Community Service Spotlights

We feature the great philanthropic work of our community in hopes of inspiring others and creating connections between people with similar passions.

Sara DeRuyck

Tell us a little about yourself and the organization you work for.

Water1st International is a Seattle-based non-profit working with communities in Ethiopia, Honduras, and Bangladesh to build piped water systems and toilets. When every household has a kitchen tap, a toilet, and a shower, families are healthier and children can attend school, guaranteeing a brighter future for themselves and their communities.

Why does the mission of Water1st International resonate with you? How did you come to work for them?

I was originally a founding board member in 2005. At the time, I was a graduate student working on my dissertation in Bishikiltu, Ethiopia, a Water1st project community. I had the opportunity to work with the women of Bishikiltu to develop research methods that encouraged a more sensitive and accurate approach to data collection in marginalized communities—data related to the impact of safe water on women’s time, health, and opportunities.

How does your role support the organization’s mission?

My current role is to collect and share the stories of the people and progress from our project communities in an effort to bring donors closer to the cause they are supporting. I also participate in project monitoring at which time we open our work trips to donors who have the desire to visit project communities, interact with our in-country partners, and learn more about our work firsthand.

Are there any exciting updates you’d like to share?

We have always been committed to listening to our project participants and continuously improving our solutions in order to meet their stated needs. Starting in 2017, we committed to supporting only piped water service to the household level in all of our projects, providing the highest level of service (exactly what we enjoy) to our project communities. Every household receives a water connection that allows for a kitchen tap, toilet, and shower. 

Most organizations in our industry support community water points that still require women to spend too much time collecting water and prevent them from collecting enough water to manage important hygiene activities like hand-washing or having a water-seal toilet. This was a big decision for us because our projects are significantly more expensive per person than other organizations and we didn’t know how donors would respond. Thankfully, we’ve received nothing but enthusiasm from our donor community—they wholeheartedly agree that the well-being of vulnerable people is an investment that pays off with sustainable impacts on child health, girls’ education, and gender equality. We are grateful for the donor community that has gravitated to our cause and our approach—one of the highest quality and fullest transparency.

How can members of the Brighton Jones community get involved or learn more?

We are always looking to expand our community! In addition to our board of directors and advisory council, we have a vibrant youth board with over 200 members from around the world. Our Global Fellows program offers a deeper level of exposure for select high school students and includes an intensive global development seminar in our project communities with the intent to develop the next generation of global leaders. Our annual fall gala is in November and our Carry5 Walk for Water each spring. Additionally, we always love to share our mission with our supporters through travel opportunities to our project communities.

Water1st International Seattle
Tama Smith Brighton Jones

Tama Smith

Tell us about yourself and Seattle Arts & Lectures’ WITS Program.

I have the pleasure of leading Brighton Jones’ Women Living a Richer Life initiative. In my volunteer time, I serve on the non-profit board of Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL). One of its programs that is especially important to me is its Writers-in-the-Schools (“WITS”) program.

For more than 30 years, SAL has cultivated transformative experiences through story and language with readers and writers of all generations by bringing the best writers and thinkers to Seattle stages and public K-12 classrooms. More than 30,000 youth and adults enjoy SAL’s programs each year. 

Since 1987 , WITS has placed local professional creative writers in extended classroom residencies at local public schools and Seattle Children’s Hospital to inspire students to discover their unique voice to tell their stories and become authors of their own lives. SAL focuses on bringing WITS to under-resourced schools whose students have historically faced inequitable access to arts learning and enrichment opportunities.

WITS gives young people the skills, space, and support they need to creatively express their thoughts and feelings, build community connections, and help make sense of their world. By bringing a racial equity and social-emotional lens, WITS writers help students feel safe, heard, and comfortable sharing their experiences with each other and create a sense of belonging and connectedness in the classroom. This has been especially important to help students deal with and process the fear, trauma, and stress they’ve experienced during the pandemic.

Teachers reported that many students who had been struggling to stay engaged in online learning thrived in their WITS classes. More than 90 percent of students said they felt acknowledged and accepted in their WITS class and 78 percent felt their cultural identities were honored and reflected. Since it was founded, WITS served well over 100,000 K-12 students in our community.

Both teachers and kids say that WITS Impacts their lives: 

  • 93 percent of teachers say that because of WITS, their students’ improve the quality of their writing
  • 80 percent of students say they are proud of their work and believe they can continue to get better at writing
  • 97 percent of teachers say that their school’s language arts program improved because of their partnership with WITS

SAL also leads the Seattle Youth Poet Laureate (YPL) program, which identifies youth writers and leaders who are committed to poetry, performance, civic and community engagement, education, and equity across the Puget Sound region.

Each year the Youth Poet Laureate, along with a cohort of YPL finalists, has many opportunities to share their powerful voice, leadership, and love of Seattle at regional events throughout the course of the year. The YPL also publishes a poetry collection, released in May by Poetry NW Editions.

How did you find your passion in SAL’s WITS program?

I love the mission, vision, programming and impact of Seattle Arts & Lectures and its WITS program. I first discovered SAL as a patron of its literary arts events.

How do you support their work?

I have served on the board of Seattle Arts & Lectures for the past three years. I continue to support SAL by sharing their good works through their author events and fundraisers.

Are there any exciting news or updates you’d like to share?

Yes, here are three items I’d like to share:

  • SAL’s 2021-22 Season subscriptions for an amazing line-up of acclaimed writers, thinkers, and activists are available now! All events will be offered online, and most events will also be in person.
  • The 2020-21 WITS Year-End Digital Gallery, celebrating powerful student voices and writing over the past school year has launched!
  • Motherland, the very first collection of poetry by the 2020-21 Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Bitaniya Giday, published by Poetry NW Edition, is now available online and at OpenBooks: A Poem Emporium or online at Amazon.

How can members of the Brighton Jones community get involved or learn more?

To learn more:

  • Join SAL in person and/or online for their many literary events in 2021-22.
  • Join in the fun of Summer Book Bingo, a free summer reading program presented by SAL in partnership with The Seattle Public Library for adults and kids.
  • There are many volunteer opportunities opening up to support SAL’s programs as we return to in-person programming. Contact us at SAL@lectures.org.
  • Enjoy SAL’s free podcast featuring the best author talks from over 30 years of SAL’s author lectures, available on SAL’s website and your favorite podcast app.
  • Sign up for SAL’s e-news to learn more about opportunities to get involved-
giving game brighton jones

The Giving Game

In our first community-wide Giving Game, clients and colleagues took the (virtual) stage to make pitches for the non-profits they love.

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