It is always invigorating to come away from a conversation where you discover something new, an unexpected sense of humor, a shared experience, or a wealth of knowledge. Françoise Maxie has been an integral part of Jubilee for over four years. As Jubilee’s Finance Director, Françoise can be exacting, which does not always allow for spontaneous interactions. One of the things she is especially particular about is her lunch break. She purposely takes her lunch later in the day and would rather not be disturbed as she reads her paper. However, on occasion, Françoise will look up from her paper and engage you in conversation. When this happens, you encounter a beautiful soul, whose bark is so much more than her bite. Françoise unabashedly embraces who she is and is unafraid to offer her opinion. Though she acknowledges she did not become conscious of it until her late fifties, she attributes her mother’s determination and drive to succeed right after the Second World War, a time when resources were limited or unavailable, with being a true inspiration on how she lives her life.
In 1962, Françoise moved from France to the United States for work and was married a few years later. As a young woman new to the United States, an immigrant married to an African American man, her experiences were a steep learning curve in a different culture. Enduring these life lessons, Françoise did not come away unscathed. Her mother-in law and sisters- in- law’s fortitude and grace gave Françoise an appreciation and understanding of what their lives had been and still are to this day. They gave her the strength to raise a son who is a strong African American man himself. Françoise recognizes the women who have shared her life and encouraged her to become who she is today both professionally and personally. Her life has been a colorful canvas of experiences, and she offers a unique perspective to the Jubilee community. Françoise is popular with our program participants who often stop at her door to chat. Though untrained as a social worker, her wisdom comes from a lifetime of learning, love, loss and a commitment to remaining true to who she is through life’s challenges. She believes it truly takes a village to sustain individual development.
Close to fifty years after Françoise moved to Seattle, Monica Armstrong made a similar decision and made the move from northern Michigan. Monica whose career is also in Finance, works at HomeStreet Bank and was the main instructor for Jubilee’s Money Management course. Her goal in building the curriculum was to break down barriers around financial information. Monica wanted participants to be able to understand what they were reading when it came to money in any scenario. To do this she knew she needed a comprehensive program that addressed everything needed to understand the financial systems in the USA at a basic level – everything from “what is money” to how banking, credit, lending, and debt work.
Monica strived to make it clear in every class that she was not there to judge anyone or tell them what to do with their money. All that mattered, was that participants had the knowledge to make informed choices. Her hope was that every move they made financially was a decision based on understanding their options and weighing which was best for them. Monica played an important role in empowering Jubilee participants by providing access to financial literacy. Her impact on participants continues to resonate years later. Jubilee alumnae have contacted her years after completing the program to share accomplishments – getting an apartment, finding a job, or starting a family. Monica is thrilled every time these conversations happen, she loves to see people that she cares about thriving.
Monica holds a strong conviction of compassion, education, and being a trustworthy resource for others. These core values stem from her favorite person in the world, her Grandma Ruth who passed away in 2010. She showed Monica what it means to be a loving, compassionate person in a world that is often harsh. Grandma Ruth instilled in Monica the belief that no matter what is happening in your life, it is always possible to respond with kindness. These reflections have led her to understand what kind of person she wants to be and live with clear intentions. Those intentions and expectations shifted drastically after Monica moved to Seattle and came out as gay the second time at age twenty-six. When Monica came out the first time at thirteen in Northern Michigan, she was put in conversion therapy. Conversion therapy, which is illegal in Washington state, convinced her that any feelings of homosexuality were false and would disappear when she “got better.” She was taught that being gay doomed a person to an unhappy life, and that she had to choose between being loved and being herself. It took moving to Seattle to learn for herself that those beliefs were actually the wrong ones, and to accept herself.
In Seattle she found a community of LGBTQIA+ people who were happy, stable, wonderful people. Meeting older couples showed her that her sexuality was not, in fact, a phase – she realized that her feelings were not meant to go away and that she could live authentically and with love. It shifted her whole mindset of the world, because suddenly things were possible that she had never let herself dream about — having a family, feeling fulfilled, belonging. With these new possibilities in mind, Monica changed the trajectory of her life to align with what was important to her.
Monica is grateful for the women in her life who taught her how to be the person she is today, loved ones, friends, even strangers who took the time to guide, correct, or educate her. The most inspirational women in Monica’s life now are her friends, most of whom she works with in music. Their group, Mägi Ensemble, has a core mission to uplift other women in music. Individually, they each inspire Monica with their dedication and perseverance, both in music and in their personal lives. As each of them meet challenges in life, they find support and wisdom from each other. The group feels like family Monica got to choose, and for her being around them feels like home.
Françoise and Monica both have experiences with groups of women in their communities who helped shape the women they are today. Being a part of these groups made room for a reality where they could exist as themselves, recognize their own value and pay it forward by supporting Jubilee participants. When similar groups reach out and pay it forward to organizations such as Jubilee, the impact is transformational. There are so many groups that we honor for their support of Jubilee. One group in particular is the Rainer Ravens.
The Rainer Ravens is a group of women who embrace the motorcyclist culture in Seattle. The Ravens are founded around inclusivity, building community and supporting each other, so for them, volunteering at Jubilee is part of what their group is about. Among this diverse group, are women who have overcome difficult life challenges, or have had similar experiences to some of Jubilee’s participants. The Ravens support Jubilee through clothing, hygiene and gift card drives, as well as delicious community meals through the year. Last Spring, when Jubilee suspended the community meal volunteer opportunities due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Ravens came together to restore our community garden. The group cleared weeds, prepared garden plots and planted vegetables all the while masked up and working six feet apart. Each encounter with this group of women leaves you smiling. Their energy is boundless and contagious. More importantly, interactions between the Ravens and Jubilee participants encourage potential for change. Often, the discovery of shared experiences helps weave a tighter thread of understanding, breaks through stereotypes, and inspires courage. If you believe magic to be an extraordinary power of influence, then believe that the Rainer Ravens create beautiful magic. We stand in awe of all the different volunteers who continue to support Jubilee through the years. Thank you for sharing your time with us and for all the ways you share your experiences with others.