Archive for Clients

Capiche Conversations: Interview with Janet Troy, Executive Director, Ashland Community Health Foundation

Interview with Janet Troy, Executive Director, Ashland Community Health Foundation, conducted by Vicki Purslow, Capiche Research Analyst and Co-founder of Majoring In.

Founded in 1977, the Foundation was established to provide a way for community members to support the work of Ashland Community Hospital. Over the past 46 years, the generosity of its donors has had an incredible impact on the variety and quality of health care services available in the community.

In 2021, the Ashland Community Health Foundation’s board of directors approved the expansion of its mission. Now, the Foundation supports community health and wellness initiatives in Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix.


ACHF Team: Kathleen Mackris, Nicole Gutrich, Janet Troy, Stephanie Roland

Q: Between 1977 and 2021, the Foundation supported some innovative projects and programs at the Ashland Community Hospital. What are some of the projects that stand out most in your memory?

Janet: Through the generosity of our family of donors, we were able to touch every corner of the hospital. We were very involved in the renovation of the Emergency Department and the Family Birth Center, as well as the creation of the Chapel and Comfort Care Room. Our funding of equipment purchases allowed the hospital to have the state-of-the-art technology it needed to best serve our community. Our Foundation has supported the School Nurse Program for decades, ensuring that nurses are available when students need their care and support.

Q: I know your team was excited when the Foundation’s board of directors approved the expansion of its mission. Working with consultant Cynthia Scherr, of Scherr Management Consulting, you created a new strategic plan. What are some of the highlights of the new strategy?

Janet: Our new strategic plan guided our transition from a traditional hospital foundation to a community foundation focused on supporting health and wellness needs in Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix. One of the most significant changes made as a result of our expanded mission has been an increased focus on our grantmaking and scholarship programs. We are now awarding grants to a more diverse group of local non-profits committed to building healthier communities. We have also broadened our scholarship program to support both nursing and allied health students interested in careers in the Rogue Valley. At the same time, we have the ability to offer our donors additional opportunities to make a meaningful impact in the community through their contributions to the foundation.

ACHF Board

ACHF Board of Directors

Q: Wow – that really broadens the focus of the Foundation! How wonderful to be able to reach further into the communities of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix to help support community-based projects! What are some of the projects that you have funded?

Janet: We focus our grantmaking on projects that create or expand health and wellness services in Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix. We tend to define health and wellness broadly, so we fund a wider range of projects designed to promote health in many settings. We value collaboration and partnerships and most of the projects we have supported involve organizations working together to create solutions. Our first round of community grants in 2022 supported La Clinica, Mercy Flights, OHRA, Rogue Valley Farm to School, Rogue Valley Mentoring, Talent Maker City, and the United Way of Jackson County.

Q: So far in 2023, ACHF has granted close to $510,000 to support health and wellness initiatives and scholarships. Please tell me more about the projects and programs you funded.

Janet: This year, we awarded grants totaling $258,000 to 11 nonprofit organizations through our community grant process. These organizations are involved in innovative partnerships that provide medical and behavioral health services, promote prevention and inclusion, support nutrition and early literacy, and more. Addressing the shortage of health care professionals is an important goal of our Foundation, and our scholarship program continues to grow each year. We have awarded almost $192,000 to 43 local students attending nursing and allied health programs through September this year. We also continue to grant funds to Asante Ashland Community Hospital and have awarded more than $60,000 to support their school nurses and lab and engineering departments.

Q: Your nursing scholarships have been a hallmark of the Foundation for years and remain central to your mission. Tell me more about your nursing scholarship program.

Janet: The William G. and Ruth T. Evans Endowed Nursing Scholarship was established in 2002 by Ruth Evans. Mrs. Evans was a retired nurse and her husband, Bill, was a retired family physician. The scholarship was created to honor Bill after his death and help address the nursing shortage in the Rogue Valley. Since its creation, more than $1.2 million in scholarships have been awarded to over 300 local students attending nursing programs at OHSU Ashland Campus at SOU and RCC.

Q: Although the Foundation continues to support its original mission, it makes sense that an expanded strategic focus would lead to renaming the Foundation and creating a new brand. You hired Capiche Consulting to help guide you through this process and continued to work with Chris Cook, Capiche’s principal, during its implementation. Who was involved with the rebranding, and what did it consist of?

Janet: The decision to expand our mission led to our consideration of a new look and feel for our Foundation, in addition to the introduction of a new name that is a better representation of who we are today. It was not a decision that our board of directors and staff arrived at easily but we are pleased with the changes we made as we embarked on this new journey. The process that Chris guided us through was thoughtful and strategic. We learned so much about the importance of creating a brand that reflected our new identity and the pieces that are part of the brand puzzle. Developing our positioning statement, brand promise, key messaging, and more was very educational and insightful.

Website on Devices

Photo by Ruby Slipper

Q: What was the next step after landing on the brand messaging tool?

Janet: There is more involved in the development of a new brand than I ever imagined. It required us to take a fresh look at our website, newsletter, signage, and even our stationery. We debated about colors, fonts, and a new logo. It was a fascinating process, and I’m very happy with the outcome.

Q: You continued to work with Chris after developing your new brand. What else did Chris help you with during that time?

Janet: Chris was very helpful in teaching us how to spread the word about our work. Initially, she helped us develop a communication plan and assisted us by writing newsletter articles and press releases. She helped us develop a media strategy and contacts so we could share our story in the most effective way. Most importantly, she gave us the tools we needed to manage this activity independently.  For me, that is one of the best gifts a consultant can give an organization.

Janet Troy

Janet Troy

Q: Looking back, what was the value in working with Capiche to complete your name change and rebranding?

Janet: We are well-versed in the field of philanthropy but not experts in brand development. Chris shared her expertise at a time when we were preparing to embrace an exciting new strategic direction that would shape our future for years to come. Her knowledge and professionalism were a real plus as we navigated unknown territory.

Q: How can people interested in community health partner with the Foundation?

Janet: There are so many ways that interested individuals and businesses can partner with us to build a healthier community. Our Patrons Campaign and Lights for Life are long-standing community traditions for giving. We accept gifts of all sizes and shapes, including donations of stock and vehicles. Some of our supporters prefer to give once or twice a year, while others prefer to set up monthly donations. Many community members have also included us in their estate plans. We now offer donors new ways to start their own named funds or endowments, and our expanded mission provides more opportunities to make a difference in our community. I encourage folks to visit our website ( or contact our office (541-482-0367) to learn more about work.

ACHF Offices

ACHF Office

  • Rebranding/Name Change
  • Brand Toolkit Development (Key Messages, Graphic Standards, and Style Guide)
  • Liaison with Graphic Designer and Web Developer
  • Marketing Communication Strategy
  • Media Relations, PR, and Newsletter Writing
  • Team Training
Chris shared her expertise at a time when we were preparing to embrace an exciting new strategic direction that would shape our future for years to come. —Janet Troy Share on X

Capiche Conversations: Interview with Tracy Kaiser, Marketing & Education Manager of Ashland Food Co-op

With Contributions from General Manager Emile Amarotico & Store Manager Barry Haynes

Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels, Capiche Contributor/Strategic Partner, Michaels & Michaels Creative, LLC

Ask any local what the heartbeat of Ashland is, and they’ll probably say the Ashland Food Co-op. It’s not only a place to find healthy, sustainably sourced groceries, but it’s also a social hub where you can meet with friends and colleagues while enjoying selections from the Co-op Kitchen’s 200+ menu options. The Co-op team truly puts “people, the planet, and principles before profit.”

