Allow me to begin with some context. In 2019 Tremont began transitioning our fiscal year to more closely match the academic school year and the National Park fiscal year. This resulted in an abbreviated 7-month fiscal “year” represented by this Annual report, covering January 1st to July 31st, 2020. At the time, I knew comparison analysis would be tricky in the future. As I write this, I almost can’t help but chuckle, because as we all now know, nothing could ever compare to that 7 month period.
I began preparation for this letter by making a list of what we achieved in our short year. I chuckled again as the list grew and grew. Despite all obstacles, we (meaning our staff and board, our supporters, and our partners) served Tremont’s mission in both familiar and unfamiliar ways.
Without a doubt, the time period represented in this Annual Report is incomparable. It tells its own story. More accurately, I think it may be considered a tale of two stories. Our impact and our finances. The story of our impact is one of durability. We honed new skills and embraced new opportunities:
- Our Program team, gifted at teaching groups in the field, was asked to pivot and to create and produce digital content for SmokiEEEs.org, a first of its kind collaboration involving NPS and all of the Park Partners.
- Our inaugural “Great American Camp In” brought together over 90 families from across the country for fellowship and unique nature-themed activities.
- In summer, we brought environmental education to Knoxville youth in partnership with NPS and the Boys and Girls Club.
- We developed new online programming with innovative approaches to providing environmental education.
- We diligently developed COVID-safe protocols to allow Community Science programs like bird banding and monarch tagging to continue in the Park.
- We reconfigured our Marketing and Development strategies in response to programmatic changes.
None of these pivots happened without bumps and bruises. Those same COVID-safe protocols we developed couldn’t overcome the risks presented by our summer camps, and camps were canceled for the 2020 season. We faced a severe budget crisis, and it was increasingly clear it would continue throughout the year.
Unable to rely on program revenue, we set forth on a calculated path of ambition and hope. We believed that people needed more than ever a connection to the outdoors, that people valued the work we did, and that if we could keep enough staff engaged, we could weather the storm.
The “storm” is the other story—the one the financial reports tell. In June we laid off nearly half of our staff. In addition to summer camps, we canceled our in-person Fall fundraising events. Our school programs calendar for the academic year 20/21 was nearly bare. Despite deep cutbacks, we still ended the 7 months with almost twice the expenses as our revenue. The upcoming budget was in the red, with a projected continued deficit. The heaviness of Tremont’s circumstances could be felt even through virtual Zoom meetings.
So, here’s where the hope comes in. We were still in a relatively good cash position, and continuing to draw investment income. New and existing donors were answering our call. We had a smaller, but still dynamic team in place. So, we gave ourselves time to try new things, patience to find lessons in our experiments and failures, and encouragement to the staff challenged in new ways. We sought solace in nature. In July of 2020, with much to grieve, we kept faith in each other, in our supporters, and in our mission.
And that’s where the two stories meet, but it’s not where they end. Gratefully, our story continues.
Our temporary mission became to “Survive as Intactly as Possible.” Thanks to a fierce determination and dedication among our remaining staff, an unwavering support from our board and our partners and a lot of hard work, ingenuity and flexibility, we have done just that thus far.
I am confident we will continue beyond survival and will rise to new heights and new opportunities as we continue to adapt and innovate to not just meet the challenges of this uncertain new environment, but to excel in it. As we continue to tell ourselves every day, our work is too important to fail.
I am grateful for the support, encouragement and day to day help that has come our way. I look forward to leading us into this story’s next chapter.