We asked Karen Jones to share her experience of being a WA Women’s Foundation member, and how the Foundation’s knowledge about Washington state nonprofits helped her church build a partnership with 2010 Health grantee, Refugee Women’s Alliance. Karen has been a member of WA Women’s Foundation since 2007, and has served on the Pooled Fund Grant Committee for Human Services, Arts & Culture, and Environment.
1. How long you’ve been a member of WA Women’s Foundation, and what drew you to joining and staying involved?
I’ve been a WA Women’s Foundation member for many years, but my level of participation has changed over the years. Initially, I learned about the Foundation from Colleen Willoughby and Sibby DeForest, as they knew me and correctly sensed that I’d be interested in the Foundation’s mission, and eager to learn more.
In my early years as a member, I was juggling a career and parenting, so I wasn’t able to be as actively involved as I would have liked, but I attended educational and leadership events as I was able and always made a point of coming to the Grant Award Celebrations. When I retired, one of the first things I did was to sign up to join a Pooled Fund Grant Committee, and I have loved being able to participate in that process.
Throughout my years of membership, what continues to draw me to WA Women’s Foundation is the opportunity to learn about and help to support the important work being done by so many nonprofits across our state, and the chance to learn from and become friends with so many amazing and inspiring women of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences. Especially in these challenging times, it gives me inspiration and hope!
2. Can you share a bit about your involvement with Mercer Island Presbyterian Church (MIPC) and the focus on refugees?
I’ve been a member of the church for many years, and over the past 5 years have served on the Session with the specific responsibility of helping to lead the church’s efforts to partner with and assist those in need in our community and around the world. As the refugee crisis in Syria unfolded, and US immigration policies became more restrictive, many members questioned how we, as a church, could respond. We put together a program that included reading and studying, inviting outside speakers, and participating in multi-faith efforts to promote greater understanding. Our mission committee then decided that we wanted to support a local partner doing work with refugees, which eventually led us to Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA).
3. How did you find out about ReWA? What was the process for getting connected with them, and selecting them for the church partnership?
MIPC looks to establish long term relationships with local agencies that have a strong record of serving those in need with a combination of compassion and accountability. As we began researching organizations in the community that have been serving refugees, I knew of ReWA through the Foundation and recalled that they had been a former Health Pooled Fund Grant recipient. Of course, that gave them automatic credibility, as I knew what it takes for any agency to make it all the way through the grant process.
I reached out to Beth, who connected me with ReWA’s Executive Director, Mahnaz Eshetu. MIPC identified two other potential partners through our own RFP process, and we visited each of them with a team from our Missions Committee and our Senior Pastor. We chose ReWA as our partner based on a combination of factors: its track record, including WA Women’s Foundation’s award; the breadth and depth of its programs; and our hope that given its relative proximity to MIPC, we could, over time, contribute not just money but volunteer time to support its different programs.
4. What involvement has your church had with ReWa so far, and what are your plans for future partnership?
This is still a relatively new mission partnership for us, so we are building the relationship. We have made a financial commitment from the church’s annual mission budget, and have just renewed that contribution for a second year. We also have volunteers who read to preschool children on a weekly basis. Our plan is to continue to make those contributions, but to also increase our congregation’s awareness of ReWA’s work and to find other places where we can match our members’ interests with ReWA’s needs in areas like new citizenship classes, ESL classes, or after school programs.
5. How has working with ReWA impacted you and your church community? What have you learned so far?
Our church has a long history of working with refugees and immigrants, so we had a pretty good understanding of some of the challenges these families face, but the problems become so much more real—and urgent—when you meet those impacted and work side-by-side with them. Learning more about what ReWA does also has enabled us to spread the word about its good work and to direct others to its resources. But we still have a lot to learn!
6. Are there any other ways your involvement with WA Women’s has had an impact on your life outside of the Foundation?
Where do I begin?! WA Women’s Foundation has played a critical role in helping me learn about the needs in our community and the many organizations working to address those needs. I’ve learned so much, have met many interesting people whom I now consider friends, and have increased my own involvement and giving considerably. When friends ask me how they can get involved in the community, I always point them to WA Women’s Foundation and/or to organizations I’ve learned about through the Foundation. I’m proud of our collective work, and am excited to continue my educational journey as an engaged member of the greater Washington state community.