Tomorrow, Sept. 19, marks 25 years of Real Change. I will get up in front of about 500 of our best friends and attempt to express, as I do every year, what this community means and the depth of my gratitude.
I will talk about how Real Change is reader-powered, about how your love for our vendors changes lives. I will say, yet again, that we count on your financial support for about 60 percent of our budget.
And, I will feel like I’m missing something, because in the three minutes that I have for a welcome and the four minutes I get for an ask, there is little to no time to talk about our amazing staff or the people who support our vendors every day.
Real Change is an odd hybrid of an organization. We are socially entrepreneurial, and yet we are mostly uninterested in profit. We are a non profit, and yet about 300 vendors a month depend on what we do for an income. We help connect people to services, and yet we are not a human services agency.
We organize and we advocate and we fight for systemic change, and yet, we recognize that homelessness in Seattle has tripled since Real Change began in 1994, and that the changes we bring to individual lives are often our biggest impact.
This means we are weirdly comfortable in the grey areas. It means that in the face of sometime overwhelming challenges, inevitable setbacks and ongoing uncertainty, we are taking H.L. Mencken’s often quoted duty of the newspaper — to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — to a deeper, more personal level.
This involves a certain cheerfulness in the face of suffering and loss. It takes a certain amount of audacity, and it requires an awful lot of love.
We have 16 staff, mostly full-time. A bit over half of our $1.2 million budget is payroll. You do the math. No one here is exactly “money motivated.”
Our newsroom, with new editor Lee Nacozy heading the long-time news team of Jon Williams, Lisa Edge and Ashley Archibald, boasts of 60 some years of collective journalism experience. This, from Lisa’s stunning local arts coverage, to Ashley’s prolific and always professional journalism, to Jon’s beautiful art, photography and layout makes our vendors proud to sell Real Change.
Every Tuesday before 5 p.m., a file is uploaded to Pacific Publishing, and every Wednesday morning at 8:30, about 12,000 copies of Real Change are unloaded from their truck to our Vendor Center. Every week.
Our Vendor Center — headed by the unflappable Rebecca Marriot and staffed by Neal Lampi, Ainsley Meyer and Wes Browning — lovingly support our vendors and work with the broader community to help ensure their success. This year, they’ve invested in new efforts like the clothing pantry and monthly visits by the veterinary clinic and mobile health care van. They’re all about finding what the vendors need and helping them do it.
Real Change lead organizer Tiffani McCoy and — thanks to a new grant from the Seattle Foundation to build a “vendor leadership pipeline” — a new organizer that we’re about to add, keeps our advocacy real by engaging vendor voices in demanding the changes they need.
That happens through our Homeless Speakers Bureau, vendor testimony to legislative bodies and campaigns like “Everybody Poos,” our new fight to invest in public toilets in Seattle.
Our Annual Breakfast itself — along with the 75 percent of our budget that doesn’t come from newspaper sales — is thanks to our development team, headed by the supremely competent and heart-led Camilla Walter. She is supported in this by our multi-talented Office Manager Ashley Eller and Volunteer Manager Katie Comboy, who supports more than 200 Real Change volunteers each year. Also on our operations team is Lucie Yépez, the bookkeeper extraordinaire who keeps the bills paid and the cash straight.
And last but not least is my co-director, Managing Director Shelley Dooley, who keeps the staff happy, the numbers straight and the mission at the center of all we do. If Real Change is a beating heart, she is the pacemaker, keeping things steady.
We are grateful for the community support that makes all of this work possible, and I am grateful for the incredible team that we have, bringing their best for the vendors, day after day.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read the full September 18 - 24 issue.
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