Summer recommended Becca to me by referring to her as "the mutha f*cking queen". After spending a few minutes with her I could see where the compliment came from so I consider chatting with her for an hour to be a great privilege. We sat over coffee in the open space at Thump Coffee, which she has been using as her office. Becca's got a deep and genuine laugh which seems to be constantly at the ready. As we talked, she articulated meaningful thoughts while making it obvious that she maintains hope and optimism for the future. She's a doer and a go-getter and a lovely lady. Becca raises money for nonprofits - check out her website to learn more about what that looks like.
Who are you?
(Big laugh) You're gonna start with an easy question. Oh, how do you want me to answer that? I'm Becca. What more do you want me to tell you? Anything I want? Actually, can I ask you the context of the project?
I'm relatively new to Bend myself. I moved here with my husband and our daughter, who's three now, Memorial Day weekend in 2015 - so two years ago. Summer and her husband know my husband from back east. We moved from the NYC Metro - I'm from Philly originally, so I spent my whole adult life in big, urban metros. We wanted to move west. We were living in a one-bedroom with a one year old. And Bend was one of the places on the short list. And Dan, my husband, is a chemist and actually got a job at Bend Research, so unlike other peoples' How I Got to Bend stories, kind of had an anchor job. It's really interesting the dialogue around being new here or, you know, what does it mean to be a local? I certainly have my version of our narrative, but everybody hates Californians, so the early version of that was, Well, at least we're not from California. We're both driving around cars with Connecticut plates on them and all of our neighbors were like, Oh, hey, it's so good to meet you! People seemed very impressed that we moved here from the other side of the country, as though that made it more palatable. But also that Dan had a job at Bend Research... I don't know whatever judgment is connected to that if there was any.
I have gotten really involved in work in Bend. It has been one of the really nice things about living here. So when we moved, I was still looking for a job locally. In the end, ended up keeping the job I have in New York, which is two days a week raising money for a school that I helped start in 2003. It's a low-tuition school for bright boys from low-income families - George Jackson Academy. So that school's 15 years old and when I went back to graduate school, now seven years ago, ended up kind of in a part-time role raising money for them, working on the operations side. It's a small organization, though, so I kind of do a little bit of everything. And prior to that my career was in education. I taught and then I ran a middle school in Philadelphia. Did a bunch of stuff, school leadership stuff. So, anyway, we moved here. I ended up continuing to do that job. First year, I wrote my dissertation, which is done. So now I'm a doctor. Not that kind of doctor, but anyway (laughs). Yes, it is pretty cool. I started to grow what was initially a grant-writing business, which is really, more broadly, non-profit consulting. And I work with a bunch of clients here in Bend. I have a couple in other places, too.
I find Bend to be a great professional place for me. We moved here and I was kind of like Alright, we're gonna see how this works! I want to have meaningful work and I'm gonna see if I can make that happen. And because of people's willingness to network and connect and introduce me to people and share stories and say, You should really meet this person - that's happened very organically and very quickly for me here. I ended up working in this coffee shop like every day. Every morning I drop off my kid at daycare, I come here. I usually leave by about 12:30 to go get her, some days I stay later. This being one of the centers where there's a lot of business start-up energy happening. People are on the hustle.
But, again, I find it to be a very generous community of thinkers and businesses, where folks really are like Oh, hey, you have a cool idea. You should go talk to this person who has this other cool idea! On the scale it's different, right? Bend is so much smaller that there's also a sense of understanding some of how the decision making happens on a civic level and who some of the players are, but also maybe even how to change that and shift the landscape. Coming from New York City, forget it. I can make change within the organization I worked for, in the school I attended, in my neighborhood, but it wasn't gonna be like the whole city. So that's something that I really love about living here - a sense of opportunity to make a difference. And, yeah, the conversation about growth is very real. So, what I like about some of the work I'm doing is it's actually about entering into that conversation and trying to be smart about it. One of my clients is Bend2030, which works on transportation and housing projects. We also landed a big grant to do this totally cool project that is basically helping smaller organizations that serve more marginalized communities to have greater capacity to be part of decision making around transportation and housing. Bend2030 is one of the groups that I'm really excited to work with because I feel like they're saying, Okay, we're growing. Let's talk about how to actually bring a bunch of diverse viewpoints to the table and hammer out some plans so that we don't just wake up in 10 years and feel pissed off that something happened to us. Let's be active agents in that. It's about stuff that I think matters. Not just affordable housing, it's workforce housing. It's housing for people that make 35,000 dollars a year or under-the-area median income. And then the transportation piece is one of the other major threads you hear people talk about a lot in town. Either it's congestion or the road maintenance and the way that the taxes are structured in Oregon... we have inadequate tax funding for our roads. I think. Maybe you shouldn't quote me on that (laughs). But anyway, the city's in a tough spot in terms of doing what it needs to do for road maintenance.