The vibrant, joyful culture visible in the Co-op workplace reflects the fruit of labors undertaken by Capiche in collaboration with the Co-op’s leadership and staff as part of a Happiness@Work project in 2013 and 2015. General Manager Emile Amarotico and the board members fully embraced the process and eagerly sought to implement recommendations gathered from employees through Capiche’s appreciative inquiry process. Nearly a decade later, the investment is still paying dividends in both employee satisfaction and the bottom line.

Following is an interview with the Co-op’s new marketing and education manager, Tracy Kaiser, along with GM Emile and Store Manager Barry Haynes.

Tracy Kaiser with Daughter

Q: Tracy, you’ve been in the Rogue Valley since 1998—one year before I arrived, incidentally. Where did you move from, and what did you think of Southern Oregon by comparison?

Tracy: I moved from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, my college town. I was raised in Wisconsin and was the bakery buyer for a mail-order company when I was recruited by Harry & David in 1998.

My father was an outdoor nut, and I was raised with a deep love for nature and wildlife. My dad always wanted to live in the mountains, and he spoke of their beauty and strength often. I can remember flying in for my interview with Harry & David. My flight arrived after dark. I was staying at the Morical House, an Ashland B&B, and I drove directly there to rest for the evening. The next morning, I pulled back the drapes and had this warm feeling that I was home. Since that moment, I cannot imagine living anywhere else but the Pacific Northwest.

Q: Prior to becoming marketing and education manager at the Ashland Food Co-op, you were senior director of product development and innovative merchandising at Harry & David. How did this prepare you to excel in your role at the Co-op?

Tracy: Harry & David is a full circle business model. We had to excel at process procedure, product development, creativity, finances, and tight timelines as well as having or learning a deep understanding for operations and orchard management. My senior VP was my mentor for several years, and I often recall the management practices she instilled within me.

Ashland Food Co-op Kitchen Employee Prepping Food

Q: As a newcomer to the Ashland Food Co-op team, what was your initial impression of the workplace culture, and do you feel the Co-op’s mission is aligned with its brand?

Tracy: Before I started my career at AFC, I felt deeply connected with the team because I shopped there almost daily. The Co-op was my social hub! After I was hired for my position, I felt the connection deepen even more within the team. Do I feel the Co-op’s mission is aligned with our brand? Oh, yes! Spend five minutes with Lynn Scionti, one of our product managers who has been with the Co-op for 40 years! She is the embodiment of Co-op values and strives to bring our community the best products at the best price. Lynne truly inspires me on many levels, including the fact she stocks shelves like she is 25.

Ashland Food Co-op Logo

Q: You are actually witnessing the long-term impact of the Happiness@Work project conducted in 2013 and 2015 in collaboration with Capiche. Chris Cook wrote an article about this innovative work for Cooperative Grocer magazine in which she details the approach taken. This involved conducting a Happiness Works organizational assessment followed by an appreciative inquiry process. Three volunteer teams were formed to implement solutions based on the data collected: Communication & Cooperation, Renewal & Stress Management, and Learning & Development. Is this work still paying dividends today, both in terms of employee satisfaction and Co-op profits?

Emile: The Happiness@Work initiative inspired a number of communication enhancements that continue today. Until COVID precluded group get-togethers, we have produced twice yearly All Store Assemblies chock-full of updates and trainings. We routinely conduct Team Huddles to keep members informed and provide space for dialogue. A weekly Huddle News email provides storewide messaging to team leaders and desk workers. We have just launched BeeKeeper, a mobile communication platform accessible to frontline employees via mobile device as well as desktop. In time, this may replace decades-old all store and department paper logbooks. It will integrate a number of other Happiness@Work-inspired programs, including our weekly employee surveys and our shoutout board used to recognize peer successes and gratitude.

The most tangible enhancements to renewal and stress management are the outdoor break area, which has literally blossomed, and a complete renovation of the indoor break/food prep area, including new fixtures, counters, seating, and computer “non”-workstations!

We have integrated volumes of training for all employees as well as curriculums relevant to specific workers. Examples include implicit bias and cultural agility awareness, harassment, and active shooter training.
Emile Amarotico

The twinkle in Chris’s eye belies keen insights into what makes people tick, be it in the workplace or the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a twinkle of magic!Emile Amarotico

Q: What was it like working with Chris?

Emile: The twinkle in Chris’s eye belies keen insights into what makes people tick, be it in the workplace or the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a twinkle of magic!


The Happiness@Work project was born out of tension created around whether or not to unionize. As the issue was resolved and the employees created their own union, the Co-op’s leadership felt it was time to realign with the Co-op’s mission and vision: “joyfully working together, providing a workplace that fosters opportunities for participation, empowerment and growth in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation.”

The Ashland Food Co-op created a Happiness@Work Team comprising board members, the general manager, and representatives from the newly formed employee alliance. After reviewing several proposals from consultants, the Co-op selected Capiche for the project.…

General Manager Amarotico says, “This work has had a positive impact on employee engagement. By implementing solutions they’ve designed, employees enliven the entire organization. It’s great that we’re making strides toward a happy workplace and have solutions being designed and implemented. The key take-away is that the results will include more productivity, happier customers, and an atmosphere with a vibe that more people want to participate in.”

Amarotico adds, “I would recommend Capiche to any organization that is truly committed to engaging with the nerve system of their organization with the intention of creating positive change.”

What Would Increased Happiness Do for Your Business? Ashland Food Co-op Aligns Mission with Culture, Boosts Financial Success, by Chris Cook for Cooperative Grocer magazine

Barry Haynes

Q: Recently, Barry Haynes was promoted from produce manager to store manager. He was part of this exploratory process and is a real-life example of Happiness@Work in action. What sets the experience of a Co-op employee apart from a typical job?

Barry: Working at the Co-op provides the opportunity to be a part of a community and family that is not usually found in the typical work environment. Management believes in Servant Leadership and approaches every day with the intent of making everyone’s workday experience a positive one.

Ashland Food Co-op Kitchen Employee Cooking Food

Q: How has your team pulled together in the face of COVID challenges? What measures has the Co-op taken to help keep the staff and community safe, and how has the shopping experience changed as a result—including the addition of curbside pickup and an online store?

Barry: The challenges of the pandemic have taken a toll on essential workers everywhere. All employees have been receiving a Hero Pay differential since the early stages of the pandemic. Additionally, we have been providing a meal to employees for every shift worked as well as numerous gift certificates and other benefits intended to maintain positive morale.

We have implemented numerous protocols and protective measures ahead of and beyond state requirements. Shopping patterns have drastically changed. Average basket size has increased, and customers are visiting us less frequently to limit their exposure.

The creation of online shopping with curbside pickup was a priority, and the team moved quickly to successfully execute this project.

Almeda Fire Rubble

Q: How did the Co-op respond in the aftermath of the Almeda Fire as community members found themselves in dire need of resources?

