A Conversation with Kathy, a CHEER Board Member
I recently reached out to Kathy Porter, a member of CHEER’s board. Our exchange, which has been edited lightly, is below.
When and why did you join CHEER’s board?
I was one of the first members of CHEER's board; in fact, I was one of the people who signed the incorporation papers before CHEER was formed. So, I have been here since the beginning. I have known Bruce Baker [CHEER’s Executive Director] for years and was very interested in his ideas for CHEER, which is probably why he asked me to join the board.
You have extensive local government experience and served as Mayor of Takoma Park for a decade. How has that work informed your involvement with CHEER?
One of the things I noticed as a public official was that, although Takoma Park welcomes participation from everyone in the community, the majority of those who did participate were middle-income homeowners. Lower-income people and people from our immigrant communities rarely came out, even though their voices were important in the conversation. I understood that many of them had jobs and families that were higher priorities for their time, but I also suspected that they didn't feel that the issues raised in these discussions were important to them. So, I hoped CHEER would be able to represent these communities and highlight the issues that are important to them, as well as empower the people in these communities to speak up and advocate for themselves. I am very pleased at how much of this CHEER has been able to do.
How do you see CHEER’s role vis-à-vis the pandemic?
The pandemic has been a challenge for all nonprofits, CHEER included. Nonprofits often have sources of funding that are tied to specific programs, many of which have been seriously impacted by the pandemic. But I have been impressed by how quickly CHEER has been able to pivot to new programs and to modify existing programs to handle the new restrictions. The community in which CHEER works has been hit hard by the economic effects of the pandemic and programs like food distribution have expanded greatly to meet as much of the need as they can. I am very grateful for all the CHEER staff who have worked so hard, sometimes in very difficult situations, and who have brought such creativity to their work in this ever-changing crisis.
Broadly speaking, how do you think the Takoma Park and Long Branch communities have handled the pandemic?
Generally, I think these communities have pulled together to try to help those most impacted by the pandemic. I am a member of CHEER's fundraising group and our donors were unusually generous this year, as most people in this area are well-aware of the economic effects of the pandemic. There have also been a lot of individual examples of individual neighbors helping neighbors. But I don't think that we can expect local communities to deal with all the impacts of the pandemic. There needs to be far more help from state and federal levels of government.
What’s the best part about being on CHEER’s board?
The best part has been meeting the staff and community members involved in CHEER. I am always impressed with the dedication and knowledge of CHEER staff members. I also attended an event in late 2019, held at the El Golfo restaurant, where several people from the community told their stories. It was so inspiring to hear from them about the challenges in their lives and how they had worked to overcome them. It was also wonderful to hear how highly they spoke of their interactions with CHEER staff members. It made me feel that CHEER was really a positive force in this community.