Anyway, most of my work before moving here was in education, so it's been fun to actually be part of an organization - and what I do with Bend2030 is raise money and help get grants and funding for them. And they're not my only client here. I work a couple of other organizations that are doing different stuff. One that's doing youth mentoring and another that is what you would call more direct service. They raise money to buy school clothes for kids. Assistance League is the name of that organization. It's amazing. It's a very small thing. It makes a really big difference. It addresses the need sort of at the endpoint. Not at the like, How do we change poverty so children don't need to have someone else buy them clothes? What I like about my work is that I get to do things that access change at a bunch of different levels. If I had my way we'd have some kind of massive summit and decide to fix everything and everyone would agree and it would be great (laughs). Unfortunately, that's not how it works. You kind of have those conversations with people who have a bigger picture about it and then you just go back to work and do your thing (laughs). Like I heard you say about this project, it's like maybe the day-to-day is I'm gonna sit down and find out somebody's story and then tell it and that's a thing. But the bigger picture is how do we enter into this dialogue about what it means to welcome our neighbor to our community even if we believe that that is gonna impact our life? I think that's the hard part. Because there are trends in Bend that have made it really expensive for folks that have lived here for a while. And housing prices and rent and rental vacancies are huge. I'd be pissed! I'm glad I don't live in New York anymore because there's no way I could afford an apartment. There comes a point where you're like, Well that's not okay. And you want to be mad at somebody about that. Those are important, very real issues. The thing is, right, it's not just about people from California or people moving here. And I bet it's not a monolith, like who moves here and why they move here and how old they are. Anyway.
What does community mean to you?
There's a quote. It's a quote, but I'm not going to quote it right. Community has been the central focus of a lot of the work I've done in my life. For me community is finding a way to make space for everybody to value and feel valued by one another. And creating some sense of safety around that. Well, safety is maybe too strong a word. In a classroom setting, for example, creating a sense that we get to take risks and are going to support each other. I don't mean that in a saccharine way either. I mean it in a real way. People belong to lots of different communities. We have communities of friends, maybe we have community at work, community of neighbors. But the quote that I was thinking of is from a Quaker educator named Parker Palmer who said something like, Community is where the person we least want to be with always is. You know, community also comes with this built-in challenge. You know, it's not just like, I get to handpick all my favorite people and we always get along. I think that community means acknowledging we actually all have things that are easy to deal with and prickly and good days and bad days. You get to be okay with the fact that it sometimes is hard, but kind of have the bigger picture in mind and have some resilience about that. That doesn't mean that you have to hang in with a situation that's toxic. It's not easy. People aren't easy. People are complicated. And awesome. And that's what makes it interesting. I say this and I'm not perfect in terms of seeking out communities where I am uncomfortable or don't fit in.
It's really interesting coming from New York. I have mostly, in my career, worked in communities where I am a racial minority. Where I am a white woman who is in a classroom with brown and black kids and, you know, screw that up all the time. I have so many things that I don't get and didn't get and I look back like 15, 20 years and I'm like, Oh, I can't believe I said that or I did that. And it's a privilege for me to get to choose that. Those kids may not have those same privileges. It just is. Their like, This is what I look like and a lot of the time I'm going to be in this world where I'm surrounded by people that have a different kind of privilege than I do. Another thing that's interesting moving to Bend from New York and before that Philadelphia is I am accustomed to feeling fairly conscious, intentionally, about issues of race and race privilege. The graduate school I went to is a very, very progressive seminary at Columbia in New York, called Union Seminary. Within church settings, which are often even way more conservative than the regular population, just like super progressive. Where I was like very middle of the road. I was in there writing papers and people were stopping traffic on the FDR Drive and part of Occupy and really putting themselves out there; putting their bodies out there. Moving to Bend, it is really interesting. I'm more conscious of the fact that I look like I could be from here. There's sort of a predominant narrative in Bend, which is, Well that's just Bend; we're really white. It's like, well, actually, we kind of have this fairly substantial Latino community. They just are a little bit invisible for reasons that probably make sense. Other racial and ethnic minority groups actually exist - I happen to be married to an American-born Chinese man. Our daughter is bi-racial. That's not my body. I'm not going through life with that. I can't claim to understand Dan's perspective. When I first moved here and I was doing some leadership training stuff and folks asked what I noticed about this gathering of community leaders. And I was like, Well there should be more people of color here. And the response was, Well that's just Bend. My feeling was that if we're going to be super nerdy and annoying about it, actually the census said that if it were 8%, then there should be eight people out of a hundred. So why are there not eight? Why is there only one? It's an interesting switch to that. It's something that I feel very conscious of because of coming from the East Coast, which is very different, and New York and Philly, which are both very different demographics.
