One of the leading outdoor communications groups, Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, has announced its dissolution and has transitioned into a new era as the Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America.
The move comes after more than a decade of decline for SEOPA, according to former SEOPA Executive Director Lisa Snuggs, who currently serves as the CEO of OJEFA.
"It was slow but steady," Snuggs said. "We had tried to increase the membership for so long and felt like we were spinning our wheels."
SEOPA was founded in 1964 and operated for nearly 60 years, but dwindling membership and participation had begun to take its toll. Rather than allow the organization to continue in a downward spiral, the SEOPA board and past presidents came together to discuss options and make a plan for the future. The option to disband and shift resources into the group's educational arm, OJEFA, was one of the options brought into the conversation. The final decision was left for the membership to decide via a vote.
"It was decided that we should chart a new course to do what we have always done best and that was to take our remaining resources and ignite a new spark among young outdoors people," Chairman of the SEOPA Board Kevin Tate said in an announcement.
OJEFA was established under SEOPA 2004. In 2011 it established the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award, a scholarship that provides a hands-on experience for young people in outdoor communications. Upon its dissolution, SEOPA transferred its resources to OJEFA.
"We don't look at the dissolution of SEOPA as a failure," Snuggs said, paraphrasing Rob Simbeck, one of SEOPA's past presidents. "SEOPA did a lot of good for a long time. We are looking at this transition as an opportunity to do more and do better."
Moving forward, OJEFA will be dedicated to the education and support of outdoor communicators, with an emphasis on developing and implementing programs to encourage young people interested in a career in the industry. One thing the organization hopes to do is to increase the amount of scholarships, thereby inspiring more young people to pursue a career in the outdoor industry.
Mike Giles, who served as the last of the SEOPA board presidents, quoted American businessman Jack Welch of General Electric in a newsletter announcing the transition.
"Change before you have to," he said. "I'm proud that SEOPA has chosen that path and, as we make the transition, I hope we will all look at the move as an exciting new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many aspiring young media professionals while honoring the past and present."
Giles shifted over to the newly formed OJEFA board to serve as a board member. LeAnn Schmitt will serve as the 2023 president. The board is rounded out by Emily Strother, Hampton Bourne, Josh Wolfe, and Craig Lamb.
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