Tracy: From day one of the Almeda Fires, the Co-op team wanted to help the community. They reached out to vendors across the region and country to ask for their help with products, supplies, and food to get to the fire victims.

And that help came through in big ways, getting nutritious food to displaced families, home supplies in high demand, and wellness and food for first responders and firefighters. These donations and distributions wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated and well-connected Co-op team.

The other way we were able to help get resources back to the fire victims was through our new Round Up Program called Change for Good. We quickly communicated to our community about the need to support displaced families and how they could easily help the community by rounding up their change when they were at the cash register checking out. In very little time, we had over $75,000 donated from our community, and the donations were distributed throughout local organizations supporting our displaced community members.

Ashland Food Co-op Kitchen Cheese, Fruit, Baguette

Q: A lot of people are surprised to learn the Co-op Kitchen is the largest restaurant in the City of Ashland—a town acclaimed for its plethora of restaurants. The Co-op Kitchen employs 45 to 50 people and pays more restaurant taxes than any other business in the city. It offers 200+ products and a highly customizable menu suitable for any diet—from vegan to Paleo to keto. What makes the Co-op Kitchen such an attractive option for those seeking dining options in Ashland?

Tracy: As you stated, we offer a robust assortment of products that support a broad range of dietary needs. We take great pride in the quality of our ingredients. Not only are our meal offerings nutritious, they are incredibly delicious! I often express to community members that since I started working for the Co-op, I feel so much healthier, especially when I make an effort to eat at the Hot Bar. We have stepped up our culinary and production game over the last year, and even with all of the shifts in our business practices during COVID, our Prepared Foods Team and executive chef were still able to curate new products for our community.

Ashland Food Co-op Joyfully Working Together

Q: I love the Co-op’s Vision: “Joyfully working together …  Delighting shoppers … Enhancing health … Enriching community.” Often, a vision is aspirational, but the Co-op seems to be living this already. What do you envision for the future of the Ashland Food Co-op?

Tracy: Finding new ways to reach more community members with nutrient-rich food and making it approachable to all, even if you are food-insecure. We have a lot of amazing managers and board members who are visionaries and strategic thinkers, and we look forward to potential opportunities to grow our current store footprint or find other locations in Southern Oregon that support our drive to bring nutritious food to all who live in our region.

  • Happiness@Work Project
  • Organizational Development
  • Surveys
  • Organizational Assessment
  • Research
  • Meeting Facilitation
The twinkle in Chris’s eye belies keen insights into what makes people tick, be it in the workplace or the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a twinkle of magic! —Emile Amarotico Share on X

Capiche Conversations: Interview with Suzanne Willow, Co-Owner of The Forest Conservation Burial Ground

Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels, Capiche Contributor/Strategic Partner, Michaels & Michaels Creative, LLC

Where would you like to spend your death? Do you want to return to the earth, becoming part of nature in a way that continues to nurture the life around you? Would you like to be enveloped in the beauty of the forest, cradled in a magnificent landscape where your loved ones can return to celebrate your life until it is time for them to join you?

The first dedicated natural burial ground in Oregon, The Forest Conservation Burial Ground represents a transition from destructive chemical processes to more ecologically responsible, green methods of burial. Located just outside Ashland, Oregon, within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, The Forest offers a majestic final resting place while fulfilling its mission “to provide a space to reconnect our human experience of life and death with land conservation.”

Capiche’s Chris Cook became involved with The Forest early in its development, providing key marketing, public relations, research, and video production services that positioned the organization to succeed in its meaningful work.

Q: The Forest Conservation Burial Ground is the first of its kind in the state of Oregon. Can you describe The Forest and the inspiration behind creating it?

First Snow on Jolie's GraveA: The Forest Conservation Burial Ground is the first dedicated natural burial ground in Oregon. There are other “traditional” lawn cemeteries (what Americans usually picture when they think of a cemetery) that allow “natural” burial among standard burials. The Forest, however, is the first to specify the return of bodies to the earth in a way that specifically does not interfere with decomposition. We do not allow embalmed bodies; concrete or plastic vaults; metal; or exotic wood caskets. Bodies are interred in natural fiber shrouds or simple unfinished wood caskets. The grave is hand-dug three to four feet deep so the body remains in the biologically active layers of soil, fostering decomposition and mycelial activity. The soil is then carefully returned to the grave in the strata from which it came.

My wife, Lanita Witt, and I have always known we wanted to return to the earth on this piece of land. We were encouraged by a small group of people who wondered if they could also be buried here. Thus, this journey began.

Q: Reciprocity is at the heart of The Forest’s mission. What does reciprocity mean to you and those who choose this final destination for themselves and their loved ones?

A: At the heart of reciprocity are acknowledgment of the gifts the earth gives us and a desire to return the gifts we receive. Reciprocity calls us to live in gratitude and awareness of our dependence on the health of the earth. Our culture of extraction is the opposite of a culture of reciprocity. The cemetery enables us to conserve the land, and the act of returning our bodies to the earth in a respectful and low-impact manner is an ultimate act of reciprocity.

Sunset Burial at The Forest

Q: What is special about the location of The Forest?

A: This valley property was formed by volcanic activity 20 million years ago and has some areas that are very rocky with thin soil. In any ecosystem, there are areas where trees grow well, others that hold water in the wetland and are suited for meadows and willows, and still other areas that have naturally thin soil. We selected this site for The Forest because it is suited both in location and soil types. Distanced from the day-to-day workings of the farm and guest areas, the location allows quieter, private access. The land where we placed the cemetery does not have deep, fertile soil; is outside the wetlands; is not prone to sliding or slumps; and will not rapidly grow new trees. It will remain fairly stable into the future.

Suzanne Willow, Vicki Purslow, Lanita Witt, and Chris Cook at Willow-Witt Ranch

Suzanne Willow, Vicki Purslow, Lanita Witt, & Chris Cook at Willow-Witt Ranch

Q: Chris Cook started working with The Forest shortly after its genesis. What was her role?

A: Chris began working with us about a year ago. We needed advice on marketing, and she helped us develop an overall marketing plan and started us in a good direction. She handled strategy, research, and initial PR work. She continues to provide consulting services as needed. Chris also helped us produce a video and get some media attention at a time that was particularly challenging due to COVID blowing up the news. Chris got us positioned in such a way that our in-house team could assume marketing and PR responsibilities.

Mary Ann Perry, Sexton at The ForestQ: What are the responsibilities of your sexton, Mary Ann Perry, and how did her background prepare her for this position?

A: Mary Ann joined our burial planning team in January 2019. She has been connected to the Ranch for many years and was married here in 2014. Mary Ann’s life experience led her to become a home funeral guide and green burial educator in her spare time. She has long been passionate about community education on end-of-life and after-death care topics. Empowering families to make informed choices is a pleasure for her. When we opened in June 2020 and needed to hire a sexton, Mary Ann was ready and willing. The role is varied, from supporting burials and guiding tours to community presentations and marketing. She has been learning this role along with us, and she loves this work because it aligns with her values.

Q: Willow-Witt Ranch was founded in 1985. Tell us about the ranch and how you practice stewardship of the land.

Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt with GoatA: After Lanita and I purchased the land in 1985, we began experiencing the unique ecosystem that exists on this piece of the earth. We have always been called to share the magic of this environment with others. As we learned more of the natural history and ecology of this land, we felt driven to conserve the healthy functioning aspects of the ecosystem and work toward regenerating the systems that were out of balance.

We have continued this practice, and The Forest is a natural extension of this desire to protect and regenerate the ecosystem. Our stewardship activities in the natural burial cemetery and on the farm include regenerative certified organic farming; rotational pasture management for our chickens and small goat dairy; selective forest regeneration; and wetland function restoration. We have established a nonprofit, The Crest, for environmental education aimed at reconnecting people of all ages with conservation of the water, forest, and earth. We nurture the interdependence of The Forest, The Crest, the small farm, and the ecosystem in this small valley.

The Forest Freshly Covered Grave Green Burial

Q: How does green or natural burial differ from traditional methods, and why are more people gravitating toward this new approach?

A: Green, or natural, burial involves returning a body to the earth in the simplest way possible: without embalming fluid, grave liner, vault, metals, or plastics. Green burials that support land conservation take this a step further by ensuring all aspects of the burial process focus on care of both the body and land. It is not surprising that people are drawn to this approach, although there isn’t anything new about it. This is how burial has been conducted for thousands of years by most people around the globe. Many are simply beginning to understand that there are good reasons to do no harm in the process of laying our loved ones to rest and that cremation isn’t the most environmentally friendly alternative to conventional burial.

Q: Why is natural burial a more ecologically responsible choice than cremation? Do you accept cremains if the family so chooses?

A: We do accept cremated remains for burial and scattering at The Forest, knowing cremation is the right choice for some. With cremation, the environmental impact is air pollution of heavy metals and CO2. In the United States, the amount of fuel used annually for all cremations would provide enough fuel to drive halfway to the sun, according to the Green Burial Council (GBC). With natural burial, our bodies can actually give back to the life that’s continuing around us.

Q: What can a family expect when their loved one passes away?

Family Grieving at Burial in The ForestA: Burial at The Forest literally means burial in the forest. One helpful tip I recently heard is to “wear sensible shoes.” Whether families choose to host a home funeral and handle after-death care arrangements themselves or they hire a funeral home for some or all of the arrangements, the drive to the burial ground is the first opportunity to transition into another space. It can be soothing to mark each transition of this process with silence, song, or prayer. We welcome the family’s participation in all aspects of the burial process, including the digging of the grave, the procession with the body, creating a ceremony together, lowering their loved one into the earth, and closing the grave. We also invite families to return to the burial ground at their leisure. The grounds are open every day from dawn to dusk, and it is a lovely place to hike, bird-watch, meditate, picnic, and simply visit.

Q: The interment process itself can be a beautiful spiritual experience and part of the grieving/healing process. Family members are welcome to help hand-dig the grave with The Forest’s staff or leave it to staff completely. As you mentioned earlier, the soil is removed in layers and returned to the grave in the same strata as part of your commitment to land conservation. How do family members react to this unique experience?

Family Burial at The ForestA: One of the elements we love about burial at The Forest is we are truly able to meet families where they are. The nature and circumstances of the death—and, of course, personal preference—all impact a family’s ability and desire to actively participate. We are open to what makes sense in each unique scenario. Some family members and friends are most comfortable witnessing, and others want a hands-on experience. Our intention is to offer support and maintain the integrity of the green burial.

The Forest, Flowers on Open GraveQ: The Forest is about far more than the burial and memorial services. It’s a place for celebration, remembrance, and healing. Tell me about the holistic philosophy behind embracing this sacred space as a place to enjoy during life.

A: Our mission at The Forest is to provide a space to reconnect our experience of life and death with land conservation. While grief and sadness are real and valid, it is difficult to ignore the fact that life is continuing when one is standing in the middle of a beautiful forest. The burial ground and the whole of Willow-Witt Ranch are full of life-affirming activities that are all equally relevant to the cycle of life and death. We know healing the land through conservation also means we are healing ourselves—whether through mourning a loss or celebrating a union.

Q: The Forest represents a return to the pre-1950s funeral home industry, before the time of embalming and toxic chemicals and artificial materials. Families used to picnic in cemeteries and return often to remember their loved ones. How has the burial and cremation industry transformed over the past century, and why is it so important to embrace a new model like The Forest?

A: In general, end-of-life and death care has moved out of the hands of families and friends and into the hands of paid professionals. This has happened for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is our death-phobic culture. Green burial at The Forest offers another way, which in some respects constitutes a return to the past but is also an orientation to what makes it possible now. Embracing natural burial is a way to get closer to the realities of death, see the continuation of life, and make a conscious choice to do no harm with our bodies as we lay them to rest.

The Forest, Vista Plot, The Meadow

Q: People can pay a little more to choose the location of their plot—whether it be in the woods, the meadow, on a little hill, in a sunny or snowy spot. How does the selection process work for those who prepurchase a plot?

A: For some, choosing the exact location where your body will be buried is important and meaningful. For others, it simply doesn’t matter, so long as they are in The Forest. We do offer plots on the edges of the meadows, but the meadows themselves are protected wetlands where we won’t be offering burials. We encourage those interested in burial at The Forest to experience the space in person, but visiting the land isn’t necessary or an option for everyone. It is not a prerequisite to purchasing a burial plot. Of the 18.4 acres of the cemetery, just a few acres have been surveyed and are open for burial. And yes, while it’s all a forest, each little nook calls to people in different ways.

Q: How can people be confident the land and their plots will be cared for in perpetuity?

A: Willow-Witt Ranch focuses on conservation of the property and restoration of the ecological balance within the ecosystem. Oregon is unique in that it allows stewardship trusts for purpose-driven businesses to direct the mission, purpose, and running of businesses in perpetuity. The stewardship trust has a business (in this case, the land and businesses) as the trustee; the trust is overseen by a stewardship board, which is directed to follow the purpose for which the trust was established. The cemetery is deed-restricted—the property of the cemetery can never be developed or taken out of cemetery status.

Q: You recently added the Pet Cemetery. Can people be buried with their beloved animals if they wish to do so?

A: We do offer burial plots on the edge with the Pet Cemetery for those who want to be next to their beloved furry family members. We also welcome cremated pet remains to be buried with their human companion at the time of the human’s interment. We do not allow burial of full pet bodies in the human burial ground areas.

Q: How do you protect the plots from scavengers and other potential threats?

Gravestone Marker at The ForestA: All bodies, whether in a container or shroud, are covered with at least 18 inches of soil. This creates a smell barrier for animals. According to the Green Burial Council, there aren’t any instances of animals digging up a grave. The GBC has a great FAQ that answers this and a lot of other common questions about green burial.

Q: What options are available for gravestones or markers?

A: Grave markers are optional at The Forest. We do place a simple survey-type marker on top of each burial engraved with name, birthdate, and death date. Stone markers sourced from the land of the ranch are available for purchase for those who desire this. We also offer memorial benches and the planting of native shrubs.

Q: Do you have special discounts for veterans or other groups?

A: We offer payment plans as well as a 5-percent discount for those who purchase a plot in full. We are building a Community Support Fund to promote equitable access to burial at The Forest.

Q: I understand you’ve been running Zoom webinars, which have been very well-received. What kind of information do you present, and how would someone go about viewing or participating in one of these webinars?

