Flint, MI—Jennifer Raymond spends much of her free time outdoors—mostly in a kayak.
“Getting on the river means I have to put the technology down and I have to be present,” Raymond said. “That brings me an immense amount of peace. Beyond that, I just really enjoy seeing the scenery flow by.”
Time spent in nature and on the water helped foster a passion for ecology, she said, and now Raymond looks forward to bridging all her interests through her new role as the executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC).
“It is such a dream job that it wasn’t even something that I could have envisioned as a possibility for myself,” Raymond said, adding that she plans to take a holistic approach to the coalition’s top spot.
“For me, individual health, community health, environmental health, economic health are all really tightly interwoven,” she said. “This position gives me an opportunity to look at all those different aspects and combine them in my work going forward.”
While Raymond has just begun to dip her toes into FRWC’s work—she started on Dec. 7, 2022—she said she plans to carry on the organization’s focus on its kayak program, environmental monitoring projects, partnerships, as well as community and educational outreach programs.
She noted that FRWC’s mission is “to protect, promote and improve” the Flint River watershed, and the heart of that work involves building the community’s passion for the watershed.
That, in turn, inspires people to protect the ecosystem’s health and integrity, she explained.
“Falling in love with the river, falling in love with any of the ecosystems around us are necessary to have the motivation and the energy to exercise that protection component,” Raymond said. “We need to have that relationship to feel motivated to protect things.”
Raymond joins FRWC after working at the Mid Michigan Community Action Agency (MMCAA) for nine years. Her most recent role at the social services agency involved managing its food distribution program for low-income older adults.
Before her time at MMCAA, Raymond was the crisis shelter manager of the Women’s Aid Service, now known as R.I.S.E Advocacy, and she started out there as a shelter advocate.
She succeeds FRWC’s interim executive director Sarah Scheitler, formerly the manager of the Corridor Alliance Chapter of FRWC. Scheitler stepped into her interim role after Patrick Scanlon, who served as FRWC’s executive director from February 2022 to August 2022, left the post.
“My hope with these changes is to carry forward the strength of previous leadership, and then to bring my own eye for development to supplement that,” Raymond said.
Amid the leadership shuffle, the Corridor Alliance’s board voted in November to dissolve its chapter of FRWC.
The alliance’s efforts had centered around the Flint River within the City of Flint, and its programs are becoming a part of FRWC’s core projects, according to FRWC officials, who also noted six former alliance board members have now joined FRWC’s board.
Raymond welcomed the challenge of managing such a transition, saying, “It is an opportunity for us to provide the same services and maintain the same priorities in a way that is more streamlined.”
She added that FRWC will continue to coordinate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on water monitoring efforts for Lockhart Chemical Company’s spill along the Flint River.
The spill was first discovered in June, and a no-contact order issued by the Genesee County Health Department remains in place.
As a result of the spill, the Corridor Alliance chapter replaced its annual Flint River Flotilla with an on-land event and had to limit its paddling program, Kayak Flint, to trips upstream of the spill and on local lakes.
Raymond said she came to learn about water quality issues from an early age. The topic was part of the “dinner discussion” as her father was a water quality engineer at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, now known as EGLE.
“It was just a natural in for me that I have the passion and concern about risk, and I wanted to do what I could to support water quality for ongoing generations,” Raymond said.
To push that goal forward, she helped organize the first Chippewa River Water Festival in 2017. Through the festival, Raymond hoped to promote opportunities for people to develop a relationship with their water resources and to cultivate their passion for maintaining water quality and access.
Raymond said that prior to joining FRWC, she had formed deep connections with the Chippewa and Muskegon rivers—bonds forged through her time kayaking along them. And though she used to see them as her “home rivers” when it came to kayaking, she noted, “I’m excited to make the Flint River my home river for paddling now.”