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2022 August News Brief

By August 31, 2022Newsletter

News Briefs

Wood River Women's Foundation Sun Valley Ketchum Idaho

August 2022

News Brief

Grants Spotlight – Ketchum Fire Department

Bill McLaughlin, Fire Chief of Ketchum Fire Department shared his thoughts

with News Brief contributor Alli Frank on the following three questions


Ketchum Fire Department

Q: How has the WRWF grant furthered the mission of your organization at this moment in time?

A: We are now able to access and rescue people from areas that have been problematic in the past. For example, we can now access injured hikers and motorcyclists that travel to Boulder City or up the West Fork of the Warm Springs. In the past, that would have been a very long and slow hike. By speeding up the response and recovery of injured persons in the backcountry, we save the victims pain and suffering, and can dramatically increase their odds of survival in a serious accident. Reducing the time spent on these rescues also means more consistent protection for the rest of our residents and visitors and for that we are thankful to the Wood River Women’s Foundation.

Q: With the support of the WRWF and the greater Blaine County community at large, where do you see the organization in three years?

A: As the valley continues to attract people from all over for all the reasons we love living here, we do anticipate getting busier as a fire and rescue department. Along with our record skier visits last year, we saw record numbers of people needing help on the mountain. We have seen an increase in accidents involving mountain bikes and especially e-bikes over the past few years. That trend is accelerating, as e-bikes allow more people into the backcountry. In the next three years, we hope to continue to provide great medical care to anyone who needs it, fire prevention and firefighting, and a bigger emphasis on educating people on how to stay safe.

Q: What is one BIG HOPE you have for the future of the Wood River Valley?

A: From the standpoint of the fire and EMS agencies, I hope to see better cooperation between the fire departments, better training for our great volunteers, and eventually I’d like to see the fire departments come together into one more efficient fire and rescue agency serving all of the Wood River Valley.

News Flash – The Grants Committee’s first ever Field Trip! is to the Ketchum Fire Department on 8/31 at 4pm. The chief will be showing WRWF members the new ATV we helped purchase through a 2022 grant.

Grantees in the News: 

Men’s Second Chance Living

MSCL Contributing Volunteer Matt Letourneau

It has been a busy and exciting summer for WRWF Grantee, Men’s Second Chance Living (MSCL)!

At the end of July, they hosted their first-ever Pickleball Tournament fundraiser at The Valley Club. Over 60 contestants of all ability levels participated in the tournament. At the event, Executive Director Sonya Wilander announced that MSCL had raised sufficient funds to establish a second sober home to support men in recovery and help alleviate the housing crisis in the valley.

Secondly, MSCL recently received a generous donation which will be used to develop a “library” at the sober house.

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Matt Letourneau, a Sun Valley native and junior at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, was awarded the annual $2,500 Kiril Sokoloff Prize for Compassion and Kindness. He is using the money to pay it forward as part of his Mind Muscle Library project, designed to provide residents at MSCL with inspiring and educational reading materials.

The funds will be used to purchase laptops, Kindle readers, Kindle subscriptions, bookshelves, and many “good old-fashioned books” for the sober house. Matt, a friend of MSCL founder Sonya Wilander, was drawn to helping out following the loss of his father to substance abuse when he was eight years old. Last March, he began volunteering at MSCL House through grant writing, while learning more about the programs and getting to know the residents.

“I feel so honored to get to know the residents at MSCL House and to get to work on this project with them,” Letourneau said. “I am really grateful to Sonya for giving me the opportunity to spend my summer with Men’s Second Chance Living. I can’t wait to see what we create.”

Repost from Idaho Mountain Express:

MSCL hosts inaugural Pickleball Tournament | Local |

SummerBridge Education Program

SummerBridge Education Program

The SummerBridge Education Program at the Bellevue Elementary School allowed teachers, interns, staff, and reading coaches to engage and educate Blaine County elementary students with lessons and skills this summer. Neighboring partners joined together to enhance this rich learning program, including the Blaine County School District, the YMCA, College of Idaho, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation-Idaho, Sun Valley Community School, Teach for America and Lee Pesky Learning Center.

