Island Institute promotes three staff members to leadership positions

Posted 2020-09-16

ROCKLAND — The Island Institute is pleased to announce the recent promotion of several program staff to leadership positions within the community development organization.

Kendra Jo Grindle was recently promoted to the position of Senior Community Development Officer, serving as both the Strategic Lead and Project Lead for the Broadband Team as well as the Strategic Lead for the Sea Level Rise Team.

“Kendra Jo’s leadership on the Yes on 1 for Better Internet bond campaign and her ability to partner and collaborate within different communities has made her an obvious choice for leadership development within our organization,” said Rob Beams, Chief Operating Officer of Island Institute. “We look forward to supporting Kendra Jo in the exciting months ahead as she leads our efforts to help ensure that coastal and island communities are prepared to access and leverage state and federal funding for community infrastructure.

Prior to this promotion, Kendra Jo served as a Community Development Officer and was the Project Lead for the Broadband team while also supporting the organization’s Island Fellows, Energy, and Aquaculture teams. It is her past experience working in Maine’s coastal communities that strengthens her approach and understanding of community development and dynamics. Before joining the Island Institute, Kendra Jo served as the Community Program and Operations Manager for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and supported the Islesboro community as a Fellows with the Institute’s Island Fellows Program. Learn more about the Island Institute’s community-driven broadband process here.

Laura Shields-Haas, Ph.D. has been promoted to Senior Philanthropy Officer and Strategic Lead of Philanthropy after serving for one year as the organization’s Philanthropy Officer overseeing grants. Laura came to the Island Institute in 2019 from Tulane University, where she focused her efforts on building strategic relationships and organizational partnerships to successfully acquire and sustain external funding for developing complex programs to strengthen systems and build capacity throughout Africa.

“Laura’s experience in international development and grantsmanship has elevated our philanthropy goals at the Island Institute,” explained Sue Bernier, Chief Philanthropy and Marketing Officer. “Laura’s ability to bring together different people and perspectives, sometimes from different organizations, to create complex, fundable solutions is critical to our success in working with coastal and island community leaders.”

Laura’s most recent work includes the Island Institute’s successful application for Maine’s Marine Economy Roadmap/Workforce Development Project (SEAMaine). Laura’s leadership will help maximize mission impact in the communities served by the Island Institute and leverage foundation support as the organization wraps up the four-year Thriving Communities, Thriving Coast capital campaign.

Sam Belknap was recently promoted to Strategic Lead of the Island Institute’s Marine Economy programs and Climate & Energy Pilots, including serving as project lead for Maine’s Marine Economy Roadmap/Workforce Development Project (SEAMaine). Belknap is a third-generation lobsterman with an intimate knowledge of Maine’s marine sectors. Trained as both an anthropologist and a climate scientist, Belknap’s professional work has focused on the intersection of Maine’s marine economy and the impacts of climate change.

“No one is better suited to serve as the strategic lead and partner to the SEAMaine collaborators than Sam,” said Beams. “His experience on the water, as a family business owner, and climate scientist make Sam uniquely qualified to lead the Island Institute’s next generation of climate pilot projects as well as the SEAMaine initiative.”

Belknap joined the Island Institute in 2018, working with the Energy, Broadband and Sea Level Rise teams. He previously provided management and oversight for the organization’s sea level rise resilience and aquaculture work. Before coming to the Island Institute, Belknap served as the Executive Director of the Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde. Belknap is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maine at Orono, pursuing a doctorate in Anthropology and Environmental Policy.

To learn more about how the Island Institute’s Marine Economy and Sea Level Rise teams support the economic growth and resiliency of Maine’s island and coastal communities, please visit