OKALOOSA ISLAND — The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge has a new executive director, and the name might sound familiar.
Carol (otherwise known as Stormy) Andersen has been a volunteer with the organization for years alongside her husband, Bill who is the president of the board of directors. In April 2017 the Andersens donated a 2.238-acre parcel on Cloptons Circle in Navarre, which will be the new home for the refuge.
When the last executive director abruptly left last month, Andersen stepped in as an interim executive director. A week later the board asked her to take the position.
"This organization needs someone that's going to be around for a long time," she said. "That's me."
While Andersen and her husband talk constantly about the refuge at home, she said she wanted there to be "no conflict of interest" with her new title. Instead of answering directly to her husband, she answers to board Vice President Mitch Robbins.
"Bill and I don't sign checks together. I go directly to Mitch for everything," she said.
Andersen comes to the refuge with more business expertise than animal expertise. She is an Air Force retiree with a master's degree in public administration from Troy State University. She is also a Realtor.
It has been difficult for the refuge to hold on to an executive director. Amanda Wilkerson, who served as director for more than a decade, resigned in April 2016. She was replaced by longtime employee Susan Leveille, who resigned in October 2017. She is still an active volunteer, Andersen said. Two more directors have since come and gone.
The reality of working for a nonprofit that it doesn't come with a lot of money or benefits. Andersen's salary at the refuge is $35,000 a year with no benefits. But her passion for the work isn't driven by a paycheck.
Andersen admits to having a "healthy fear" of most critters. Her focus at the refuge right now is on outreach and fundraising for the new facility. The refuge has raised about half of its $605,000 goal for the Navarre site, which includes a medical rehabilitation center and educational facility.
Anderson said it is an "exciting" time for the refuge. She said she is working on a transition plan to move animals and her staff of two from their home on Okaloosa Island to Navarre.
"I know what I have to do to move a team from one place to another," Andersen said. "The same basic skills from the military apply. We're going to grow at this new facility."
One of her favorite parts of the job thus far has been listening. When Andersen officially took the job June 13, she sent an email to donors and volunteers letting supporters know that she has an "open door policy."
"I'm very grateful for all of the thoughts and great input," she said. "I like finding solutions to problems."