VOLUME 28 NO. 8 | FEBRUARY 14 - 20, 2009

Women prove that everyone can help a community

Last updated 2-12-09 at 9:31 a.m.

Vicki Asakura, Debbie Bird, Edith Elion, Executive Development Institute, Patricia Loera, Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, Lan Pham, Edwina Uehara, and Jill Wakefield. Photo taken by Rebecca Ip.

By Michelle Kang
Northwest Asian Weekly

When was the last time you were surrounded by brilliant, articulate, and inspiring women?

If you attended the “Women of Color Empowered” luncheon this past Friday at the China Harbor Restaurant, then you certainly would have been. The tri-annual luncheon, which features a different theme for each event, acknowledged the leadership strength of women in nonprofit roles. With funds to nonprofits drying up in the wake of the current economic downturn, these women offered welcomed advice on how to successfully withstand the current conditions.

The honorees came from varied backgrounds — some working in the educational sector and some working in the corporate field. They also come from differing ethnic backgrounds, a testament to the sheer diversity of women who have been able to influence the direction of major nonprofit organizations in the Seattle area.

The luncheon began with an honorary ceremony for four women. Each imparted advice on their leadership experience in nonprofits. The women’s comments often reinforced one another’s, bringing home the point that community organizations are built on the bonds between individuals. The advice also centered on the practical. For an audience of 260 guests, they were precious words to remember.

Vicki Asakura, executive director of the Nonprofit Assistance Center, shared how she started out in the nonprofit world — as a volunteer in the 1950s. For those looking for strategies to recruit volunteers and maintain them, she advised, “You need a structure and a clear job description. You need to provide meaningful work that matches a volunteer’s skill. Don’t put them in front of a photocopier and make them take out the trash. They need meaningful work and also good supervision.”

Representing the corporate end of the panel, Debbie Bird was honored as the community relations director at Safeco. Bird stressed the importance of collaboration and partnerships in keeping up the momentum of an organization. She said, “Reassur[e] staff and clients that it’s very important to work together. It empowers people; otherwise people forget about building relationships.”

Lan Pham, executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Women Family Safety Center, considered the role of the board in leading her organization. She said, “My board of 11 people regularly shows up at meetings. I’m impressed that there’s a pool of people so committed to the Safety Center. But it’s important to have mentorship among board members to make a smooth transition. Food also helps make our board meetings a success.”

For Vanna Novak, co-founder of the Executive Development Institute, getting the public aware of the different organizations out there was crucial. She declared, “You have to look for opportunities to spread the world because if you don’t, no one else will.”

Following the awards ceremony, emcee Liahann Bannerman from United Way of King County led five other honorees in a panel discussion that centered on the challenges facing nonprofits today, especially given the tight funds available to community organizations in this economic climate.

Many of the panelists mentioned the importance of educating the public, not only about the local organizations, but also in ways to better position themselves to enter or re-enter the job market. Jill Wakefield, Chancellor of Seattle Community Colleges, emphasized that job career training is essential during an economic slump. Honoree Patricia Loera, senior program officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, offered statistics that underscored the significance of the issue. She said, “One million Hispanics leave high school without a high school diploma. Not only Hispanics but all students of color face this problem: Native Americans, Asians, Latino. People don’t believe that this happens in America, but it does.”

Dr. Cassandra Manuelito-Kerklviet, president of Antioch University and American Indian in heritage, recalled that her grandfather had passed down these words to her: “Education is the ladder to success. Tell my grandchildren to climb that ladder.”

When Bannerman asked what gave the panelists hope, the panelists said they were cautious but hopeful about the future of not just their organizations, but also the future of nonprofits in general.

Dr. Edwina Uehara, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, looks to the new federal administration as a source of hope. And Edith Elion, executive director of the Atlantic Street Center, pointed to the power of serving to uplift struggling nonprofits. She said, “Anyone can be great because anyone can serve. Anyone can help and volunteer.”

Though the audience mostly comprised women, there were a handful of men who showed support. Eric Hansen, who saw the event listed in the Northwest Asian Weekly, came out of personal interest. Asked why he attended, he explained, “I have a daughter of color. That’s why I’m here. For me, the sooner we get past these firsts of women in leadership, the sooner we can live the dream. Pretty soon, it won’t be a big deal.” (end)

The next Women of Color Empowered luncheon will take place on May 15, with a theme of women leaders in the corporate world.

Michelle Kang can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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