Our Values: Dignity & Empowerment

This post is the fourth in a series introducing FamilyWorks’ new Mission, Vision, and Values. Check back each week to read interviews from staff and board members highlighting each of our values, and click here to view a collection of currently published posts in this series.

What’s your role? How did you get involved with FamilyWorks?

I love this question because I get to talk about my long history with FamilyWorks. So, my current role is a Board Member with the FamilyWorks Board [of Directors], and I have served on multiple committees on the board, including the strategic planning committee. That’s where this entire fun thing, the curating of our mission and vision for the organization, has been happening for the past one and a half years.

I have also been on the DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] Committee, and up until recently, I was the Chair of the Board Recruitment and Development Committee, which, incidentally, was a committee that I started. So, I have been on the board since 2019, but my history with FamilyWork started way beyond.

It was in 2017, summer of 2017, that I first walked through the doors of FamilyWorks with my six-month-old at that time and I had heard about FamilyWorks through a mutual friend, a former participant of the playgroups. And that’s why I was curious to know, “What is it?”, if we are eligible to participate, because that’s something I was not sure about. So, I just one day I walked in, met [Family Programs Coordinator] Gladys and [Family Resource Manager] Edsel, and they welcomed me into the family. I started coming to the playgroups, the English playgroups, which were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if I’m not wrong, or Tuesdays and Fridays during that time.

I began starting to come in and gradually fell in love with this organization. I loved the whole environment, the playroom. And, one background about me is that I was a recent immigrant to the US. [My husband and I] were students at the UW, with not much money, barely trying to tide over. And then we had a baby. So it was like a very difficult situation financially. Not to mention, like, I come from India, a subtropical country where the weather, at least the daytime-nighttime balance is quite stable. And I was not accustomed to these longer winter nights. That was really affecting me. So, being away from family and friends and all my native social networking, I was pretty lonely.

And with the new baby, everything was crazy. So that was the time when I discovered FamilyWorks and it was love. Within a few months, I would say not at first sight [laughs], but within a few months. And I started to seek opportunities to help out, to volunteer. I remember the initial days where I would take posters, walk around Green Lake putting up posters for FamilyWorks and things like that. And I was very involved with co-facilitating the playgroups, helping out in whatever way I could.

And then, I guess, Kat, who’s the Volunteer Coordinator, she recommended my name for board membership, and it came out of blue for me. And, so that’s how I kind of got invited. I was very skeptical to join in the beginning because I wondered if I would be able to contribute, and, I think, one thing that I really value about FamilyWorks, which I came to learn and appreciate more with as time evolved, is at the very first instance, I was told that FamilyWorks does not set a minimum for the amount of financial contribution that is required by a Board Member, because that was my main concern, and that was a big barrier for me. And this is something that is really inclusive of FamilyWorks, that they value whatever is personally significant to you. And we appreciate that and that actually helped me a lot. And, even several years beyond when I was heading the recruitment committee, sitting with prospective Board candidates and among the questions that were asked, this is one very important question that many people had.

And I’m so glad that at every instant when this situation happened, I was able to present myself as a living candidate who had gone through it. And I remember the days I used to walk from my U-District residence to FamilyWorks and back because I wanted to save that bus fare every week. And then at the end, towards the end of the year at the Sunday Supper [FamilyWorks’ annual fundraising event], whatever money I had collected through my savings, the bus fares including something that we could say we would give to FamilyWorks, and I feel, as a price point, that might not be something very robust or big, but from a value point, that is something really, really special for me.

I’m so grateful that FamilyWorks allowed us to feel included in this sense.

What does this value mean to you personally?

I think this is one of the very basic requirements and a very foundational structure for a human being as an individual to feel that they matter, they belong. And that is the sense that FamilyWorks always provided me and also the sense of community that we developed over there. So, through the years that I had been a participant, I can speak from that point of view as a participant, we met so many families, many young families coming in through the doors. And everybody was coming from a different space in their life. And each had unique stories. However, at FamilyWorks, we all understood whoever is coming through the door, they might have faced so many things in their life, but here was a space where we could all feel safe, non-judgmental and that actually fostered that sense of friendship and building a community.

