A Conversation with Mary, CHEER’s Board President
I recently got in touch with Mary Jacksteit, the President of CHEER’s board. Our conversation, which has been edited lightly, is below.
When and why did you join CHEER’s board?
I joined the CHEER board about 10 years ago after [CHEER’s Executive Director] Bruce [Baker] visited the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church and told our pastor he wanted to let us know about CHEER and welcome any involvement. My professional work for many years had included helping community-level efforts to address conflict, meet needs, build stronger connections – but elsewhere, never in my hometown. I really liked the idea of helping a local effort.
What have you been working on recently?
I’m on CHEER’s Long Branch Housing and Community Development Advisory Team. The goal is to protect the large number of low-income and immigrant residents who live there from being devastated by the Purple Line (gentrification/loss of affordable housing, loss of local business, etc.) And to marshal the resources of that project to make neighborhood improvements that serve the people who now live there. In public engagement work I did for several years in DC, I have seen the sweeping displacement, rapid increase in property values/rents/gentrification that is making almost every part of the city increasingly unsustainable for affordable housing and low-income people. And that with a city government that has policies to protect both. But the market rules. If we can help do something better here that would be amazing.
With other board members I helped get out our annual end-of-the-year appeal which happily has received a good response. Having a base of local individual donors creates not just funds but connection to the larger community broadening CHEER’s support.
How do you see CHEER’s role vis-à-vis the pandemic?
I feel proud and grateful that CHEER was tapped as a valuable community partner to get food to those who are financially harmed by the pandemic. Our staff and volunteers have been working so hard on this with real dedication as the numbers of people served steadily increased – we owe them our gratitude and appreciation.
Broadly speaking, how do you think the Takoma Park and Long Branch communities have handled the pandemic?
I don’t know everything going on, but I see many players – non-profits, innovative partnerships between food businesses and community activists, [Montgomery Country Public Schools] MCPS, county government, churches/faith organizations and so on, working to get food to all those who need it. The city and county have helped with the insecurity for renters. The vaccination situation is not under community control – and that’s a mess – especially access and education. Perhaps we’ll be able to help at some point in some way. The interruption of in-person schooling is serious and we need to be ready to help kids regain what they’ve lost. Camp Piney Branch will be an important CHEER contribution to that happening in Long Branch. On an individual basis, I’ve appreciated how well I see people sharing the outdoor spaces – sidewalks, parks, Sligo Creek Trail, etc. – that we all need so much.
What are you looking forward to this year?
I’m eager for moving beyond the pandemic and CHEER being able to gather in person, and reach out in person. I know everyone is eager for the sense of connection we’ve lost with our families, friends and neighbors. Being able to move around and travel freely would be wonderful. I’ve got a grandson who I haven’t seen for many months. I really hope this year will also end with less suffering, stress and insecurity for people without the resources and privileges that I have, and greater awareness of how we need to care about, and for, others.
That includes acknowledging the ways that racism, inequality, anti-immigrant prejudice, economic inequality, etc. – and on the other side, privilege – set up the unequal impact of crises like a pandemic. Many of us “know” this, but the last year has made it visceral.