The SummerBridge Education Camp was free and provided transportation and meals for the kids. “There are places in surrounding counties that don’t have the resources or the programs we have here to help grow and assist these kids,” said Tania Lopez, an I Have a Dream Foundation Program coordinator. “We are lucky to have a program with such care and support.”

President’s Message: Sandy McCullough

Sandy McCullough

What an honor it is to be writing my first message to you as your new President! Like you, I am delighted to be connected to 350 smart, fun and compassionate women who share a commitment to the health and vibrancy of our community. Thank you for being partners in this amazing philanthropic collective!

Recently, one of our nonprofit partners said to me: “We believe the WRWF is the gold standard of funders in the Wood River Valley – because of the collective commitment of your members, you have long been a reliable and valued partner in our work.”

The confidence expressed by this community partner clearly defines the powerful impact that happens when women work together through philanthropy – it is a tribute to each one of you. Our mission is delivered through our shared commitment to the nonprofits we serve and it is our individual donations pooled together that make us a ‘reliable and valued partner’ across this community. As Helen Keller succinctly put it: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

It is a pleasure to begin my term by sharing the exciting news that we have launched the work of exploring what inclusion means for WRWF. Leading this initiative are Martina Bradford and Becky Lopez, two members with extensive experience in diversity work. We are incredibly grateful to these talented women for stepping up to this important leadership role and look forward to their guidance in identifying what actions we might take to ensure WRWF is welcoming – and welcomed – throughout the valley.

Lastly, our foundation is a big tent organization – at the Annual Meeting at Trail Creek on August 3, that was literally true. Some of us founded this organization, and some are brand new members. Some live here year-round and some part-time. Some are employed and some are retired. Wherever you fit in, we are all connected by the philanthropic values we share and the work we are doing together, and each of you is embraced as a valued member of this organization.

Thank you again for your support of WRWF and of my new role. It will be my honor to serve the foundation for the next two years; my door – virtual or real – is always open. Helen Keller’s words about working together resonate for the WRWF — we have lots of good work to accomplish, let’s have fun doing it together!

With WRWF gratitude,

Sandy McCullough

New Board Directors

At the 8/24/22 Board Retreat, the WRWF Nominating Committee presented three leadership candidates and recommended them for Board roles. Each candidate submitted Applications of Interest-Leadership and curriculum vitaes for the Board to review. We are delighted to announce that all three were voted to the Board! We extend our congratulations to:

Martina Bradford – Board member At-Large

Martina has been a WRWF member since 2013 and is also a part of the Endowment Founders Circle. She is a practicing attorney and lobbyist in Washington, DC who is now spending most of her time in Ketchum. Martina has extensive experience on both for-profit and not-for-profit boards. She created and ran the Senate Diversity Initiative for the U.S. Senate. Martina has already hit the ground running with our organization and is engaged as Co-Chair of our new Inclusion initiative, working alongside Co-Chair and WRWF member Becky Lopez.

Sarah Lurie – Board member Co-chair for the Grants Committee

Sarah joined the WRWF in early 2022 willing and ready to share her extensive experience in philanthropy and nonprofit leadership. She and her family moved to Elkhorn six years ago and also have a home in the Stanley area. Sarah is the founder of a large fitness company, an author, an environmental specialist, and a philanthropist. Having spent many years visiting the valley before moving here full-time, she is passionate about working with our nonprofit grantees and working with the Grants team to deliver on WRWF’s mission. Sarah and her Grants Committee Co-Chair, Linda Segre, have taken a deep dive into our grants process, engaged with the leadership team and are well on their way to overseeing the recent refresh that shortens the cycle, streamlines the process and lightens the volunteer load.

Dawn Sabo – Board member Membership Chair

Dawn joined the WRWF in early 2022 immediately hoping to make a difference. She is a successful CPA licensed in Texas and in Idaho. Dawn recently joined Coldwell Banker/Ketchum as a realtor. She has extensive experience in Texas in nonprofit board leadership, including heading up the membership efforts of two organizations.  Dawn is excited to offer her expertise to the WRWF.

