By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Children’s issues are everybody’s issues.”
That’s the point Nancy Woodland stresses, in explaining why she’s leaving WestSide Baby after 13 years, to fight for children’s rights in a larger arena.
We spoke with her as the nonprofit prepared for this morning’s announcement of her decision to depart at year’s end.
WestSide Baby’s executive director hasn’t yet decided how she will carry on that fight. “I do know I’ve figured out my passion is in, and will continue to be, children’s basic needs, anti-poverty work, systems change, social justice work, that’s really bubbled up in the past two years.” And that means something larger than running an organization, even one that’s grown as much as WestSide Baby, from serving 4,000 children to 35,000 children, from a staff of two part-timers to a staff of 24, mostly full time.
While those numbers represent real growth, Woodland says internal growth and “cultural change” in the organization has been essential too, including changes in the way it works with other providers as well a its clients, and recognition that it must do more than collect and distribute essential items: “The direction we’re going (also includes) social justice and anti-racism (and) systems change.”
But even with WS Baby’s growth in how many children it serves, with vital items like diapers and car seats, those needs are far from being filled, Woodland observes: “We’re still only meeting 1/20th of the diaper need in King County – we would need to provide 22 million diapers a year to diaper just the kids below the federal poverty line.”
As Woodland and WS Baby have so often and so passionately pointed out, that is not only a matter of keeping those children warm, safe, and dry – it’s also a matter, often, of keeping them housed and fed, by keeping their parents able to take them to child-care providers, where diapers are required. “Basic needs provision has to be elevated, taken very seriously … something like a diaper can allow someone to flee danger, keep a baby healthy as they (flee for refuge) – that’s the basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – it’s not cute and fluffy – it’s critical.”
Public-private partnerships are essential, says Woodland. The budget just passed by the Seattle City Council has made some strides there – she points out it includes money to deal with diaper need, to recognize its importance in preventing homelessness, and to study the role it plays in the Seattle Preschool Proclamation. “That’s where patience and awareness has paid off, and it’s pretty fantastic.” She has lobbied for that recognition on the county stage, too:
— WestSideBaby (@WestSideBabySEA) September 27, 2016
In 13 years of leading WestSide Baby – including countless “Stuff the Bus” diaper drives – Woodland has become a familiar face in the community. So we turn the conversation back to the personal side of her impending departure. She has raised her two children – McInnis, now a college freshman, and Phineas, a high-school sophomore – while growing WS Baby, which she said she’s often referred to as her “third child.”
McInnis – who was flying home for Thanksgiving as we talked with Woodland last night at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor) – had this first response: “Are you going to be OK, mom?” Woodland said her husband Tim was at first concerned – “he worried about my identity!” But now “they’re on board – they know I’m going to be in the arena – it’s not always easy, safe, or fun to be in the arena, but I believe it’s critical – the families we’re serving haven’t always been invited to the arena,” but she’s hoping to help change that. “Everything i’ve ever done has been connected to child advocacy work” – dating back to her original career as a lawyer, in which she saw systemic injustice firsthand, discovering that some “neglect” cases were really poverty cases – a mother losing her baby because she can’t provide diapers.
And as for the organization – founded by Donna Pierce in 2001 – “I’ve been (long) working to not be the only person who knows how to do things!” Woodland smiled. In the immediate wake of her departure, deputy director Sarah Cody Roth will serve as interim executive director. And Woodland will be available to help with the transition as needed. “As much as I personally am not WestSide Baby, it’s wove into my being … I am totally good with stepping away and knowing it’s in good hands.”
Other important hands: Yours. While West Seattle is WestSide Baby’s “birthplace,” as Woodland puts it, and home to so many individual and business donors who nurture it, “the rest of the city and county” have to get on board and pitch in, too. There are needs to be met – here’s how you can help.
One last question – a favorite memory from her 13 years leading WestSide Baby? “My kids riding on the full [diaper-stuffed] bus back to WestSide Baby -that image of all the community giving, and my kids in the middle of it all!”
And now, while she’ll be getting off that bus, she won’t be out of sight: “I want to work outside and alongside WestSide Baby to keep promoting the really important work that’s being done in the organization and make space for the talent that’s there to bubble up and blossom.”