The Forest Webinar ScreenshotA: We have collaborated with several other groups in offering green burial community education. It has been a joy to work with the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass, Ashland Senior Center, and The Peaceful Presence Project in Bend.

We have upcoming presentations with Jackson County Library Services and Deschutes Public Library, both on July 14. People can visit the libraries’ Events pages to register.

These presentations focus on green burials in general, and we share a little about The Forest, too. For those who want to visit in person, we offer community group tours of the burial ground every first Saturday and Wednesday of the month, May through October. Registration is through our website.

Q: You have an open house coming up on Memorial Day weekend for people who have purchased a plot already as well as for family members who’ve had people buried there. You’re also planning another open house for the general public. Can you provide details about those events and how people can sign up?

A: Yes! We are so excited to finally be opening our doors to the (masked and distanced) community. The Memorial Day “Time of Remembrance” is a special invitation to plot owners, those interested in purchasing a plot, and especially families and friends of loved ones interred at The Forest. There will be tables and chairs for family picnics, self-guided tours, and a remembrance activity. Families are welcome to visit any time from dawn to dusk, and staff will be onsite from 11 am to 1 pm.

Our Opening Blessing Ceremony is our public opportunity to bless the land and honor this resting place together. This summer solstice celebration is from 4–7pm on Sunday, June 20. Registration is not required for either event.

The Forest Select Burial Plot in SnowQ: How has The Forest changed your understanding of and feelings about death?

A: We have always felt that we, as humans, are a part of nature—not separate from or superior to the natural world. A deeper appreciation of death and burial has brought us even closer the cycles of nature and life/death, living/dying. Placing a beloved family member in the accepting and encompassing earth clearly becomes a returning “home.” Natural burial does not erase the sting of death, but it helps ease the sadness, loss, and pain and brings a sense that we really do belong to nature and are one with the earth.

  • Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Research
  • Strategic planning
  • Video production/coordination
  • Training/Onboarding
Reciprocity calls us to live in gratitude and awareness of our dependence on the health of the earth. —Suzanne Willow Share on X

Capiche Conversations: Interview with Moneeka Settles, Program Coordinator of the SOU Innovation & Leadership Program

Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels, Capiche Contributor/Strategic Partner, Michaels & Michaels Creative, LLC

When Moneeka Settles isn’t teaching communication courses, solving organizational puzzles, or Telemark skiing, she’s busy helping Southern Oregon University’s Innovation & Leadership (INL) students transform their careers and ultimately lives. Over the course of her three-decade tenure in education, Moneeka has been one of the founding forces behind new schools and new programs—a role her master’s degree in organizational leadership at Columbia University, Teacher’s College, prepared her to excel at. Capiche’s Chris Cook has been teaching one of INL’s cornerstone courses—the popular Working with Emotional Intelligence—for SOU since 2013, and together, they have a passion for developing confident, inspiring leaders with the resourcefulness, knowledge, and skills to keep their organizations thriving, despite adversity.

Q: Tell us about your background and how it prepared you for your current role as the Innovation & Leadership (INL) program coordinator at Southern Oregon University.

Moneeka Settles Head ShotA: I love being involved in the beginnings of new programs, and I love working in educational settings. I have been an educator for almost 30 years—starting with my work as a high school teacher and then as the director of a boarding school program in Portland, and then as one of the founding administrators of The Bay School of San Francisco. When my family moved to Ashland in 2011, I was immediately interested in teaching. I first worked at Rogue Community College and then applied to be the program coordinator for the Innovation & Leadership degree program at SOU. At the time, the degree was brand new—it had just been approved by the state. The first course was scheduled, and the first 17 students were enrolled. I was thrilled to market the degree, enroll students, schedule courses, and support the development of the degree and its students. My own master’s degree in organizational leadership at Columbia University, Teacher’s College, was modeled in a similar fashion to the INL degree—it was cohort-based and integrated many of the same types of courses, so I knew right away I could support the mission of this degree and enthusiastically nurture it.

Moneeka Settles at Innovation and Leadership Ceremony

Q: What is the mission of the Innovation & Leadership Program? What was the inspiration behind creating it, and how has it evolved over the years?

A: The Innovation & Leadership degree is a bachelor’s degree completion program for working professionals who are emerging and developing leaders within their organizations. The degree is designed to teach flexible high-demand skills for today’s job market, including interpersonal, technology, and business management skills. The degree was inspired by the realization that employers in the Rogue Valley wanted employees who had these strong skills and that there were adult learners in the Valley who had started their degrees but hadn’t found the right path to be able to complete them. The degree comprises courses selected from the Business, Communication, Emerging Media, Computer Science, and Psychology Departments to deliver a relevant and innovative degree path reflecting the realities of leadership in today’s workplace. The degree started by offering courses delivered in an accelerated face-to-face format with classes in the evening to increase access for working professionals, but we have since added a fully online format to reach students outside the Rogue Valley. We have accepted seven cohorts of students since the first group was accepted, and we continue to modify course offerings and delivery options to make sure we are meeting the needs of students and employers.

SOU Innovation and Leadership Program Graduating ClassQ: As an accelerated bachelor’s degree program, INL draws a broad range of nontraditional students—from firefighters to bankers to real estate agents. What are a few of your favorite stories of transformation?

A: I do love the broad range of professionals our degree attracts. But, no matter the profession, the transformation I love hearing about is the increased confidence in leadership skills our students consistently share with me. A recent graduate who is a successful marketing director for a national organization said:

I really believe the innovative approach of this degree did much more than help me complete my degree. It helped me gain confidence, visibility, and respect at my company. I am now seen as an innovator and leader who backs up their thoughts/ideas with critical thought and structure. While I’ve always been creative and passionate at what I do, I didn’t always have the right tools to explain the whys. That’s where INL really helped me.

I also feel a bigger benefit of the INL degree is toward the employer as it inspires/encourages people to apply every learning in some way to their current role, and that keeps people sharp and engaged on top of driving business results.

I hear time and time again about how powerful it has been to build a network with the other students in the cohort, how many terrific ideas folks bring back to their workplaces after every class, and how much more confidence they have in themselves. So many of them said they were joining the program just to get the degree, but they left with so much more.

Q: Rogue Credit Union (RCU) is a big feeder into this program. What is it about the program that makes it such a great fit for RCU employees?

A: RCU has some key core values in common with the INL degree. Gene Pelham is an innovative leader, and the culture at Rogue is one in which they clearly support the continued growth of their employees. RCU values keeping their best and brightest employees while giving them the opportunity to expand their knowledge base without leaving the Valley. They also value cross-disciplinary skills—having employees who can think critically, work well in groups, and tackle the hard skills of business management. The INL degree teaches those skills, so it is a great match for their values. We have three great interviews featuring Gene Pelham and another with Laura Hansen on our Testimonial Videos page if anyone would like to learn more.

Q: You teach Organizational Communication at SOU. What are four tips you can share with those wishing to improve communication within their organizations?

