Cat Sullivan has been a low-income worker for over 30 years. She has also been a welfare recipient. As an older woman who straddled the advent of more women in the workforce from a time when many women stayed home and raised their children, Cat knew of those two worlds, their differences and what was good and bad about both. She can testify from personal experience as a low-income worker, as a parent, and welfare recipient because she has lived them all well as being an organizer and an activist.
For over 18 year Cat has known and worked with the community of organizers who have worked to eradicate poverty. She successfully fought for, got an education ,and earned two degrees through the WorkFirst Program. She is passionately supportive of allowing all low income women (and men) to obtain a higher education or skill according to their abilities and desires and to eradicate the rampant racism and sexism that prevents such education that she has witnessed with her own eyes.
Cat is also a passionate support for raising our society’s consciousness around the sexist and racist attitudes in our society, especially for the lack of support for raising children. She tries to live her life as well as speak to changing things so that no matter who you are and your circumstances, parenting and care giving is considered work that contributes to and is worthy of our community’s and government’s support. She has worked for years on raising the conscience of legislators, policy makers, citizens, and other organizers to promote these things by writing and speaking to them.
Cat lives in the Seattle area and has served on the following organizations as board member. Lake City Christian Church Elder, Diaconate and Board member, Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition Board Member, Headstart Parent Board, part founder of POWER and part of the Lake City Homeless Coalition. Cat wants to serve on POWER’s board because she is a passionate supporter and believes in the people and policies around POWER’s mission and work, which coincide with her own work. It means more to her than any other work she has done except perhaps parenting her kids. This is why POWER is so important and a strong voice to speak for those who have few to speak for them.
Mischa Gilraen has been involved in grassroots social movements for many years. From the time she was quite young, her mother instilled in her a strong sense of social justice. She has experience working in both legislative and direct action campaigns and holds a BA/BS degree from The Evergreen State College in grassroots social movements. She is passionate about organizing with low-income people to work in solidarity for a just and poverty-free world.
Mischa believes that the work that POWER is doing is crucial and vital to so many people and really to the heart of our community. She has been involved with POWER in different capacities and is excited about continuing as a Board member. She was born to parents who grew up in poverty and has seen firsthand the cruel hand of poverty in our community. She has seen the problems caused by the dismantling of the social safety net and strongly believes that, as a community, we need to band together and demand the restoration of our social safety net. She lives with her partner and her two children, Kaia and Liam, who are a daily inspiration. She believes we need to work hard so that they, and all other kids, are never in poverty again.
Mischa is an avid cyclist and you can often find her bright yellow bicycle snuggling in the back of the POWER office. She plays a lot of old-time music, mostly the fiddle and banjo, although she has been known to pick up almost anything with strings! She handles a lot of the technical / computer needs for the POWER office and works for a small business that makes software for labor unions.
Mary Vent has had a heart for social justice since she was a child and attended an ERA rally with her grandmother at the age of 8. It wasn’t until becoming a low income, single mama to a special needs kiddo, that Mary began to realize the obstacles to economic security such as systemic classism, racism, ableism, that low income folks faced. She is a former Work First participant, small business owner, beekeeper, organic gardener, and Mama to 3 children (two grown) Brandon, Elena, and Levi, 10 yrs old. Mary first became a working member of POWER in 2009 as an internship for the Office Administration degree she was pursuing at SPSCC. She has been involved with POWER since then either doing outreach, attending potlucks, making sock monkeys, and for the last year through the Alchemilla Economic Feminist Collaborative. Mary considers POWER a second home, where she can work collaboratively with other members on projects that are beneficial to the lives and quality of life low income people, and a great place to bring my kid.
Bunny Boid (they/them pronouns) credits POWER with the survival of their family. In 2012, Lance was homeless with their daughter and learned to navigate the minefield social services can be thanks to POWER advocates. Now they want to give back! Lance loves coordinating projects, facilitates meetings gently and firmly, and looks forward to serving you as a member of the POWER board.
Jennifer Witherspoon unintentionally began grassroots organizing at the age of 17 while living in a privileged neighborhood in South Orange County, California. She started a very loosely-organized group with children in her neighborhood that focused on bringing kids together to share the joy of reading, writing, and giving back to each other and the community. Witnessing the issues that surround highly privileged communities, she used her own skills of childcare providing and utilizing language and literature to create a safe place for children to form healthy connections with their peers and, in a very organic way, provide support for one another as they endured and overcame the disempowerment children experience across race, class and religious boundaries. One of her biggest passions is empowering children with leadership and critical thinking skills.
While studying English and Creative Writing at UC Berkeley with a focus on medieval literature and intersections of race, gender and creative writing, a beloved professor encouraged her to join the Berkeley Free Press, a nonprofit organization that began in the 70s by supporting farm worker organizers in the Bay Area. BFP provides free services to the community including funeral programs, organization newsletters, labor and union printed materials, and various other professional printing needs. BFP also provides free tutoring with the Black Panther Commemorative Party and reaches out to children in the community. She served as Volunteer Coordinator for 2 years.
