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Steph Stocker – Farewell Letter as Chair of Women United

As my term as Chair of Women United draws to a close, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve achieved together and how our work has paved the way for an exciting road ahead for Women United.

My year as Chair came at a time of great transition for Women United and United Way of Thurston County.  In 2018, United Way and Women United launched a ground-up robust collaboration, the roadmap for which would radically change the way we had operated for years.  The past year involved the implementation of fundamental Women United operational changes with our funding, grant-cycle, and leadership structure that were necessary to pave the road for a stronger foundation of collaboration with United Way and deeper transparency with our donors and funding partners. 

The changes that we faced through this transformation were challenging at times, and we wondered if it was possible to navigate those changes and still preserve the community of Women United that we cherished so deeply. Mohammed Ali told us: “Impossible is just a word thrown around by [those] who find it easier to live [with what] they’ve been given, than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”   So we chose to face those changes head-on and to embrace the power we had to strengthen our foundation – emerging even stronger and ready to carry out our mission as an organization. 

I joined Women United because of those feelings of community and sisterhood, summed up here by Heather Ash Amara: “We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been – a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time.  Community.  Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats.  Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.  Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.  Arms to old us when we falter.  A circle of healing.  A circle of friends.  Someplace where we can be free.”

Through this year of transition, Women United leadership shared a mantra that kept us focused positively ahead: “Remember why we started…. remember the magic.”  And we DID remember that magic – our sense of community.  We found that we did not have to lose this magic to gain everything we’ve built.   

When I began my term as Chair last summer, I promised that I would give you my heart and personal commitment.  I promised to value your time and respect your opinion.  I promised to be honest with you, recognizing that I don’t have all the answers and would not pretend to have them.  My commitments to you drove every decision as we navigated this time of great transformation for Women United. Robin Sharma said, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous in the end." Thank you to those who trusted me, supported our vision, and walked this path of change by my side.  Because, you know what? – our work has paid off!  

Women United mobilized our fundraising efforts to support programs providing resources to families with children who are on currently homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless by investing over $59,000.  We then used the Results-Based Accountability™(RBA) framework for our Women United Community Impact Process. RBA uses a data-driven, decision-making process to help communities and organizations get beyond talking about problems to taking action to solve problems. In June we announced Women United Grant Award winners to organizations working in our focus area.

However, 36 percent of households in Thurston County are identified as ALICE – an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. As the number of ALICE households increase, we have seen a corresponding increase in the growing number of families with children in homelessness. The majority of these are parents doing all right things, but they simply don’t earn enough to afford basic needs, forcing their families into crisis. We will continue to focus WU investments on this vulnerable population to ensure that their basic needs can be met.

It is said that change is inevitable, but progress is a choice.  Well, change was certainly inevitable this past year for Women United. But progress, well that was up to us. In the words of Charles Bukowski, "What matters most is how well you walk through the fire."  I applaud the ladies of Women United for walking with me through our many changes this past year and choosing progress.  You were champions of the magic that brought us together in the beginning - the glue of community that has solidified our progress and long-term sustainability.  Women United is on a path of growth and solidarity where the sky’s the limit for what we can achieve.  Thank you for trusting me.  Thank you for joining us on this path of transformation.  Thank you for the incredible honor of leading our team.  Cheers to our future together as community – as Women United.