The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 4, 2014

Follow the rivers

Many experiences converged to make a strong path for new director

By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

— For Tammy Toney, filling the role as the new director for Piney Creek Watershed Association was something she admittedly never imagined she’d be qualified for.

However, Toney is a true testament to the phase that “all experience is good experience,” as her eclectic background in higher-education administration, Scouting and motherhood all meshed together to make her the perfect candidate for the position, which she began in February.

“I always think about how my life kind of looks like a ‘Seinfeld’ sitcom, because there’s always something from my past that comes back into play in another episode,” said Toney.

From diversified administrative experience to well-developed grant writing skills, Toney’s experience cumulated from years of experience serving in different roles at both The College of West Virginia and Mountain State University.

Her journey began at CWV as administrative assistant, after which she transitioned to a role as a field director with the Black Diamond Girl Scout Council where she oversaw camps, recruited Scouts and helped organize fundraisers.

Again, Toney said that securing a job with the Girl Scouts was similar to another “Seinfeld” segue.

When she was 20, Toney served on the United Way Board of Directors, and the Girl Scouts were one of the organizations served, Toney said.

“So, when I applied for the position, that was one of the things they saw on my resume,” Toney said. “It’s kind of like every little thing you do plays a role in your future.”

After four years, Toney said that the Girl Scouts were forced to downsize, resulting in her unfortunate layoff. However, Toney took the layoff in stride and found a new role at Mountain State University as an assistant director of the Job Training Partnership Act, a grant program that helped train coal miners to secure another career after losing their jobs in the mines.

That experience helped Toney build her background in grant writing, which she said is the most fundamental skill for her new career as Piney Creek Watershed Association’s director.

After MSU’s closure in 2012, Toney used her down time to pursue even more workshops in grant writing.

“What I like about grant writing isn’t necessarily the writing; I like the research,” said Toney. “I’m a little nerdy that way, but it’s like finding treasure.”

Also while in between jobs, Toney said that she worked part-time as a test proctor at New River Community and Technical College, where she met Piney Creek Watershed Association’s former director, Jim Fedders, who encouraged her to apply for the watershed position.

“I was humbled by him, just because of his knowledge base,” said Toney. “I knew I didn’t have that science background, but I knew I could bring something different and use my strength as a people person to relate (Piney Creek Watershed Association) to the community.”

Toney said that aside from being attracted to the grant-writing aspect of the job, she had also developed a background in water quality testing after helping her daughter Natalie complete a yearly project for the Health Sciences Technology Academy.

Toney and Natalie did a research project on the potential of a golden algae infiltration in southern West Virginia’s streams.

“My job was to take pictures for her project,” said Toney. “It was just so neat to watch her with the VISTA volunteers. She was out there in her waders in the streams collecting water samples, which they would send to the lab, and she used those results for her project.”

Toney said that the three-year-long project served to spark her interest and increase her knowledge on watersheds.

“As a common citizen, before that project I didn’t know very much about watersheds, so that experience was similar to an ‘Ah-ha’ moment.

“I figured out, ‘OK. Now I know how to talk to people about a watershed, and also how important it is to protect our water,’” Toney said.

She said that her primary responsibilities in her role as director include grant writing, public outreach initiatives and water resource education programming.

“Right now, what I’m trying to do is build relationships,” said Toney. “What it’s all about is getting out, talking to people and getting them motivated to join the cause.

“My goal is to go and visit as many places in the county. For me to know what’s involved with Piney Creek, I feel like I need to go and learn as much as I can.”

Toney said that she is excited to help make our community better, and invites everyone to attend the sixth annual Watershed Celebration at Little Beaver State Park, shelter No. 2, on June 13 from 5 to 8 p.m.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com