Please join us in welcoming our newest Board members!

In-Depth: Past President, Terri Bullock

A Stabilizing Influence

by Emily Jones

Past President Terri Bullock

Outgoing WRWF past president President Terri Bullock shared the value of strategic planning and looking inward

Terri Bullock spent more than three decades working for Chevron Corporation as a corporate health, environmental and safety auditor. As WRWF’s most recent president, she brought to the table a strong background in operations, strategic planning and leadership of large teams and projects.

After visiting children and grandchildren in Sun Valley for nearly 15 years, Terri Bullock and her husband, Dale, decided to relocate from the Portland, Oregon area and make Sun Valley their home as well.

In her spare time, Terri enjoys snowshoeing, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing with her two very active Westies, Bella and Bianca.

Reporter-at-large Emily Jones sat down with Terri to learn what she accomplished while leading WRWF through a global pandemic and to hear her thoughts on future hopes for the Foundation.

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Q: What brought you to the valley?

My husband and I moved to Sun Valley in August 2015 from Vancouver, Washington. We had been visiting Blaine County for the past 15 years in the winter and summer—two of our three children and three of five grandchildren live here—and Sun Valley always felt like home to me. We had built a retirement home in Vancouver, but I just could not handle the rain that many days out of the year. Sunshine and snow, I can live with! When I finally retired, we packed up everything and sold our home of two decades, all within a year.

We were happy to move on to our next adventure and haven’t looked back. This will be our seventh year of living out at Indian Creek, and I am extremely, extremely happy with the lifestyle! I love this community, the wildlife and having so many outdoor opportunities within minutes of home. Luckily our other son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons, who lived just around the corner from us in Washington, come to visit us quite often.

Q: Can you describe your experience at Chevron and how it equipped you to lead WRWF?

I worked for Chevron for 34 years as a corporate auditor. I had to be ready to fly out of Portland International airport to wherever the company had an entity—whether it was a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil field in Kazakhstan or a gas station in La Jolla—to do health, environmental and safety audits. I’d always have a suitcase packed in my bedroom, ready to go. Since Chevron audits its companies every three years on a rotating cycle, I’ve been to Cape Town, South Africa, probably seven times and Singapore probably 12 times!

Chevron is an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 company, so everything has to be documented and audited. As a corporate lead auditor, I ran teams ranging in size from 12 to 20 people. We would go to sites and assess the workplace according to OSHA and Chevron guidelines, everything from how you store your excess oils to what you’re doing from a safety standpoint. It was a combination of going into the field, visually verifying data, interviewing management, and then comparing their procedures with those of OSHA at both the state and federal level. It would take up to two and a half weeks to put a report together. It was a fantastic job, and a terrific company to work for, but I was probably gone for seven months out of the year. Even though I loved the work, it’s nice to not have to get on a plane so much.

During my time training new auditors and managing health, environmental and safety specialists across the U.S., I developed stronger supervisory skills and expectations around key performance indicators—what we said we were doing versus how we were actually demonstrating those standards.

Q: How did you first get involved with the Wood River Women’s Foundation?

In 2015 I was meeting a lot of people, hiking with new friends and learning a lot about the Wood River Valley and what this organization was about. I joined in June of ’16. I kind of jumped right in, starting out on the social media committee. Within a month, I was the social media chair, which means I sat on the board, and six months later I was vice president. It was a fast track; I have always been a natural leader and a ‘yes’ person who asks lots of questions.

Q: What makes you proud looking back at your presidency?

A huge accomplishment during my presidency was our pilot Focus Grant, but I would not take personal credit for that because it was a team effort. The idea of bigger-picture granting came from the February 2020 Philanos conference in Seattle. The board came away from that conference really opening our minds to larger collaborations and trust-based philanthropy, which takes time. I’m really, really proud of what we did, and anxious to see where Sandy McCullough takes it during her tenure. I’m also very proud that we had our largest funding year in history this year—$348,000!

