Serve First

by Justine Herlihy, outgoing Development Director

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that and then I realized I AM somebody.”

- Lily Tomlin

From an early age, I learned that by serving others first I singlehandedly have the ability to improve the quality of life of the people and places around me, which in turn betters my community as a whole – one person or one challenge at a time. When I began working at Mobile Baykeeper, I was in my mid-20s and had no idea how vitally important environmental advocacy really was. When we think about nonprofit organizations working to save the world we share, we think about them raising money to find a cure for cancer, donating bookbags with meals for children, removing women and children from abusive households, or saving animals from being harmed or abandoned (while Sarah MacLachlan sings in the background). What usually isn’t at the top of one’s mind is the environment and immense natural resources that constantly surround us – you know, the places we all call home.

Mobile is home to the second largest river delta in our nation and we rank 5th in biodiversity, earning the Mobile-Tensaw Delta the title of “North America’s Amazon.” Its rich history is filled with the last battle of the American Civil War; Spanish and French explorers who settled the land long before us, and Native Americans before then; the final resting place for the Clotilda – the last known slave ship to sail U.S. waters; more species of crawfish than anywhere else in the world; and more alligators, fish, turtles, and plants than one could count in a lifetime. All of these things are centered around water. We rely on clean water to swim in, clean water to fish and hunt, clean water to drink, clean water to bathe ourselves, children and pets, clean water to sterilize vital medical equipment or machinery to boost a healthy economy, clean water to build the incredible Austal ships that are sent to the United States Navy to defend our country by sea or to build the buildings that make our beautiful Mobile skyline.

Part of being a Baykeeper means it is your duty to be the voice for the waters that surround us because they can’t speak for themselves. When I first learned this, I was attending an international Waterkeeper Conference at Deer Valley. I was surrounded by tireless advocates for clean water spanning the United States, to Bangladesh, to China, to Chile and beyond. I thought the reason this notion was widely accepted is because water connects all people from all walks of life from varying cultures all over the globe and there is nothing more noble than defending something that is not able to protect itself.

I will always see my time at Baykeeper as some of the most rewarding days of my life. From volunteering on my first living shoreline project back in 2013, to starting our Young Advisory Council Chapter and later the Leadership Committee, to creating a number of successful and exciting fundraising events including: Bay Awakening Luncheon, Publix Grandman Triathlon & Jubilee Kids Triathlon, Bay Bites Food Truck Festival, and our annual celebration of life on the Gulf Coast - Bay Bash and most importantly being part of a team that never settled for less on our drive to reach unprecedented growth over our 22-year history. Baykeeper took the term “servant leadership” to a whole new level. I am forever grateful for the opportunities this work gave me. I am looking forward to taking this same passion for service with me in my new position as the Vice President of Resource Development at United Way of Southwest Alabama. UWSWA focuses on key pillars our community needs to be successful, including health, education, financial stability, and the basic needs human beings need to survive. It is my goal to build a better future for Mobile, our surrounding communities, and the people who live here. I am honored to be working for an organization who shares my same mission, vision, and values because united we fight, united we win.

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted (or leaving the sink on when we brush our teeth), but we must remember to serve first and be thankful for the environment we live in. We only have one and it is our duty to protect it because it shapes who we are, whether we want it to or not. I am a firm believer that you get what you give, so next time you are looking around thinking “why didn’t somebody do something about that?” – be that somebody. If protecting the Mobile Bay Watershed and our coastal communities is your passion, then serve first and join Mobile Baykeeper as a member or volunteer today.