Board Member since: 2017
Jason, our Board President, shares his admiration for north Idaho as a community of grassroots game-changers, and specifically for our community’s educators (including his wife!). While he notes that COVID has helped us to look more deeply at living healthy lives, his vision of a healthy north Idaho is one where we all tap into self-care to fill our own wells before we run ourselves dry caring for others. Feeling any discomfort? Jason encourages us to hold space for it, especially when others’ expressed needs are different from what we might think they should be. Read on to hear his thoughts on our Community Care Fund and ALICE Taskforce. We’re proud that Jason chooses to #LiveUnited.
[*The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.]
What makes you proud to be living in north Idaho?
I think the thing that makes me most proud to be living in north Idaho is the people. Even during some tumultuous times, be it uncertainty about the pandemic, politics, or the economy—whatever the scenario is, our people are just good people at heart. The civic-minded orientation that they bring on a daily basis is not something I’ve seen elsewhere. I’ve seen communities get together in the philanthropic world, people wanting to help out and make a change, but folks up here embrace it differently, at a grassroots level. They’re going to go help their buddy put food on the table, and then they’re also going to connect to the broader scope United Way can bring. So what makes me proud is just the people, their willingness to care for each other, to open doors for each other, to smile at each other. You don’t see that often in larger areas anymore.
How did you come to connect with our local United Way?
Across the country, the United Way and my organization are partnered. Here in North Idaho, I connected more deeply after seeing all the great work the staff and board were doing for the community. I’ve been involved with United Way for countless years. Back in my time at the YMCA, we were part of United Way fundraising and were scholarship recipients for our day camps and after-school programs. So, I’ve been involved with United Way for a long, long time beyond my board membership.
Who inspires you in our community? Who are the hand-raisers and game-changers in your life?
There are hand-raisers and game-changers everywhere. I think we have a community full of hand-raisers. Some can raise their hands higher because they can dig their hands a little deeper in their pockets, while others raise their hands by simply being willing to help out and get their hands dirty. Game changers are all around us; they’re the folks who are willing to help and do help.
More specifically, though, I have long been a part of the public education community. My wife is an educator and has been for a couple of decades now. I’m proud of the work public educators do with the resources they have. I’m proud of the way they can truly love somebody else’s kiddo, and really care so deeply about their futures. Educators are a different breed. They’re great people who do incredibly difficult work with very little recognition. During this pandemic we’re seeing that even more. We had a large group of our community that has been affected by newly developed and changing processes. We are now feeling how crucial public education is to our society. It goes beyond just teaching someone their ABCs, it goes to the expertise of how to do that. The education they have received and the expertise that comes along in their profession, coupled with the love they show for their kids, helping them handle learning and life... We get to be who we are, in large part thanks to the teachers who have taught us.
What does a healthy community look like to you? What is your vision of a healthy north Idaho? Where does UWNI fit into this vision?
I believe a healthy community is one in which we’re taking care of ourselves, therefore enabling the possibility of helping others.
I think for me that’s the foundation, right? The healthy community has individuals that realize, “Oh, hang on a second, I need some me time,” or, “I need to go drop my bravado and go get some mental health support.” It’s one that isn’t afraid to recognize that helpers have their own needs and can’t unsustainably try to support everyone else. My community gets healthier when I’m taking care of me, which then allows me to take better care of other people.
Where United Way fits into this vision is when we take a stand. We need to decide our stance, and discomfort is what gets us there. Allowing ourselves to feel uncomfortable is what’s going to get our community past our obstacles, sooner. We’re all going to feel it, but United Way has the opportunity to jump in the pool, both feet in, no testing the water first. We have to be courageous enough to say, “We’re going to tackle this! We stand on this side, we don’t stand on that side.” Having a stance, I think, allows us to lead the way, and allows us to model a path for others. I don’t want to be so bold as to say we’ll find “the right path,” because there are many ways to get to where we're going. When we’re supporting people, I believe the right path is the power of many. That one dollar turns into a thousand dollars really quickly, and then you have a thousand dollars to allocate to resources and community experts who can say, “Here’s where the need is,” and you can get the resources to the right place. United Way plays its role in the form of communication, motivation, and activation. We’re pointing people in the right direction to match their passion. United Way is about connecting people to their passion.
How has COVID-19 highlighted the importance of health as a pillar of Living United in our north Idaho community?
For me, Living United can’t occur without our ability to take health out of the equation. If I’m worried about health, how can I take care of anyone else? It goes back to what I was saying earlier, about the importance of being able to care for yourself before you can take care of others.
I think the United Way has done a great job of leaning in the right direction. Our community care grants skew heavily towards health in all of its aspects because it’s a great need in our community. With the COVID relief fund, really focusing on getting money not just to those who needed it to stay in business, but getting it to the right people for the right reasons. I think about a grant that was submitted to get lanyards for masks. They were necessary because they keep the masks handy to ensure more people are masking up, so more people are using the right tools because we helped make it convenient to do so.
Which health projects and partnerships are you most proud of at UWNI?
Health, to me, is fundamentally important. I’m proud of our impact through the Community Care Fund work; we spend a lot of time and a lot of focus supporting health through our community care grants.
There’s a popular saying circulating in the nonprofit and helping community: “Nothing for us, without us.” How does United Way model this ethos in its work towards our community’s health?
United Way embodies “Nothing for us, without us,” through our ALICE Taskforce. This is where the involvement we have with the underserved population combines with those who can serve more. Chris Keim drives great work with this group, asking, “Where do you want us to focus?”, and getting community members like HR professionals involved to understand what their employees are telling them. There are a great deal of the ALICE population throughout the region. They are gainfully employed, making competitive salaries, incentives, and benefits, but folks are truly a water-heater going out away from disaster, a transmission blowing on the truck from losing their job. If I don’t understand that, then I’m not going to be serving the right place. United Way does a great job of reaching out to understand our community’s needs. We’re doing this for you, but we can’t do this without you, so we need to understand what you need and where you need it. I think that embodies and typifies what we do..
What does it mean to you to Live United?
To me, Living United is based on relationships. It’s based on understanding who people are and what they need. It's about caring enough to be united. It’s easy to slip away into apathy, but Living United means you’re strong, courageous, and brave enough to tackle the things that are in front of you, and those that are around the corner, while recognizing that the fight’s never really over. After you’re done you get up and dust yourself off and hug everyone and say, “Let’s go get the next one!” It’s about being together with a common goal, and knowing that you have each other’s back.