21st Guest: Colleen Henn

We’re teaming up with lululemon to host some dinners out East this summer. Each one will have 20 guests. Big for a dinner party. But here’s the thing: Though we’d like to, we can’t fit everybody at the table. This is where you come in. You’re all the esteemed 21st Guest. We want your input on the conversations around that table, for you to ask questions and be a part of the party. This time around, Colleen Henn steps up to the plate.

The underlying theme here is “doing a solid.” Your questions are going to do the party a solid and get them talking about what you want to hear. Do us one, and shout out your burning questions so we can ask them next time. Or just email us your thoughts on this or anything to us at hello@whalebonemag.com.

Colleen Henn is Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter Coordinator and Clean Water Coordinator. She provides support for the 45+ volunteer-run Blue Water Task Force water testing labs across the U.S., assisting with the growth of new and existing Blue Water Task Force labs, coordinating logistics and communicating critical water quality data to the public. For the local Eastern Long Island Chapter, Colleen oversees all clean water and healthy beaches programs and campaigns, encouraging volunteers to become part of the solution.

Photos by Austin Eckardt

Who’s the most inspiring person to you?

Dr. John (Juanito) Farnsworth, my professor from Santa Clara University has been a consistently incredible influence on my life. I walked into freshman orientation and John greeted the group with, “Fuck … Yes, I can say that because this isn’t high school anymore.” He then proceeded to call everyone out for not doing the summer reading. John ended up being my academic advisor and also a teacher for not one but two of my first-quarter freshman year classes. I was sure I was going to fail … or die. John dealt out some serious tough love, making a “Wall of Shame” for our classes’ bad writing. Don’t worry, by the end of the semester, that “Wall of Shame” turned into a “Wall of Fame.” John has a passion for natural history that he instills in students by taking them outside and letting nature do the heavy lifting. John teaches his students to slow down, look and really see, listen and really hear — and to not take yourself too seriously.

What’s the biggest challenge you ever faced? Who helped you get through it?

Honestly, my angsty adolescent years were really tough for me for whatever reason. My best friends practically dragged me through it. It made me realize how crucial it is to surround yourself with good people who bring you up and genuinely have your best interests in mind.

How have you learned the value of paying it forward?

I’m an environmentalist. I spend my days defending the nature of the East End for Surfrider Foundation. We test water quality and notify the public where there is a problem. In 2018 alone, we have removed over 3,500 pounds of trash from our local beaches and encouraged 44 restaurants to stop using plastic straws. We have worked with the state, county and towns to improve the signage for cyanobacteria blooms. Every single minute of overtime, early mornings and late nights, are worth it when you are able to step back and truly see your results.

What’s something anyone could do to pay it forward?

Life is a circle. The kindness you give out you will receive. Live with that mentality — buy a friend, cousin or stranger coffee or flowers. Just do what you can to make other people smile and know they are loved.

A time you wanted to help, but couldn’t or didn’t get to?

I think a lot of people felt this way, but I felt very powerless after the series of hurricanes that slammed the Caribbean Islands and southern U.S. last fall, 2017. It was horrible to know how many people were suffering just to fulfill their basic needs. Many of the relief organizations were asking for money, but I wanted to do much more than that.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

“The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” Someone said this to me in passing during finals week during university, but I think about it a lot when I have a huge task ahead of me. Just take things one step at a time, that’s all you can do! Lord knows we are horrible multitaskers.

One piece of advice you wish you’d gotten but didn’t?

It’s okay to say no! I’ve always been a people-pleaser, but it was such a beautiful moment when I learned how to say no. When you are uncomfortable or just unable to do something asked of you, be ruthless in defending yourself and saying no. You have to be honest about your abilities and your limitations!

Life is a circle. The kindness you give out you will receive. Live with that mentality.

Where are the places that you go to to find inspiration?

Strangely enough, I find that my most creative, curious and raw self comes out when I’m traveling to or through a new place. That’s where I do my best writing, take my best photographs and am honestly just the happiest version of myself. Whether it’s a weekend Upstate or a four-month backpacking trip, it’s nearly impossible not to return refreshed. Of course, the water always brings me back home to remember who I am, and why I’m doing what I do.

What’s a small way to do someone a solid anytime?

Celebrate the legends in your life. Every single one of us has certain people who our lives wouldn’t be the same without, whether it’s your yoga teacher, best friend’s mom, surfing instructor or a stranger you met on the street that challenged you. Celebrate these people, talk about them, take photos with them, love on them and make sure they know they are a vital piece of your life.

Pay it forward by:

  • Live by example for those around you
  • Stop using plastics
  • Pick up your dog poop
  • Ask someone how they are doing and actually listen to their response
  • Be kind
  • Volunteer
  • Celebrate your legends
  • Be ruthless in taking time for yourself

So what’s your experience working with lululemon, and what has that experience been like for you?

I’ve had a lot of fun meeting and growing closer with some all-star humans thanks to lululemon and Whalebone. I’m excited to see what’s in store for us next!