honoring those who have carried the torch for many years. There was a lot of gray hair behind the podium that day, but the “geezers” (their term, not mine!) showed that they have been and still are a force to be reckoned with. The “symbolic message” was that a dedicated corps of hard-working visionaries can powerfully affect the direction of an entire metropolitan region. 

At this November’s summit, the people standing behind the podium were those who will be leading the next 25 years. We heard from youth leaders emerging from the Audubon Society of Portland’s TALON Program, the OakQuest project, the Youth Engaging in Natural Sciences (YENS) pilot project (a collaboration between Metro and Self Enhancement Inc.), the Oregon Zoo’s ZAP teen program, the Intertwine Alliance’s Plant Off, and Portland Parks and Recreation’s GRUNT program. The Momentum Alliance led an exercise that showed the exciting potential of an inclusive and diverse future, and the important role Alliance partners can play.  

 While we showcased youth programs, the take-away was much bigger than youth program best practices. Intertwine Alliance board member Judy Bluehorse Skelton summarized the day in an email to Alliance staff:

The room was electric with the powerful and passionate voices of Youth sharing their stories, the challenges of historical and family trauma, displacement, isolation, prejudice, oppression and poverty, and the peace, healing and fun found in Nature.

As a new generation reclaims their health, vitality and connection to place, the Intertwine Alliance serves to strengthen these critical relationships, recognize and reduce barriers to accessing Nature, provide opportunities for skill-building and leadership, and ultimately offer a refreshment for the spirit.

If we are to achieve Judy’s vision, the fall summit cannot be a one-off. Whether it be our initiative to bring together health and conservation organizations behind a common agenda, or our work to implement the Regional Conservation Strategy or Our Common Ground campaign, we will, individually and collectively, need to continue to make room “behind the podium” for a new generation to claim its critical place and forge the future. 

Mike Wetter has led The Intertwine Alliance as executive director since it became a formal nonprofit in 2011. Central to the initiative since the beginning, he helped launched The Intertwine within Metro while working as senior advisor to Council President David Bragdon. A visionary leader full of big ideas, Mike is an avid whitewater rafter, kayaker, cyclist and hiker.


Submitted by Dan Daly (not verified) on
Hi all A few thoughts on culture. Having gone to the summit, and working with diverse youth to rebuild this connection, the geezers and the youth are where its at. My experiences living and working with indigenous folks (in Peru and upstate NY) would suggest that the most potent transfer of knowledge and culture is happening not from parent to youth, but from grandparent to youth. Its the elders who carry the wisdom, patience and understanding to stand with with the youth in their fire, and help pull them through it. When the intergenerational connection broken or remade, its in the elder/ youth relations where the fire burns hottest. Tremendous talent is retiring all around us, and the youth are working hard to find their way, often in the absence sound guidance from folks that are further down the path. what next?! Dan

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