Dear Real Change community,
A new year is upon us, and change is in the air. It is with a heart full of gratitude that I share I am leaving my role as Real Change’s Executive Director this month. My journey here, spanning nearly seven years, has been nothing short of transformative.
When I first walked through the Vendor Center doors in 2017, I immediately knew this was a special place. But nothing could have prepared me for the friendships, learning and challenges ahead. Looking back over my time here, I am immensely grateful for the opportunities, joy and love that this community has shown me.
With change comes reflection, and I am smiling as I remember my first days here. As part of our onboarding process at Real Change, all new staff, regardless of their job, go through New Vendor Orientation. The orientation shows folks how the Vendor Program works, goes over sales tips and reviews ways to get involved across the organization.
Donald Morehead, a longtime Real Change vendor, gave me my New Vendor Orientation. Donald has probably given this training hundreds of times. He knew his speech well, from his choreographed sales pitch to the demonstration of properly displaying your badge. At the end of the training, I told him I wasn’t sure if I would be able to remember every detail. He looked at me and said, “you can always find me if you get lost.” And Donald has been true to his word.
I have turned to him to talk through challenges and hardship over the years, and his knowledge of what makes Real Change special has been a guiding light for me. Today, Donald serves on the Board of Directors at Real Change, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work with him in many ways.
The Vendor Program is the heart of Real Change, and over the last several years has faced challenges we could never have predicted. When the pandemic shut down meal programs and shelters across our city, volunteers, staff, vendors and friends gathered to transform our community room into a grocery and hygiene center. We made phone call after phone call, traveled all across the city and worked to make sure people knew that we hadn’t forgotten them — that we care. That we were still there.
And that is what I have always known Real Change to be. Resilient. Brave. There for anyone who needs it.
The Vendor Center has always been more than a place to find the lowest-barrier work opportunity in Seattle. It’s a place where friendships blossom, connections are forged and a sense of belonging thrives. Since that first day with Donald, I have given countless orientations to new vendors who walk through our doors in Pioneer Square. Some vendors may only stay at Real Change for a few days or weeks, while others have been here for decades. You never know which orientation is going to change a life.
The first Real Change paper I bought in Seattle was many years ago, on 3rd and Union, from Addis. His iconic duckbill quack was ringing up and down the sidewalk, and he handed me the “best paper in Seattle.” The newsroom’s tenacity continues to be a critical addition to the local media landscape. The journalistic integrity upheld by the paper has been fundamental to shedding light on crucial issues and amplifying the voices of those impacted by economic injustice. From that first paper Addis sold me all those years ago I became a lifelong Real Change reader, and I look forward to seeing what our journalists uncover in the coming years.
When I first opened those pages of newsprint, I was drawn into a world of dedicated staff, vendors, volunteers and a community committed to making a tangible difference. The paper acts as an invitation to engage; a call to action; a reason to meet a new friend. As a reader of this paper, I encourage you to respond to that invitation, and join this powerful community.
Over and over again I have seen resilience, determination and collective strength in our community. The challenges we faced, especially amid a global pandemic, political shifts and changing vendor needs, were met with resilience and a shared determination to navigate these complexities together. 2024 promises to be another crucial year as new elected officials take office and a slate of policy proposals come at the local and state level. The Advocacy Department is rooted in the realities faced by those experiencing homelessness and has been a relentless champion for economic equity in our city. From camping out at City Hall or canvassing for initiatives to gathering testimony for public comment periods, I have been mobilized by vendor-leaders to engage in new ways.
As I reflect on my time here, I am overwhelmed by the energy and love poured into this organization by each one of you. Hundreds of volunteers, donors, activists, artists and neighbors come together to make up this special place. I thank you for being an integral part of this work and for building a movement for economic justice. I thank you for inviting me to be a part of this special community. The core of the Real Change story lies in the collective effort of dedicated, caring individuals.
While this is an ending of sorts, it is, of course, also a new beginning. I have worked closely with the Board over this transition period and am confident that under their guidance this community will continue to flourish and build toward meaningful change across our region. I am excited to see all that Real Change takes on in the years to come as new leadership brings new imagination and possibilities.
Real Change will forever hold a special place in my heart. This organization had a long history before I joined, and it has a bright future ahead. I feel fortunate to have been a small part of this impactful, special group. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to work alongside you. I am continually inspired by your dedication and commitment to creating a more just and compassionate society.
With sincere gratitude, love and always hope,
Read more of the Jan. 10-16, 2024 issue.