It also feels fantastic to have made it through the long ordeal of COVID. Suddenly not being able to have in-person meetings was very hard because we’re such a social organization. We didn’t even know what Zoom was! What a learning curve. But we got a lot of work done, and I’m proud that we continued to have our meetings and make progress despite the pandemic.

Q: What are some of your other accomplishments?

As Vice President, I introduced the idea to the board of developing an aggressive, two-year strategic plan. Gail Landis was right alongside me through that three-year process. The trigger was our treasurer, Sara Nelson, passing away unexpectedly in the spring of 2018. I remember when Sara’s husband brought in a box with her laptop, realizing very quickly that we had nothing documented from a procedural, legal or 501(c)(3) standpoint. We were also really struggling with succession planning. I began to ask, ‘What does this organization need to be sustainable for the long run?’ That was WRWF founder Barbara Thrasher’s wish, to have the foundation here forever. So, when I became President, my goal was to stabilize the organization to be here for the long term using my strategic planning and organizational development background.

Q: Can you tell us more about how you initiated the strategic plan and its function?

We rolled up our sleeves, put together a letter of intent, conducted interviews and found a consultant. It took us about three years to finish. At the time, some board members didn’t know what a strategic plan was, and another camp believed it would make the foundation too corporate or businesslike. In my view, I do think there is a business aspect to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, because there are federal and legal responsibilities to your donors. And if you want to be a good example of what a 501(c)(3) looks like, you have to get your ducks in a row and look inward to your core values.

With help from the President’s Council, we created three foundational pillars: operations, leadership development and governance.

Good operations means going through and documenting every role that we have, so that if someone goes on maternity leave, for example, somebody else can easily pick up those responsibilities.

Leadership development is the idea of keeping a pipeline of future leaders going, looking around the board room and thinking about who should be the next president or committee chair. This is where our Nominating Committee and Future Forward program come in. It’s one of the trickier pillars, because in our organization you don’t have salaried people; you’re dealing with volunteers.

The third pillar is governance. That’s reviewing our bylaws and updating policies. I think it’s important for the board to understand what it means to be represented by the Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act and what it takes to maintain our 501(c)(3) status. I am happy to say that today, we could not be more solid with our fiduciary rights and policies on spending, investment and confidentiality. I am just so impressed with what the governance committee has done, and the leadership of Gail Landis on that.

Q: What excites you the most about the future of WRWF?

I am really looking forward to what Sandy’s administration will do. She and I held weekly transition meetings so that she was ready to step in by our August annual meeting. She also sat in on the governance, investment and the finance committees as the president-elect, to get her feet wet and see how those committees interlink.

I’m most excited about fresh, creative thinkers coming in as new committee chairs. I believe looking outward into the community should be the next step of evolution for our organization. We should always be thinking about how we can create more diversity and inclusion and bring younger people and Latina voices to our table.

It’s important to remember that most of the Future Forward members have full-time jobs and some have young families. We need to be more open to doing dinner meetings at 6:00 p.m. versus 2:30 in the afternoon, because this is our next generation of philanthropists. I don’t think the organization needs to look the same year after year. Change is good! I think about my 11-year-old granddaughter; I want the foundation to be here for the long-term, for her generation.

Multiplying Grant Impact with STEM Funding

WRWF Grantees Multiply Their Impact with STEM Funding

By Emily Jones

Good news: Two of our 2022 grantees–the Idaho Association for Education of Young Children (AEYC) and The Space–have successfully leveraged their WRWF grants and obtained a combined additional $34,250 in funding from the Idaho STEM Action Center!

This was made possible due to WRWF’s long-standing partnership with the Idaho Community Foundation (ICF), which provides the dues collecting mechanism for our membership and writes the checks to local grantees based on our voting input.

As new president Sandy McCullough explained, getting physical funds to grantees has a few more steps than one might guess. The process can allow unique collaborations, however.

After voting wraps up in early April, McCullough explained, the Grants Committee puts together agreements with each grantee which are “basically documents to sign saying they will spend their grant money in accordance with their application.” Then, WRWF Administrator Christina Bauer bundles up the agreements and sends them off to the ICF for review.

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“The ICF needs our documentation from an auditing perspective, as they get audited on all the checks they write for us,” McCullough said.

