Brian Walton’s first day as executive director of Save Our Seabirds was Oct. 16, and he's hit the ground running because he's been running nonprofits since he was a teenager.
Walton started his first nonprofit organization when he was 16. What started as a service project to spend more time with his friends turned into a passion for helping others and led him down a long path of nonprofit work.
Ken Goldberg, a member of the SOS board of directors, said the board started looking for a new director around July. Walton’s experience in the nonprofit world is what made the board choose him, and members are excited to see how Walton will help execute Save Our Seabirds' plans for the future, said Goldberg.
The Observer sat down with Walton to get an insight into his hopes and goals as the new SOS executive director.
What experience do you have with nonprofits?
I'm from Indiana but graduated from Johnson University in Tennessee in 1995. Nonprofit work is all I have done. I've been a part of a lot of different causes. I've worked with adults with disabilities and done leadership training in former communist Yugoslavia.
I've worked for some counseling and mental health organizations. Most recently, I was on the East Coast, in the Daytona Beach area. I worked for an organization called North Brevard Charities in Titusville. We had about 89 affordable housing units where we did emergency housing, emergency shelter, and transitional housing. I did that for about four-and-a-half years.
What drew you to work for SOS?
In social service work, it can really wear a person down over time. So in some of those moments where I was questioning if that was my path, I would look online to see other job positions. One day I saw this position posted, and it just immediately seemed like such a breath of fresh air. Such a meaningful cause, but yet so different than what I was doing.
So, I inquired about it and we started a conversation. It actually happened pretty quick. About a month or six weeks later, I was offered the position. It's very exciting, because it's so different from what I've done before and yet still similar.
It's a new field for me. The board didn't hire me for this role because of my avian expertise, because I don't have any. But we have people here who have that, and I'm willing to learn right alongside all of them.
What are your goals for SOS?
The board really liked the background and the experience that I have growing and building healthy organizations.
Our grounds and our facilities, they're aging, and they're all made out of wood and the storms have been very hard on the campus. So we actually are developing a master plan to kind of reinvent the campus and grounds.
Ultimately, we want to build a new hospital, state of the art facilities. We want to build new aviaries for the birds. They brought me here to do the organizational side of it and to work with the team to develop the plan and raise the funds and build out the campus.
How are you using your past experiences in your new position?
I understand how organizations work. I understand how boards work. I understand the importance of healthy relationships with funders, volunteers and staff. That is what the board brought me to do: to help SOS move forward into a great future.
When I was a senior in high school, I actually took a job at a nursing home. I would hear their stories and get to know them and learn about the things they had done in their life.
That oriented me around identifying what's really important, what really matters. It helped me decide that what mattered to me was using my gifts, abilities and experiences to do things that were meaningful and that made a difference.
What are you most excited about working at SOS?
I’m excited to learn about the birds. It's just incredible at this stage of my life to learn something completely new — especially the whole avian field and learning about the different species.
I've got a book on my desk all about it. It's this thick book with all the kind of aviaries you need for every kind of bird, with the size and the weights. I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn everything there is about wildlife rehabilitation and about the beautiful birds. I've always tried to be a lifelong learner.
What makes SOS stand out from other nonprofits?
The thing that has impressed me from the beginning is just the quality of people. From the board to the staff, to the volunteers, or the atmosphere in the room Sunday night at our For the Birds event is indicative of their passion. There is just such joy and fun and laughter. It's great to be part of something where there's just so many great people connected to it.
What would you like to say to the dedicated Save Our Seabirds community?
I would invite people to come and tour the facilities, if you've never been out here or if it's been a while. If you want to have a conversation, that's what I'm here to do is to meet people and make friends. I want to learn about the community. So, it's an open invitation to connect with me personally. I would love to meet anyone who's interested in what we do here.
Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.