A: I teach Organizational Communication with a particular framework in mind. That framework asks the following questions every time we build an organization or evaluate one:

  1. How are you sharing the message to your employees that you can hear the human side of their experiences—their joys, worries, concerns, and hopes?
  2. How are you using rituals, ceremonies, and stories to communicate the core mission and vision of your organization and to inspire engagement?
  3. Have you evaluated the defined roles of employees and lines of communication between them to make sure both are structured to send the messages you intend to send about your organization?
  4. Have you looked for opportunities to map the networks within and outside of your organization, and how will you communicate with those networks to anticipate everyone’s level of investment?

Q: You also teach Intercultural Communication. This study identifies three approaches to intercultural communication: indigenous (seeking to understand the meaning of different cultures); cultural (adds a focus on the individual’s sociocultural context); and cross-cultural (compares/contrasts cultures to identify cross-cultural validity and generalizability). For daily interactions, which do you think is the most pragmatic approach among the three—or do you recommend a combination or alternative methodology?

A: For daily interactions, I think it is key to seek to understand the meaning of different cultures and the context within which they exist. The trick is we often don’t know what all the elements are of our own cultural values, nor are we very adept at recognizing the element of another culture. Thus, we tend to stumble around, clashing into contrasting values while not realizing they are deeply rooted in culture. As an example, I’ve just started to read Rule Makers, Rule Breakers by the cultural psychologist Michelle Gelfand. She makes the very interesting argument that there are “tight” and “loose” cultures existing internationally and in the United States, and our connection to one or the other may very well explain why we are more or less comfortable following government mask-wearing mandates and why we are more or less comfortable with creativity and innovation. We may think our reactions to these circumstances are driven by our personalities or wishes, but they are actually tied to our cultural background. Knowing what that background is and how it matches with others is key to understanding how to work well together.

Chris Cook Teaching Emotional Intelligence ClassQ: Chris Cook has been teaching Working with Emotional Intelligence for SOU since 2013. It is one of the most popular courses and consistently earns high ratings from students. What unique strengths does Chris bring to the subject matter, and how does developing emotional intelligence equip students to succeed in their careers and their lives?

A: First, Chris brings a tremendous amount of passion for the subject matter. She credits the course with changing her life and often gets the same reaction from her students. It is immensely helpful that Chris is highly knowledgeable about the subject and deeply committed to it. She applies her learning and offers examples from the wide range of organizations she has consulted with. Her work with the Ashland Food Co-op, Mt. Ashland, the wine industry, and Rogue Credit Union, to name a few, means she can offer a myriad of real-world examples in her academic coursework. The course content is then meaningful and relevant for the students. Learning about one’s own emotional intelligence and how to strengthen it means students gain confidence in their leadership skills and people management skills.

Q: Chris is also on the Innovation & Leadership Program Advisory Board. Can you talk a bit about the board’s work and Chris’ contributions in that role?

A: The INL Advisory Board was developed this past year to ensure the INL degree is staying as relevant and innovative as it could be. Chris is one of seven board members who will meet with me to give feedback on our strategic plan, including the types of courses we offer to make sure we are staying in tune with organizational needs. I asked Chris and the others to join the board because they are well-respected and well-established leaders in their own organizations here in the Rogue Valley. Their wisdom and perspective are invaluable to me as we ensure this degree remains as meaningful as possible for prospective students and employers. Chris’ work in marketing, strategic planning, and team building are especially valuable to me in developing the success of this degree.

Q: Your favorite endeavors include solving organizational puzzles and proposing creative solutions. Can you give an example of an organizational puzzle you’ve solved that was particularly gratifying?

Bay SchoolA: I have been lucky enough to have been a founding administrator to both the building of a brand-new high school and a brand-new university degree. Both of those endeavors faced multiple organizational puzzles that required creative solutions, thoughtful collaboration with others, and navigation of new waters. Both the high school and this INL degree have been successful, and since their success means students are completing the educational paths they desire, I find that particularly gratifying.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for businesses wanting to build resilience in the face of COVID and its concomitant regulations?

A: Each time I hear about the struggles organizations and businesses are facing because of COVID, I think about the message I have tried to learn from reading William Bridges, who states that it isn’t the change that is hard, it is the transitions. Transitions raise so many human reactions such as loss, hope, fear, and confidence. I believe leaders have to focus on helping the people in their organizations hold those emotions well so they can transition into new endeavors. Managing those emotions well will build resilience for everyone.

Moneeka Settles in the Screamin Tele Lizard Classic Race at Mt. Ashland

Q: If you read the interview with Hiram Towle in the previous segment of Capiche Conversations, you may have noticed a Telemark skiing theme emerging. Hiram (like you and Chris) is a fellow Telemark skier. You and Chris both participate in the Screamin’ Tele Lizard Classic, an annual event that takes place at Mt. Ashland. How would you describe this experience, and who does this fundraiser benefit?

A: Telemark skiing is a sport that takes a lot of perseverance to master, but, at the same time, Telemark skiers never take themselves too seriously. I love that about the sport and the people who do it. The Screamin’ Tele Lizard Classic embodies this in that everyone dresses up in very playful costumes to match the theme of the year and then does their very goofy best to Telemark ski through the race-course gates. We most definitely can’t take ourselves too seriously when, after the last gate, there is the option to go over a big jump, which inevitably makes us look silly and possibly flattens us as we cross the finish line. I love the joyful, playful nature of the race and the community that shows up for the fun. And it feels good to be raising funds for the Special Olympics.

SOU Women's Leadership Conference Board

Q: Last year, you served as chair of the Women’s Leadership Conference—an annual event that, like most conferences, was impacted by COVID. How did the organizers respond to the associated challenges? What was the theme in 2020, and what can we expect for 2021?

A: In the summer of 2019, the Women’s Leadership Conference had agreed on the theme of Embracing Change. This was well before we new what a predictive theme that would be. It is an important theme but has become an even more relevant one since the pandemic. We have kept that theme for our upcoming 2021 conference, which will be delivered virtually on May 7, 2021. We are excited because it means the conference can reach women even further afield than our Valley, and we are being met with a strong interest in this topic and a chance to connect over it. We have two incredible keynote speakers lined up and multiple breakout session speakers who will all speak to the skills and resilience we have all faced in embracing change this past year. More details can be found here.

Q: What keeps you inspired?

A: Working with connected communities keeps me inspired. I love working with people and being linked to their growth and innovation. I also love spending time outside in the snow and on our trails, Mt. Ashland, the mountain biking network of trails, and the terrific hiking trails in our Valley—all lift my spirits each time I go there.
It isn’t the change that is hard, it is the transitions. Transitions raise so many human reactions such as loss, hope, fear, and confidence. —Moneeka Settles Share on X

Capiche Conversations: Interview with Hiram Towle, Mt. Ashland General Manager

Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels, Capiche Contributor/Strategic Partner, Michaels & Michaels Creative, LLC

We are delighted to introduce Capiche Conversations, a new series of interviews featuring Capiche clients. Our first entry spotlights Hiram Towle, general manager of Mt. Ashland Ski Area, whose board Chris Cook has served on for nine years. Hiram’s passion for snow, skiing, and mountainscapes started when he was a toddler and sparked his move from Maine to Oregon in 2014, when he was appointed Mt. Ashland’s GM in 2014. Hiram has overseen the radical transformation of a ski area on the brink of economic collapse to a flourishing and robust nonprofit company. Ski Area Management Magazine named Mt. Ashland one of the winners in their annual Marketing Winners and Losers Contest for his trailblazing Hiram on the Hill reports and Dr. Snowe etiquette videos. Below, Hiram discusses the impact of working with Capiche on rebranding, leadership transition, strategic planning, and organizational development.

