It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I will be leaving Real Change at the end of this month to join the Public Defender Association (PDA) as project director of their Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. I sure wasn’t looking for new work, but when this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity dropped in my lap, I didn’t feel that I could say no.
I am deeply grateful to Real Change for the opportunities that I have had over the past eight years. I am especially honored about the way that my co-directors, Alan Preston and Tim Harris, worked with the Board of Directors in the past two years to create a path for me to grow into a co-director role. It says a lot about my co-directors and Real Change that they were willing to share power without reservation.
PDA describes the LEAD program as “a unique collaboration [in which] police officers exercise discretionary authority at the point of contact to divert individuals to a community-based intervention program for low-level criminal offenses (such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution offenses).” LEAD has been so successful that the program is being adopted across the U.S. from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Albany, New York. As PDA expands to support LEAD programs nationally, I will oversee local operations of lead and its expansion in King County.
I have a longstanding passion for and commitment to the work of LEAD. Before I arrived at Real Change, I worked for an organization called Street Outreach Services (SOS), first as a health educator, then office manager and finally executive director (ED). In my role as ED I advocated for funding and growth of pre-booking diversion programs that were very similar to LEAD. At SOS we believed that individuals could do far better for themselves if given the opportunity and resources to do so.
I joined Real Change in 2009 in large part because Real Change held the same values and beliefs as SOS about people who are poor. People know what’s best for themselves; they should not be treated like criminals, and there are systems at play that prevent them from living a full and healthy life. When I found Real Change, I appreciated that, like SOS, it did not presume to know what was best for its vendors, but rather met them where they were at. This philosophy continues to this day.
Over these past eight years I have seen how people flourish when they are part of a caring community with these values. I have enjoyed watching a vendor such as Donald Morehead grow into a leader who runs orientations at Real Change. Or, like the once shy vendor Lisa Sawyer, gain confidence to speak her truth in City Council hearings and in Olympia about the treatment and policies that negatively impact her and her peers.
I will stay connected to RC because of inspirational people like Lisa and Donald. I also look forward to continuing to read this excellent paper and to stand with our vendors when Real Change takes action for economic, racial and social justice.
Real Change is in extremely good hands. Our leadership team is the strongest I’ve seen in the past eight years. I especially appreciate the team’s willingness to critically examine the organization and determine ways to evolve so Real Change can be the best organization possible for our vendors.
I will sincerely miss the Real Change community of vendors, volunteers, staff and board members with whom I’ve become extremely close. They are the heroes who inspire me to do my best work. I hope to make all of you proud.
In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting me in my new endeavor, please write to city and county councilmembers to express enthusiasm for LEAD expansion, which will take some additional resources as they develop their 2018 budgets.
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