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There and back again, finding her right place
January 28, 2013 @ 1:58pm | Tim Kelly
You might even say she went to the ends of the earth, considering she left a 15-year IT career in Seattle for a Peace Corps mission in Mongolia — a remote land of mountains and desert, wedged between China and Russia.
“It’s the least-populated country in the world, except for Antarctica,” notes Forsyth, who was hired in October as the new executive director of the Kitsap Regional Library Foundation.
Why leave the urban cool of Seattle for the wilds of Central Asia?
“I was really interested in things beyond my doorstep,” Forsyth says. “International development and the environment were two of my passions. I went to Mongolia to work on a climate change research project.”
While on vacation after coming back from the Peace Corps in 2004, she attended a conference on sustainability in Boulder, Colo. She was inspired by speakers such as William McDonough, author of the influential book “Cradle to Cradle,” and she also stopped by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute booth and met Gifford Pinchot III, co-founder of the institute and grandson of the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
The trip and that meeting were “serendipitous” for Forsyth. “I was feeling like (BGI) might be the place to figure out my new career … and figure out where my place is in the universe.”
That place, at least for the past several years, has been Bremerton, where she’s been an energetic organizer of neighbors for improvement projects in what they dubbed Union Hill, a neighborhood of older homes near downtown. She’s also the organizer of a thriving social network, Green Drinks Bremerton, that draws dozens of people to monthly gatherings hosted at local businesses.
“This is the strongest (sense of) community I’ve ever had,” says Forsyth, a Minnesota native who worked for the Forest Service during and after her college years at the University of Utah, and thrived on the adrenaline rush of fighting wildfires. “It’s been pretty amazing that way. It feels like to me that all these things I’ve done have led me to this place, odd as that sounds.”
While completing her MBA in sustainable business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Forsyth reconnected with the Forest Service to work as a sustainable operations analyst. From BGI, she moved on in 2008 to help with a clean-tech startup, In the Works Inc., on Bainbridge Island.
Most recently, she was vice president of strategy and marketing for Profile Composites, a British Columbia-based firm that expanded its advanced composites technology operation to Bremerton in 2011.
Kitsap Regional Library director Jill Jean says all the social and business connections Forsyth developed made her an ideal, if somewhat unconventional, candidate to lead the KRL Foundation’s fundraising efforts.
“I think what we already realized with Jaime, is that she is very much a connector of people,” says Jean, who knew Forsyth from her volunteer involvement in a 2010 campaign to pass a library levy. But it was a conversation the two had last fall at a Green Drinks event — which Jean recalls she was tempted to skip that night — that prompted her to encourage Forsyth to apply for the foundation job.
She is confident and at ease discussing any issue with folks from all walks of life in the community, Jean adds, “And she is an absolutely fearless fundraiser.
“There’s a real skill set for someone to feel comfortable with what I call ‘the art of the ask.’”
Being fearless was surely an attribute Forsyth needed as the onetime wilderness ranger and timber cruiser achieved the status of first female firefighter on elite Hotshot Crews in Utah and Montana during her younger years with the Forest Service. She only shifted to an IT job in Seattle after a serious back injury suffered on a fire line curtailed her career with the Hotshots.
What she brings to her new role is knowing “the yin and yang of Kitsap County” from living and working in both Bainbridge and Bremerton.
“I don’t have a traditional development officer background,” she says, but working with Jean and the KRL staff is “a wonderful mix. They have all the library knowledge, and I bring a sort of entrepreneurial marketing approach to fundraising to the library.”
When former director Peter Raffa left last summer, finding a capable replacement was a critical hiring decision because of upcoming capital campaigns for libraries in Kingston and Silverdale, Jean says.
Forsyth is not only well suited to her fundraising role, Jean notes, she’s also “very much a part of our leadership team here” and actively involved with new programs KRL is developing as its core mission evolves. One example is the “Maker Space” concept, an innovative way for libraries to move beyond curation of their print and digital collections to facilitating users’ creation and sharing of original content.
Forsyth and Jean are excited about a major grant coming from a Seattle foundation that will enable KRL to partner with Coffee Oasis in a program offering at-risk youth the opportunity to learn and experiment in technology classes.
As for KRL’s fundraising, Forsyth notes that even though the last library levy didn’t pass, the 45,000 people who voted for it represent a large base of potential donors who might be willing to support library programs in other ways besides a property tax increase. She’ll also be reaching out to “people who can give in an impactful way.”
She says the Kingston library that’s being developed as part of that community’s Village Green project is a model that could be viable in Silverdale and elsewhere.
To create some momentum for a new Silverdale library, “We need a community group to come forward, and we will work with them.”
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