Q: If you reflect on the story of your life, how did it prepare you for your position as general manager of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area?

A: It all started at the age of two, growing up on a small community ski hill called Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire. My father was a ski patroller, and the mountain was our second home. The only life I know is one where when there is snow on the ground, we ski. This developed my love of the sport and made it a dream of mine to one day work at a ski area.

Dad Ski Patroller and Hiram Towle

Hiram with ski patroller dad

In 1988, I graduated high school and immediately started working at a high-tech company. I worked my way up over 14 years and was in just about every department before joining senior management. It was there that I learned all about business—from the loading dock to an office with a nice desk. I have no college degree, just 14 years of on-the-job experience. In 2002, the business dried up in New England, and our offices were going to move to Buffalo, New York. Although Buffalo gets lots of snow, with no mountains in sight, Jeannine and I made a conscious choice to move to one of the places where we loved to play to start our next careers.

That’s when I started a job at a large destination ski resort in Maine called Sunday River. They are one of the largest ski areas on the East Coast, getting around half a million skier visits a year, and they have a robust summer operation as well. I started in Mountain Operations. After nearly 13 years there, I moved over to the hotel and restaurant side of the business to broaden my knowledge of overall resort operations.

Mt. Ashland Bowl

Q: What do you love most about Mt. Ashland?

A: Apart from the incredible terrain and great skiing and riding, I would say it is all about the vibe. The mountain just feels like home for so many people, and it shows. You may never see the folks you’ve come to know at the mountain in real life, but when you are here, suddenly you are like best friends. We have always had an incredible team of employees who exude what we call “local mountain fun.” We hear from so many people how amazing our staff is at making people feel welcome and appreciated. Before COVID, it was all high fives and smiles. We are still a very tight family—we just smile from behind our masks at more than six feet away.

Mt. Ashland Lodge

Q: What makes Mt. Ashland special when compared with other popular skiing destinations—including Maine, where you and your family moved from when you were hired?

A: I came to Mt. Ashland despite the huge challenges it was facing at the time because I believe little community ski areas like ours are the most important on the planet. We provide this restorative, healthy activity to those who could otherwise not take part due to the many barriers in the sport. It is well-known that this sport tends to favor the more affluent portion of society. Not at Mt. Ashland.

Because we are a nonprofit, we are able to keep our offerings affordable—far lower than the national average for a day ticket, which now exceeds $130. We offer scholarships, low-cost learn-to-ski-and-ride programs, and free transportation on weekends to those who need it. We break down those barriers to entry and welcome people from all walks of life to enjoy this special sport.

At Mt. Ashland, we get back to the roots of skiing with a focus on the outdoor experience, not fine dining, water parks, hotels, and ski-through coffee shops. At no other time is that more apparent than this year, when we have no indoor amenities available other than checking in for lessons and rentals. Everything is taking place outdoors. Even with guests having to use their cars as their “lodge,” nobody seems to care. At the end of the day, we are in the uphill transportation business, and folks just want that unmatched feeling of sliding downhill on snow.

Q: Tell us about Dr. Snowe and your Hiram on the Hill reports.

A: It all started the day Facebook released its live feature. We have always been unique in the ski industry in that we are committed to truth in advertising. Well, what is more truthful than going live? You cannot sugar-coat things when it is raining if people are seeing you get wet in real-time. We all thought it would just be a flash in the pan, but to this day, I have people tell me they came up because they saw my morning update. We were actually named in Ski Area Management Magazine as one of the marketing “Winners” for our live updates in their annual Marketing Winners and Losers Contest.

Hiram Towle as Dr. Snowe with Chris CookAs for Dr. Snowe, that was another organic creation. I wanted to do an educational series that talked about proper mountain etiquette and covered problem behaviors in a humorous way. It started with a piece called “Powder Etiquette,” where the good Doctor describes how to preserve the most amount of snow on a powder day by taking “tiny turns” and not chewing up the whole trail going edge to edge on your first run. We added parking etiquette and others until Dr. Snowe became a stand-in for the Hiram on the Hill series.

Chris Cook Skiing

Q: You’re a Telemark skier—a passion Chris Cook shares as well. What sets Telemark skiing apart, and why are you drawn to it?

A: I started Tele skiing in 1986 as a vehicle to get into the backcountry, seek out fresh powder, and “earn my turns.” After that, I tele’d exclusively for 20 years. In 2006, I locked down my heels again. I was just getting a bit older and wanted to be able to be out all day. Tele was too taxing on my body to do full-time. Now I try and split my time 50/50 and throw in a little snowboarding, snowblading, and snowskating for good measure. I still love the grace and beauty of the turn, and it just feels different getting low and more in touch with the snow. It also makes the mountain feel bigger as you really have to work the skis harder to do the same runs that might seem easy on alpine skis.

Q: Chris fondly remembers being part of your hiring committee. What are some of the milestones you’ve witnessed at Mt. Ashland since becoming GM in 2014? What changes are you most proud of?

A: I am most proud of being part of taking the mountain from the brink of economic disaster to a financially strong nonprofit company. When I arrived, we were literally counting the dollars until we would have to close following a year when the mountain never opened due to a lack of snow. My first year was no picnic, with a total snowfall total of just 86″ against an average of 250″ annually and a meager 38 days of operation, when a typical season is closer to 90. We managed to squeak by and get into a few good years where we ran lean and put money in the bank. We now have more than a million dollars set aside that serves as a rainy day fund. We also generate enough operating dollars—even in less-than-average years—which we use to chip away at years of deferred maintenance. At the same time, through support from our tremendous community, we were able to invest millions of dollars in capital projects like a $2-million lodge renovation in 2017 that completely changed the experience for our guests.

Q: How did Capiche help Mt. Ashland with the transition to new leadership, which included both you and Director of Marketing & Development Michael Stringer?

Michael Stringer

Mt. Ashland Director of Marketing & Development Michael Stringer

A: We are so fortunate to have Chris’s expertise on the board. She has a way of getting to the bottom of what makes an organization its very best. Her leadership on the board helped forge a very clear path to success, and she coached both Michael and me through some very difficult times. She took on so much during the transition to be sure there would be a soft landing for me as I dug into the operational and financial changes needed to revive our little ski area.

Q: One of the first projects you embarked on was rebranding. You recently told Chris, “I think we got our Nike swoosh.” What did you mean by that statement?

Mt. Ashland LogoA: All iconic brands have an image that is unmistakable even from a distance. The McDonald’s M or the Chevrolet bowtie. Mt. Ashland just had the words “Mt. Ashland.” Now we have our unmistakable MtA image, and you can see it all around the Valley and beyond. From vehicles to water bottles, the new logo stands out and screams “Mt. Ashland” and can stand alone by itself enough to grace the front of the lodge without actually saying the name.

Q: Can you share more details about the rebranding process?