And I feel it’s so very important for people who walk in through the doors. They might be suffering some hardships. Maybe somebody has financial hardship, somebody has social hardships. For me personally, the most important hardship that I was facing was social isolation. I did not have anybody, and all my friends circles were like, as I mentioned, with students, like doing post-docs and PHDs. So everybody was very academic-minded. All the discussions were like that. But, we were the first ones in our group to have a baby, so nobody was sure how to handle a baby. And I could definitely call back to my family in India and ask for their suggestions. But things were so different sociologically, economically, like weather and climate, it was so different between the two countries. So I needed that guidance, how to navigate things as a young mom, and that is what I got from FamilyWorks community and in such a dignified manner.

It’s not that we don’t know anything. It’s not like somebody is telling me you don’t know anything and you have to do this now. It was through mutual sharing. Maybe I did something which I found was working for me perfectly and FamilyWorks playgroup gave us that space to share what we have learned, what we have been learning through our journeys as individuals, as young parents. And kids are full of surprises, so like it was a very fun learning environment for us as well.

To see the babies and kids connect and develop, very simple things like sharing a book or a toy, taking turns. It was a very natural progression without judgment. It was very friendly. And that is something I really, really appreciated.

How does FamilyWorks embody this value?

So, I guess I talked a lot about playgroups because that’s where my heart is still. But beyond that, I would like I would like to share something which I feel FamilyWorks embodies: it celebrates people from different cultures and heritages and accepts everyone who walks in through the doors.

For instance, like the Cooking Matters series that, we had in association with Solid Ground. It was such a beautiful event where people were able to come and share the traditional, family recipes and we could learn from each other. That was really unique because this is something like, maybe we are spending dollars to pay at a restaurant. It’s really nice to have food at a restaurant, but not everybody can afford it frequently. So learning the traditional ways [from other families] was something really fun. And also nutritionally better, I guess. So, that was something I really liked.

I want to touch upon another thing, the food truck [Mobile Food Pantry] from the food bank. So that was something really nice. We already had the PowerPacks [for students]. And like, the packages for individuals were coming in, but there were so many people, we were doing, like, the food drop-offs individually for people who were unable to come. But then the food truck came. You could take the entire food truck into a community where people would be able to come and shop around.

And that was wonderful because even accessing public transport or even a car to come to the service centers to have the services might not always be feasible for some people. And having that food truck actually demonstrates FamilyWorks’ mission of reaching out deep into the communities and serving. So I really appreciate that.

How do you hope this value will impact the future of FamilyWorks?

This [Strategic Plan] gives us the opportunity to focus on areas that really align with the mission and vision [of our organization] and the dignity and empowerment of our constituents. So I think like having the new Resource Center open up, that’s a great opportunity because I remember those days when we were discussing [the project] and the initial days of selecting the site and everything. [Executive Director] Marcia did a study on how the accessibility would be. We were really cognizant of the fact, like the library, the bus services, so that people who might not have access to cars are able to come to the service by accessing public transportation. So that was great.

And also like another thing that comes to my mind is the food bank, around the pandemic, started a partnership with the American Heart Association for healthy food choices. And if I remember correctly, it was during that time that many of the food banks around the city were being provided with high sugar, high carb food supplies, but FamilyWorks was able to provide locally sourced produce to keep the nutrition content of the food that was available at the food bank at a higher level. So that was something really appreciated by the community as well. I remember volunteering and talking to the participants and listening to how excited they were to get organic fruits and fresh veggies, something they didn’t have the opportunity to have at other places.

So it is in a way, again, emphasizing that FamilyWorks, is very cognizant of the fact that it’s not just the amount of food that you are providing your partners, but also the quality of food, which in turn shows that they appreciate and really, really appreciate the dignity of human health.

And that is something I really appreciate. And another thing is like, we also started providing more culturally relevant food options. So those were not available prior. And that is also something FamilyWorks  has geared towards. And that gives scope to our participants to have access to foods that really, is in tune with that natural or native food practices.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I love FamilyWorks. That’s something I will always share. I’m very excited about the Wallingford site and the food bank renovations and I’m really hopeful that this will work out really, really well. So I’m very excited and hopeful for that journey and wish FamilyWorks all the best.