So far, our story tellers have allowed us a glimpse into their journey. We have learned how an inquisitive chemistry teacher inspired her student to make a pivotal life changing decision, how a group of women with shared interests come together to give back to others, and how a sister’s experience motivates a mother whose actions then inspire a daughter to give time and resources to a cause that empowers women. These women continue to have great impact in their communities, and what they have shared is but a glimpse of their extraordinary contributions. Sometimes inspiration comes from abstract sources, such as feelings evoked by a poem or music, and other times from a character in a well-loved book.
Helen Whitacre, born in 1908, was the oldest of six children and grew up in a railroad town in rural Nevada. Kari Whitacre is Helen’s granddaughter, who from an early age was awe struck by her grandmother’s inner fortitude and the strength of her convictions. Helen graduated from the University of Nevada Reno, became a mother at thirty-five, and was a stanch supporter of women’s rights. In 1961, she was appointed to the first equal rights commission in the state of Nevada. When Helen’s husband passed away, she begun spending her summers in Seattle, attending the University of Washington and completing her master’s degree in library science. Over the course of her life, Helen patiently taught thousands of people to read (including her own mother) and shared her love of literature with whomever she met. In the truest sense, Helen Whitacre was a pioneer of the women’s movement. Growing up around her, Kari was inspired by her determination for independence, her passion for equal rights, and her love of reading. Kari’s love of reading has led her down many paths of discovery. She has encountered characters who are bold and independent, written by authors who are passionate about their work.
Kari’s grandmother instilled in her an admiration for women who are independent thinkers, compassionate, and advocate for the rights of others. Kari, who is Jubilee’s Executive Director, has worked with over 200 employees over the course of her career. Throughout that time only a few people have left a lasting impression, Molly Harney, Jubilee’s Program Administrator, counts as one of the few. Molly’s innate desire to make a meaningful difference in the world, her soft spoken, yet deep-rooted convictions to champion marginalized populations, animals, and friends are truly impressive and for Kari these qualities mirror those of her grandmother.
Molly was fortunate to grow up surrounded by strong and loving women. Her mother, aunt, and grandmother imparted in her the importance of being true to yourself. Molly’s mother and aunt taught her to think outside the box and speak up for herself. Her aunt Maryann, in response to our question on who inspired her, felt it was impossible to narrow it down to just a few women. What stuck out to her the most were the characters she read in the books of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary as a young girl. These authors wrote about young girls in a way that was considered controversial and radical at the time, but they taught her things she would not have been taught at school or at home in the late 1960’s. To her, these books were a big part in finding her voice and becoming independent in a time when young women were not supposed to be.
Molly was a classic tom-boy who loved basketball, skateboarding, and video games all things she still loves to do today. Her support system of powerful women encouraged her to be whoever she wanted to be. They empowered her individually and as a whole, which is one of the reasons she studied Women and Gender Studies in college. Molly wants to make a difference and continue to find strength through women in her community. Working with women experiencing homelessness gives her the opportunity to empower and be empowered by a diverse community of women who all have different stories to tell and journeys to follow.
The ability to be true to herself gives Molly the ability to recognize authenticity in others. Her patience and capacity to “think outside the box” are important tools to have in her work. One of the most rewarding aspects of working at Jubilee is seeing the accomplishments that the program participants achieve. When Jade, one of our program participants, was hired on as a full-time baker at Safeway, everyone at Jubilee celebrated. Molly was integral to this part of Jade’s journey. She worked with Jade to strip away her anxieties and uncertainties around getting and keeping a job. They worked through Jade’s anxieties, highlighting skills she had acquired through Jubilee’s training opportunities, and how she could apply them to her new job to be successful. Molly made sure that Jade knew beyond any doubt that she had a network of support from staff as well as her peers. Jade, who being a baker worked the 4:00am – 11:00am shift, would often stop and visit Molly after her shift. Her attitude was always positive with a big smile under her mask. Though sometimes on a larger scale these successes may seem small, every forward step is mighty.
Each storyteller featured in this series by sharing with us the extraordinary women who have inspired them, have in turn inspired us. Some of us find inspiration from direct, personal relationships. Others find inspiration from talented authors who often seem to be able to articulate those things that we feel but cannot fully explain. If we are fortunate, it is a little bit of both. We have conversations that inspire and motivate us to expand our horizons, or we have examples of people in our lives that we want to emulate. Though all the avenues that feed our inspiration, our hope is that we grow. In the words of Maya Angelou, one of the most inspiring authors of our time, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”