After moving to Olympia in 2009, Jennifer began her active involvement in community organizations and actions. Strengthening her community through the healing and empowering aspects of permaculture, in which there is a healthy and abundant space for every living thing, and music, which alters and immortalizes connections between people, are the focus of her life today. She is involved with the Native Plant Salvage Foundation as a board member and Secretary, the Olympia Food-Coop as an active working member, and Stormwater Stewards, which provides free environmental education and services to the community at large. She also started The Saucy Spoon, an event planning and catering company that provides free services for various organizations throughout the community and can occasionally be found selling culinary delights on a sliding-scale at local markets. She and her partner began Kissing Ground in 2012, a permaculture farm that hopes to someday host family retreats and educational workshops. She is now studying to become a horticulturalist through her employment at All Seasons Sustainable Plants, a plant nursery that propagates native plants for ecological restoration and sustainable landscaping.
Laura Studebaker is a resident of Olympia and has lived here for 8.5 years. They have been involved in numerous social justice organizations since that time, including POWER, Safeplace and the Prison Doula Project. Laura’s role in their activism is first and foremost about advocacy. Laura is passionate about working together with members of their community to form bonds of mutual aid and foster a culture of empowerment and hope in a world that would rather not deal with those experiencing various forms of oppression. After a three year hiatus, Laura is delighted to be working with POWER again.
Panda Gilraen has been living in Olympia since 2007 with her two kids, and fiancé since 2011. Her passion for social justice advocacy has centered in the past on women’s reproductive and birthing rights, anti-war campaigns, and the rights of working parents. She has been on the receiving end of TANF, SNAP, and the Working Connections Child Care Subsidy. After having a few extremely difficult situations with DSHS, POWER offered invaluable support that helped her family stay above water. It was these experiences that she decided to give back and support POWER on their board of directors.
Panda and her family like cooking, crafting, camping, playing and listening to music, and of course being at the POWER office as much as they can manage.
Monica Peabody is the proud mother of an incredible daughter born in 1990. A single mother shortly after her daughter’s birth, she got to experience our society’s lack of support and disrespect for single mothers first hand. A committed breast-feeder, Monica was often made to feel that even that was an act of defiance. Raising a child during the passage of welfare reform made an avid activist of Monica. She joined the policy committee of the Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition (WROC) when her daughter was a preschooler and they began to protest and lobby to end poverty. When she moved to Olympia from Seattle in 1995, she was shocked to discover there was no welfare rights organization. After multiple conversations with parents who were being told they had to quit college and go find low-wage work, they started organizing and held their first welfare rights meeting in Olympia in 1997. Monica accepted a VISTA position with WROC in 1998 so she could quit cleaning houses and organize full time. Although the VISTA stipend is considered poverty wages, it was more than twice her welfare grant. What’s unbelievable is that a welfare grant is smaller today than hers was 20 years ago. Watching more and more families falling into poverty and being disregarded by our society is heartbreaking, yet makes the work toward building resistance all the more crucial. Monica also works at the Olympia Food Cooperative. She plays and teaches old-time banjo.
Jennifer Roberts volunteered with WROC and POWER for a long time. She loved the work of POWER. She knew that poverty is not a choice, it happens to you. She gained an incredible amount of knowledge volunteering. She wanted to help in the fight to eradicate poverty.
Jennifer started volunteering sometime around 2000 when we were WROC (the Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition) and had an office in the First Christian Church. She was around 20 years old.
Jennifer developed some lifelong friends while working with WROC and POWER. She was a passionate advocate for low-income families and learned a great deal about the economics of poverty. She would talk to anyone and everyone about these issues. People learned about POWER from Jennifer in the locker room, on the bus, everywhere.
Jennifer died unexpectedly on April 18th, 2014 and her 14 years with WROC and POWER touched many of us and we miss her.
Jennifer Jo Roberts Jennifer Jo Roberts, 33, passed away at home on April 18, 2014. She was born on June 22, 1980, in Portland, Oregon, and lived in Olympia since 1984. Jennifer attended schools in Olympia and graduated from Capital High School in 1999.
Jennifer was a strong advocate for those who were less fortunate. She was passionate about economic justice for the poor. She volunteered for many years with POWER, Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights, and was a member of their Board. She also participated in SAIL, Self Advocates in Leadership, an organization which legislated advocacy for people with developmental disabilities. Jennifer occasionally participated in demonstrations for the causes in which she believed. She had many friends at the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the Olympia First Christian Church.
Jennifer is survived by her parents, Fred and Jean Roberts; her sister, brother-in-law and nephew, Sarah, Jonathan, and Warren Alexander; and aunts, uncles and cousins, and by her dear friend, Carl Bond. A celebration of Jennifer’s life will be held at the First Christian Church in Olympia on Saturday, April 26, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. Donations in Jennifer’s memory may be made to POWER at 309 5th Avenue SE, Olympia, 98501, or at www.mamapower.org.
On May 31st former POWER member Aaron Scott organized Honoring A Fallen Fighter: Community Vigil For Jennifer Roberts at the Olympia Unitarian Church.
We invite all who were touched by Jennifer Jo Roberts‘ work as a community leader to join us in remembering her witness for justice. As a fighter in anti-poverty struggles, a disability rights activist, an environmental justice advocate, and a vital presence in multiple faith communities, Jennifer’s legacy runs deep and wide. Come help us celebrate the incredible life of an incredible friend– and recommit ourselves to carrying on her freedom-fighting spirit in this world.
We’ll gather to sing, share memories, listen to readings, present art, and stay for as long as it takes us to say goodbye to Jennifer. Kids and babies 100% welcome. Don’t be shy about turning out: even if you never met Jennifer personally, chances are she was fighting for your rights anyway!
Aaron recorded the event. You can listen or read her sermon at: