Santa Cruz B-Ball Star Joins Sempervirens Board

Santa Cruz native and Google recruiter Austin Swift joins the board of the state's oldest conservation organization.

by Hilltromper staff

Sept. 19, 2014—Sempervirens Fund is bringing a dose of under-30 energy to its board in the person of Santa Cruz native and Google recruiter Austin Swift, who made a name for himself locally in 2005 when he led Santa Cruz High School to the state basketball championship, and went on to lead Cal State Pomona to its first-ever national championship..

Swift studied business at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, and graduated from the UCLA Anderson School of Business Riordan Fellows Program before co-founding Network Kinection, which brings college students and businesses together for internships and job recruitment. Now a Google Channels specialist recruiting new talent for the tech giant, Swift, 27, brings tech savvy and networking know-how to the venerable conservation organization, which played an integral role in establishing the California state park system.

Sempervirens Fund Board President Fred Keeley says Swift will help the group reach out to "the next generation of conservationists."

"Austin Swift's election to the Sempervirens Fund’s Board represents yet another step into the 21st century for an organization that dates back to 1900," Keeley said in a statement. "Austin is part of that generation of young folks who are attached to the outdoors, care about their community and want to take specific, measurable action to enhance redwood forests and their habitat."

Swift, who grew up hiking and backpacking in the Sierras with his father and brother, says he wasn't sure what value he could bring to the board when he and Keeley, a longtime fan of local basketball, started talking about the work of Sempervirens Fund. Conversations with Executive Director Reed Holderman and other board members, however, changed his mind as he realized the group is taking steps to reposition itself for a new business and conservation climate.

"One of those [steps] is more involvement with the 35 and under community, getting them involved in the land and making headway in terms of people from Santa Cruz and Monterey accessing it, and people from Silicon Valley too," he says. "And that means a lot of tech people and young people working in the industry. They thought with my background in networking and the job I do at Google, I could bring some value."

The mission of Sempervirens Fund, the only conservation organization focused entirely on the redwood forest between Silicon Valley and the Pacific, is to complete the "Great Park." A 138,000-acre swath of land extending from Pescadero to Santa Cruz and from the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the sea, it will at completion include private lands, working forests, state parks and county parks—many with recreational attractions and all protected from development by statute or easement. At present 99,000 acres are already protected. In the last two years Sempervirens has raised $15.6 million toward a $22 million, three-year campaign; the group is reaching out to current donors and new funders to reach the last $6.4 million.

Read about the Great Park

Asked what he identifies as the main challenges to getting the 35-and-under crowd involved, Swift points to the abundance of opportunities to support good causes of all kinds. "People don't have an unlimited amount of time," he says.

Conservation groups, though, have an advantage. "I think a lot of people my age are concerned about the environment, so getting them to understand the work that we do is very valuable."

When not Googling or saving the redwood forest, the former star guard—he also played point guard and wing in Croatia—may be found playing basketball in a rec league in Scotts Valley.