Ellen Leroy-Reed thinks she is the luckiest person in Ponte Vedra, mostly because of the view. Personal and professional experience paved the way for her dream job as Friends of the GTM Reserve executive director. And she still carves out time for another passion instilled from childhood – sewing.
What can you share about your background?
I was born in Boston but have traveled around the country first as a Navy brat and then as a Navy wife. I’ve lived in cool places like Arizona, West Virginia, Georgia and Connecticut, but spent most of my young life in South Florida. We finally settled down in this region nearly 25 years ago and have made wonderful friends and built a happy life. It was in Jacksonville where I developed my love for nonprofit work – first as a volunteer for organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council, American Lung Association, The Navy League and Junior Achievement, and then as owner of a consulting firm that helped nonprofits improve their development programs and strategic plans. Finding a place at the GTM Research Reserve was an unexpected dream come true and is the culmination of all my professional experience coming together into one incredible position. I am truly the luckiest girl in Ponte Vedra Beach.
You have worked for several nonprofits. What attracts you to that sector?
Working in the nonprofit sector is appealing to me because I see the direct impact our supporters have on the mission. There is an almost immediate return on their investment – whether it is being able to purchase supplies for the Sea Turtle Patrol, repairing an ATV for the rangers, getting lunch for teachers’ training in the estuary, or funding fellowships for graduate researchers – we are able to transform a donor’s dollars into action that is protecting the estuary, monitoring our waterways and educating the next generation of scientists. When I walk through the Visitor Center and see a group of teenagers getting excited about seining in the Guana River – well, you just can’t beat that feeling. You know you are making a difference.
I joined the Friends team in July of 2016 as the nonprofit’s first executive director. Since then, we have grown our ability to support the GTM’s programs and have seen an increase in generosity from our Friends members and the community. We have also focused on improving our procedures and polices in an effort to become a stronger nonprofit organization, which is a large part of the Friend’s strategic plan. It is also part of my role to get out into the community and get people excited about supporting GTM. Though this beautiful treasure is right here in our backyard, many are still unaware of it and not sure how to access its amenities. In 2020, through outreach and community engagement, we hope to have even more energized Friends members, volunteers and visitors serving as champions for the Reserve.
Tell readers about one (or two) upcoming initiative(s) on the Friends agenda.
Sept. 28 is our 10th annual Oceanwise celebration! This is our big annual fundraiser to help fund the research, education and stewardship programs at the GTM Research Reserve. This year is particularly exciting for us as it is also the Reserve’s 20th anniversary so we expect the evening to be a lot of fun celebrating with our Friends members, staff and wonderful volunteers. The event has already sold out (which is so exciting!) but I may be able to find a few available tickets if someone is interested in supporting the mission.
Tell us more about being a seamstress.
I cannot remember a time in my life when there was not a sewing machine primed and ready to go in my home. My grandmother always had a tape measure hanging around her neck, and you could always count on my mother to have a safety pin tacked to her lapel. Sewing was simply a part of our existence when I was young. My mother and I volunteered with the community theater and made costumes together for a variety of productions, which was great fun. Now, I spend my off-hours assisting my husband, Fred, doing textile work for his fabrication business making props and costumes for customers around the world. Currently, I am dipping my foot into the world of couture to create looks for the upcoming Jacksonville Magazine Fashion Project in October. My workshop is covered in beads and silks, which makes me very happy.
What do you enjoy most about working in Ponte Vedra?
The view. Ponte Vedra is known for its landscaped courses and beautiful homes, but I know Ponte Vedra as home to the pristine beaches, towering dunes and verdant marshes of the Reserve. During my busiest time of the year (right around now), I drive down A1A as the sun is rising over the ocean and I leave the Reserve as the sun is setting on Guana River. In those moments, I consider myself the luckiest person in Ponte Vedra.
Would you like to tell us about your family?
I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who supports the work I do by volunteering at the Reserve and holding dinner for me on those long days at the office. I also have three wonderful adult children who are forging their own paths around the country. To fill the absence they’ve left, my husband and I have two rescue dogs that we dote over constantly. My family and I love to go camping with them, but they prefer to sleep the day away on a comfortable couch.
Are you a morning person?
I am a reluctant morning person. My brain embraces the adventure of an early start to a beautiful day, but my body has never been a big fan so we compromise by getting to sleep early and pressing the snooze button often.