What does it look like when we talk about poverty in Bend and we talk about housing? For me, it's an interesting check. Maybe these are people that didn't vote for the same President I voted for, you know? And like, Shit! What do I do about that? Because that's community, too. There are pastors who don't think women should run churches. Or don't think queer people should have membership in a church or get married. Those are things I believe should happen. (Laughs) Long answer about community. I think that there is sometimes a reluctance to talk about hard things. I don't think that's unique to Bend. But I do think that may be also part of why there are some growing pains. I think there's a layer to the We hate Californians which is about income and about socioeconomic groups. And that is real. That's something we need to tackle. There are sort of labels that identify populations on the basis of wealth and poverty, but we aren't necessarily talking about that. When we moved here, we came out for Dan's interviews. So it was like, Let's drive around and look at some places where we might be able to rent a house. We were staying with dear friends who had moved here right after the housing crash - so a very different time. They were basically like, Well, I guess you could look on the East Side. We were like, What's wrong with the East Side? You know, I used to live in Harlem. I moved into a building in Washington Heights where somebody had been assaulted. You know? Is there a lot of violence? Are there real big issues we need to know about? And it was like, No. Partly it's that you can't walk to the pub. Maybe that's it. Or you can't ride your bike everywhere. But it's also a little bit code for The poor people live there. That's where the trailer parks are. Or that's where the apartments are. Or that's where you might run into tweakers at the Safeway at 10 o'clock at night. It was all relative when we first moved here because it was like, Oh but I'm not commuting an hour and a half to get to work into New York City. We were like, Really? We're going to complain about 10 minutes? No, forget it. And I still feel that way. Yeah, it's like, It'd be nice to be able to ride my bike to Brewfest (laughs). That's a pretty high quality of life. There are really meaningful conversations happening. Let's not just let market forces continue to move in these directions that do create a separation between lower-income folks who maybe don't have access to transportation to get to work or their aren't bike lanes to ride in. These are things that are in conversation. It's interesting. I've met so many people that really deeply care about life here and want to do something. And have different ideas about what that thing is and how effective it's going to be. I kind of get to be in this great position of totally backseat driving and raising money for other organizations and being critical of or supportive of what they do on my own terms.
What do you value most about this community?
I would maybe repeat some of what I said earlier, which is, this feels like a community where a lot of people want to connect and talk about how to make a difference. Make a difference is a little cliché. I continue to meet really interesting folks from lots of different professional backgrounds but who are like, I have an idea. Let's think about if this has legs and we can do something with it. That has been the unexpected thing for me about moving here. It's been really easy to connect. It's been easy for us to make friends, honestly. I have met so many interesting people who are sort of open. There's an openness to connecting and I kind of wonder, Is that 'cause we keep meeting people who are new here like us? And so we're all like, Hey, I don't have any friends. You wanna be my friend? Cool, let's go get a drink! You know? There's a different spirit than other communities than I've lived in, which have felt much more closed. So, I guess in a word, I would say it's the openness of the people that I meet here and the sort of willingness to get to know each other a little bit. And it feels genuine. I make connections with people I don't know here regularly and it's easy and it's genuine. I guess, too, a lot of people that I meet here feel very present. They're not distracted. The work climate here is very different, too. It's not as crazy driven as New York is. Some people may disagree with that and I certainly know people that work very hard, but there isn't this sense of I can't do anything else right now or I have to reach the next level in whatever. There's a sense of Ehh, I'm gonna take a day off and go do something. That's a quality of life issue that I like here. And I feel like that's been important for my family. It's true for my husband, too. So, that's nice. We want to have some energy leftover at the end of the day (laughs) - not use it all commuting back and forth from work.
What do you wish for the future?
A new presidential administration. That is relevant. The short answer for me personally is balance. Get paid to do work I like. Have time to raise a kid who's a kind person. And be a good partner to my husband. Run a few half marathons. Have community of friends. I want a stronger progressive church community here. I want there to be very prominent, visible spaces that are connected to a church identity that are like, Hey, we marry gay people here and our pastor's a woman. And there are some, but I mean this is just my personal like... I have a seminary education and I'm coming from this setting where the most amazing people I know are folks that experienced such repression in their church communities because of their identities, their skin color, or who they love. And it has been hard to be in a community where the really visible churches are so conservative. It feels oppressive to me, honestly. I wish it didn't because I don't think that's like Bend's fault or the church's fault. I've thought about starting a church and pastoring a church. At the moment, the pieces aren't there. There aren't enough other people to sort of have a foundational congregation to get it off the ground. Even though I raise money for a living, it's actually easier to raise money for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit than it is for a church. There aren't as many foundations. And church is a weird thing to be into when you come from a liberal, progressive background like I do. I grew up Quaker, so on the East Coast people get it. So I'm kind of coming from this fairly Universalist church identity. And at some point was like, This is a really big institution that has a lot of power in this country and some potential to use that in ways that leverage social justice conversations. That stuff's important to me.
Do you have anything else you want to say?
I love living here. I'm excited to raise my kid here. And I'm interested to see how it changes. Because it's gonna change. That is a given, so what is that gonna look like and how do we contribute to that? We really got a life upgrade when we moved, for sure, and I'm grateful for that.