July 2022 Newsletter: Reflecting on our region’s COVID response

Director’s Note

Note: this month’s note comes from Amy Carter, Community Engagement Director at the foundation.

Back in early 2020 (which feels like a decade ago in pandemic years), it was becoming clear that COVID-19 would hit close to home. Given that the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was in Kirkland, we could feel the storm coming. We couldn’t sit on the sidelines, which is why our co-chairs, Bill and Melinda, didn’t hesitate to approve funding to help our neighbors in Washington state. 

Our Community Engagement team, which provides responsive grants in the Greater Seattle region, earmarked $5 million in extra funding to support our region’s public health response and provide critical dollars to nonprofit organizations working to protect and support some of our most vulnerable community members. 

We first started with funding to help Public Health—Seattle & King County disseminate critical health and safety messages, ensuring the most vital information was translated into multiple languages and accessible in a variety of formats. From there, we expanded our support to a few local food banks and homeless service providers to help those we knew were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic—immigrants and refugees, people experiencing homelessness, and families who went from low-income to no-income because of closures.

Around this time, community members felt a pull—a sense of urgency—to pitch in and help, but many didn’t know where to channel their energy. Seattle Foundation became the first local group to create an aggregate fund that focused on raising money quickly and pushing it out the door to support local nonprofits, small businesses, and community members. They gave us all a way to make a big collective impact.

To learn more about this work, check out this Q&A with chief impact officer Kris Hermanns. We’re also thrilled to introduce you to Alesha Washington, the new Seattle Foundation president and CEO who will guide the organization into the future. 

We’re not out of this pandemic yet, but thanks to partners like Seattle Foundation, we were able to ensure our region gave people hope, connection, and community-led solutions at a time when we needed it most.

With gratitude,

Amy Carter

Community Engagement Director

Partner Spotlight: Seattle Foundation

Seattle Foundation has been a longtime partner to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supporting a range of local programs over the last two decades. We knew we could count on them in a time of crisis, which is why Seattle Foundation was one of our Community Engagement team’s first COVID-19 response grantees. Kris Hermanns, Seattle Foundation’s chief impact officer, was kind enough to answer a few questions about that work. Read the Q&A to learn how Seattle Foundation let those most impacted drive their decision-making.

5 Questions for Seattle Foundation’s New CEO Alesha Washington

We caught up with Alesha Washington, who joined Seattle Foundation this May as president and CEO. Get to know Alesha … including her new favorite hangouts in Seattle!

1. What drew you to this leadership role with Seattle Foundation?

What stood out to me was how unapologetically explicit the organization was about centering racial equity and inclusion in its work. I know getting to this point has been a journey for Seattle Foundation and its board. The desire and commitment to step fully into being in right relationship with this community, especially those who have experienced so much harm, resonated with me. I believed I had a lot to offer to the Foundation on this journey.

2. What are some of your key priorities as you begin this work?

My top priority during these early days is the staff. They need to have the well-being, sense of belonging, and energy to tackle what is ahead. Seattle Foundation is only as strong as the people who choose to show up every day and do this work. Ensuring they feel supported and inspired is really important to me. I am also excited and eager to begin deeper conversations with this community – our grantees, donors, civic, corporate, and public sector partners. Their perspectives are so important to help me learn about this place and to understand how Seattle Foundation can offer the most value to this region.

3. What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your previous philanthropic roles?

Keep it simple. As grant makers, we tend to make this work a bit more complicated than it needs to be. We spend a lot of time meticulously designing theories of change, strategies, etc. That is not to knock the complexity of this work, but it is to acknowledge that ultimately, we have the ability through the roles we play to move resources in partnership with those who need it most to affect change in community. That means we must listen well and respond authentically. We should never lose that focus.

4. What would your walkout song be if you were a professional baseball player?

This feels too easy but I’d have to go with “Walk It Out” by Unk.

5. Have you explored any great places in Seattle yet?

My favorite restaurant has quickly become Marjorie’s on 14th and Union Avenue. I have met so many amazing people there and it has helped me quickly build community since moving to Seattle in April. I also spend a lot of time at the Washington Arboretum. It is a great place for me to clear my mind after a long day.

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