A: Thanks to Chris’s work on our DNA statement—an exercise in really assessing what makes Mt. Ashland Mt. Ashland at its very core—we were able to share a very clear vision with our partners at Lithia Motors to come up with a new brand, a brand that would transport us into the next 50 years and leave a challenging and often controversial history behind. Chris was right there by our side through the whole process as we created a new graphic identity and redesigned the website with the support of our partners at Lithia. They really knocked it out of the park, providing our little local ski area with Madison Avenue results!

Skier on Mt. Ashland

Q: How does Mt. Ashland navigate the challenges of working with the Forest Service and other governmental entities?

A: We have a wonderful relationship with the US Forest Service. We act as partners under our special-use permit, which authorizes our use of the land the ski area occupies. There are certainly challenges, but many of them exist for a very good reason. For example, the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, which needs to take place whenever we want to do a project that impacts the land. The process is slow and sometimes cumbersome, but it ensures we are being good stewards of the land and minimizing and offsetting any potential impacts. The Forest Service is also the authority that ensures our lifts are safe and pass a yearly inspection, and they provide oversight for our explosives program so we can safely mitigate avalanche danger on steeper terrain like the Bowl.

Save Mt. Ashland Montage

Q: The Mt. Ashland Ski Area is owned and operated by the Mt. Ashland Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. What’s the story behind the Save Mt. Ashland campaign that led to the creation of this nonprofit in 1992?

A: The story is quite long, but the Reader’s Digest version is that Harbor Properties, a Seattle-based company that owned Steven’s Pass ski area in Washington, planned to sell Mt. Ashland and move the lifts up to Steven’s Pass after a few bad winters. In 1992, the community rallied around the mountain, raising more than $2 million to purchase the ski area to save it. The 501(c)(3) Mt. Ashland Association was formed and put in charge of overseeing the operation of the ski area. We have remained a nonprofit corporation serving the residents of the Rogue Valley since that time.

Mt. Ashland Association Board on Mountain

Q: Chris has served on the Mt. Ashland Association Board for nine years, including her current post as secretary. She recently spearheaded the first true strategic planning effort ever undertaken by the board, which took place entirely via Zoom. What was that process like, and how did Chris help transform any skepticism toward strategic planning into ardent support?

A: We are all “Zoomed out,” so having a solid agenda with well-defined goals was important. After the first meeting, it was clear a change in course was needed. The Capiche team, which included John Lamy, was able to quickly adapt and move in a new direction that invigorated and engaged the board. When the sessions were over, we had a crystal-clear direction for the board, my staff, and me. We forged a five-year strategic plan outlining capital expenditures and significant operational improvements with unanimous support. We defined the committees more clearly and set goals for each. The leadership from John and Chris really made a difference and kept us from spinning our wheels. They created a space that allowed for rousing conversations and welcomed contrasting views, which resulted in every board member feeling like they had been heard and mattered. I look forward to the tremendous work that will get done with this new understanding of what is essential for our success. I have sat on a number of boards and have seen a dozen ways to approach getting actionable results during strategic planning sessions, and unfortunately, many plans still sit on the shelf. I believe what was created here will easily guide us, is realistic, and will yield the result we all want—to carry Mt. Ashland into the future stronger and more capable so we can do the good work we do for generations to come.

  • Strategic planning & leadership transition
  • Surveys & research
  • Marketing & PR consulting
  • Board member, secretary, and chair of multiple committees
  • Rebranding
  • Community relations
  • Organizational development
  • Zoom meeting facilitation
  • COVID pivoting

Q: Can you talk about the purpose and impact of the newly formed Governance Committee, which Chris chairs?

A: One of the more important roles of a board is to govern the organization and the board itself. It is the “not-so-fun” part of being on a board as it is more on the business side of things versus the fun part of getting things done on the ground to support the mission. We have always had a very strong group of working committees that get a ton of tangible work done those we serve can see, which is what drives most board members. The Governance Committee, on the other hand, is charged with more boring stuff like reviewing bylaws, procedures, and being sure we are continuing to operate ethically and to the letter of the law. It takes someone with an eye for detail and a passion for getting it right. Chris is the perfect person for the job at hand, and with all of the committee’s hard work, the Mt. Ashland Association is now running like a well-oiled machine.

Skier on Mt. Ashland

Q: Chris previously chaired the Community Outreach Committee, which conducted three community surveys to discover which direction Mt. Ashland should be going, what people like and don’t like, and what they want more of. Sent to all season passholders and the community at large, the first survey occurred around the time you were hired. How did that survey help inform the tack you took in the ensuing years? What have the subsequent surveys revealed?

A: Since we are a community-focused ski area, what matters most is what the community perceives us to be now and what they would like us to be in the future. Although we receive a lot of direct feedback and anecdotally know quite a bit about our shortcomings and strengths, the community surveys created a detailed look at the hot topics that were on the community’s mind. The results, which Chris helped us effectively boil down and report out, gave us a tool to make important decisions such as where we should focus our capital expenditures and how we would craft our new voice through our messaging and branding.

Q: Mt. Ashland achieved STOKE certification in 2015. What does this certification mean, and how does your commitment to sustainability play out in practice?

Stoke Snow-Certified BadgeA: STOKE is not just about environmental sustainability like some third-party certification programs. Of course, environmental impacts are a huge part of the program, but they also look at impacts pertaining to business sustainability; social and economic ramifications; and how we embrace and affect culture and heritage in our area. The benefits have been many, including a reduced cost of operation, more engaged staff, and more loyal customer base fully supportive of our efforts to be leaders in all areas of sustainability.

Q: You serve as chair of the Travel Ashland Advisory Committee under the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. What does that role entail?

A: The Travel Ashland Advisory Committee oversees the activities of Travel Ashland, the destination marketing organization for the city. The committee has representatives from retail, restaurants, hoteliers, outdoor recreation businesses, B&Bs, and inns. We help support Chamber staff with developing content for the Travel Ashland website, reviewing marketing plans, and generally offering guidance and feedback from the business community. We form ad hoc committees to address specific needs such as a recently formed group of outdoor recreation leaders that helped gather a list of local outdoor rec assets and worked on storytelling ideas and media content for the website. A number of our members are also on a committee that’s currently working on efforts to rebrand Ashland to highlight all of our wonderful offerings such as wine, food, and outdoor recreation. Our visitor numbers are slowly catching up with traditional theatergoers.

Parent and Child on Ski Lift at Mt. Ashland

Q: How have community members and local businesses come together to support the mountain over the years? What are some of the ways in which folks can support the mountain today?

Lithia4Kids LogoA: We have tremendous support from our community through donations of cash and in-kind donations as well as business sponsorships. Our largest supporter, Lithia Motors, supports our ski school through their Lithia4Kids Program and provides in-kind services like the rebranding efforts we talked about earlier. We are always so blessed by the generosity of our community as they support us through donations, business sponsorships, and volunteering their time—as Chris does on our board of directors. The best way to get in touch with all the opportunities to help is through our website, where you can sign up to volunteer, donate, or even leave a lasting impact by including us in your will or trust. I find the best way to support us is to purchase your tickets and season passes and get up here for some Local Mountain Fun!

Q: Thank you for your time, Hiram. See you on the mountain!

A: Thank you for the opportunity, and I will definitely be up here when you come.
I am most proud of being part of taking the mountain from the brink of economic disaster to a financially strong nonprofit company. —Hiram Towle Share on X