Widji’s Path Forward

Planning is critical to any wilderness adventure. Widji campers and students learn this whether they are planning for their first overnight canoe trip, a month long expedition in the Arctic, or a week with the Outdoor Learning Program. It’s important to start by setting goals both personally and as a group. Then select a route or week of activities that support those goals. Finally make sure the team has the necessary equipment and resources to succeed. For anyone who’s ventured into the wilderness planning the trip can be almost as fun as the trip itself. It’s the time to dream big and imagine what might be possible.

I started in my position as Widjiwagan’s Director this past April. I had about 5 weeks to familiarize myself with the full time staff, board, and committees, and then it was a quick move up to Camp for the summer. I felt very fortunate to step into such a high quality program. I was impressed with the commitment and intentionality of all the Widji staff. Meeting over 800 campers this summer was also a highlight along with many familiar alumni and friends. It would have been easy to say that things are good at Widji and ride the course. However like any good adventure planning the path forward is critical.

The Widji staff and board had been operating with direction from the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan. With the sunset of that plan and a new Director, the timing was perfect to start work on the next strategic plan. We were fortunate that Anne Hoyt Taff, who is a current board member and Director of Community Impact with The Saint Paul & Minnesota Community Foundations, volunteered to help facilitate a series of strategic roadmap exercises that will help Widji chart the way forward for the next four years.

We kicked off our planning this past October at Widji during our annual board and staff retreat. Though it was hard to stay focused with it being one of the prettiest fall days on Burntside Lake, we stayed focused on trying to answer the question “Where is Widji right now?” We looked at emerging ideas like how do we make Widji more diverse and inclusive as well as fading aspects like judging the success of a trip in just miles paddled or hiked. It was good work that captured our current state.

Phase 2 of our planning occurred in November in Minneapolis. In addition to our board and staff we invited campers from Widji Leaders, recent Trail Counselors, past board members, and teachers who have been bringing their groups up to Widji for the Outdoor Learning Program. With the current state of Widji identified we tackled the bigger question “How will the Widji board serve the mission of Widji for the next four years?” Through individual reflection, small group discussion, and large group consensus building we started to see major themes emerge. The work is still in a bit of a raw state, but some of the major themes that started to emerge were around diversity and inclusion across all aspects of Widji, maintaining and growing alumni connections, refining our fundraising processes and seeking new innovative strategies, and ensuring that our operations have the same standard of quality across all aspects of a Widji experience. The board will now take this work to polish up into our Strategic Roadmap for 2018-2021.

Like any new adventure there is a mixture of nerves and excitement. It’s that journey into the unknown that makes this work so exciting. We’re dreaming big and imagining what might be possible. I look forward to sharing this work and examples of our success and learnings along the way with the greater Widji community. -Matt Poppleton, Executive Director