By Jessica Junke
It was with a heavy heart that I came to the decision to leave Neighborhood Partnerships (NP) and my role as the Director of Economic Opportunity. It was one of the more difficult decisions I have ever had to make.
It’s hard to believe that just 7 years ago I came to this organization to fill the newly created position of Fiscal and Program Assistant, eager to replant my roots back home in the Pacific Northwest while helping build a more equitable world in whatever way I could. From that time, until I transitioned to the IDA Team as NP’s Program Coordinator, and all the way to my final role as the Director of Economic Opportunity, I have grown so much. Thank you for teaching and inspiring me, and allowing me to do the same for you.
Two quotes from personal heroes of mine rattle around in my head on a near daily basis. I have kept them as post-it notes near my desk for reference whenever I need a reminder as to why the slow and steady way we approach our work is so important when there is often a much quicker (read: less inclusive) route available. One of those quotes is from Dr. Cornel West, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” and the other from the late Maya Angelou, “I think we all have empathy… We may not have enough courage to display it.”
I believe justice, love, and empathy have a place in everything we do – including building economic opportunity programs and policies that center the community’s and participant’s needs first. This takes time. Our financial system did not get here by accident, it was intentionally built over generations to benefit some and exclude many. I believe people in this work are called from a place of love and justice to dismantle those systems and repair the broken promises through programs and policies like the Oregon IDA Initiative. Those actions must be rooted in justice, love, and empathy for any meaningful change to occur.
When I first joined the team in 2011, the Oregon IDA Initiative had opened a little more than 2,000 IDAs across the state. The number of Oregonians who have taken that significant step towards their goals is now well above 11,000. Every number in that count represents an individual who believed enough in their dreams to agree to participate for years in a program that sounded to most to be “too good to be true”. That opportunity, offered more than 11,000 times now, is because of the collective work of the people who make up the Oregon IDA Initiative. Those leaders include the coaches whose patience and capacity for empathy seems endless most days, the Fiduciary Organizations (FOs) whose advocacy for program evolution is grounded in service to the participants, and the legislators who lead the country with their “YES” votes for IDAs. Most importantly, we are successful because IDA participants find their own courage to believe enough in themselves to take that first, scary step of saying out loud – “I want this. This is worth it.”
I have been honored to serve as a member of this inspiring community these past 7 years.
Working with the staff of NP and the partners of the Oregon IDA Initiative has been one of the most transformative chapters of my life. I deeply appreciate and am humbled by each and every one of you – for the personal growth you have demanded of me, but much much more importantly – what you all give Oregon every day that you show up and engage authentically with the work in front of us. I will carry the compassion, humor, dedication, and creativity that you have allowed me to be a part of with me the rest of my life, wherever I end up. I’m not sure what my next chapter holds – but whatever it is, I know each step will continue to be guided by the words of Dr. West and Maya Angelou.
I hope you all continue your earnest work leading Oregon, as strong stewards and advocates of our precious public resources.
I hope you continue asking our participants and our partners what is right for them and their communities.
I hope you then listen deeply to what the answer is, and respond from a place of empathy.
I hope you have enough courage to listen to understand one another.
I hope you have enough courage to love.
While August 9th will be the end of my time in the office in my full-time role, I will be consulting with NP through the end of October to minimize transition impacts with the new director. I look forward to keeping in touch with many of you! My personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, please feel free to reach out to me via email or any of the standard social media platforms.