This spring, Sarah Wissenbach—philanthropic services administrator at the ICF—encouraged the AEYC to apply to the STEM Action Center for matching funds. McCullough saw a similar opportunity with The Space.

“When Sarah received our grant agreements, she responded with an email saying that these grants really stood out—especially the big $100,000 focus grant to AEYC—because of their educational focus, and that she thought some may qualify for matching funds through the STEM center,” McCullough recalled. “I immediately thought of The Space’s $18,500 education grant that we funded, and asked if they would be eligible. Sarah’s connections at the STEM center said ‘go ahead’–that The Space and AEYC would be good candidates.”

In early June, the STEM center awarded the AEYC an additional $25,000 on top of the WRWF $100,000 grant. Additionally, the AEYC was able to match our grant at $100,000 this year, so they received a grand total of $225,000 through our collaboration.

The Space, meanwhile, received a 50% match from the STEM center last month, adding about $9,250 on top of its $18,500 WRWF pooled grant for a total of $27,750.

“The Space really needed local money to keep providing their services, and it’s my understanding they had been looking for a while to get into Idaho’s STEM funding system,” McCullough said. “We connected the dots to create that perfect pathway. I’d imagine they will have a long and productive future relationship with the STEM center.”

“This is also great news for our members,” McCullough continued, “because as far as I know, this straight-up matching has never happened before.”

McCullough said she’ll continue to work with ICF to keep an eye on other funding sources that can “drum up money” for WRWF grantees.

“It’s disappointing that there is so little funding for early childhood education in the state. But at least The Space, and others, are picking up the slack,” she said. “The result is lost wages for Idahoans as STEM jobs consistently pay twice the median wage of non-STEM jobs. If filled, STEM jobs would provide an increase to personal income for Idaho citizens.”

About The Space
Founded by three local educators in 2020, The Space in Hailey provides high-quality academic support to students in grades 6-12 who do not have the same access to private tutoring, counseling and test preparation as their peers in the Wood River Valley.

Offerings include free summer camps and workshops, individual and group academic support, college and financial aid counseling, tutoring in math, English, science, foreign languages, bilingual resources, SAT and ACT preparation and college essay writing.

Core partners include Wood River Middle School, The Hunger Coalition, Bellevue Library, the Hailey Public Library and the Advocates.

This year, The Space received $18,900 from WRWF for its Forward Learning Scholars Program, which consists of 18 middle-school students identified by school social workers as needing extra assistance.

The program works to address academic and social challenges with “high-dose” tutoring and mentoring, and also encourages kids to explore potential interests in gardening, cooking, reading, dancing and other hobbies.

About the AEYC
On April 6, WRWF officially announced a new partnership with the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children to create the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative thanks to the first-ever Focus Grant award of up to $200,000 to “Help Close the Opportunity Gap in Education.”

Idaho-AEYC will contribute $35K of in-kind services in the form of technical assistance from its staff and their outside consultants. Additionally, they are adding $65K in cash to support the needs assessment, strategic planning and search for the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative project lead.

The collaboration will build partnerships among existing local experts in early-childhood education, including programs such as Head Start, family and group providers, faith-based organizations and school districts, as well as businesses, health-care networks, community organizations and other stakeholders.


  • Sept 14 – State of the Valley Health Forum

Events Recap – Annual Meeting 

From top row left to right: Beth Oppenheimer, Herbert Romero,Bob Wiederrick, DeeAnn Campbell, Sheila Moriarty, Capt. Ryan DeMoe, Paul Bennett, Shawn Myers, Aaron Bronson, Naomi Runkel, Sarah Sentilles, Becky Lopez, Martin Balben
Middle row left to right: Jill Norton, Tammy Davis, Tricia Swartling, Michelle Griffith, Shelly Boettger, Michele Harris, Abby Dompier, Courtney Jelaco, Cara Barrett
Front row left to right: Erin Griffith, Shannon Nichols, Jenni Rangel, Kate Delval, Martha Williams, Maria Gerhardt

On 8/3/22 approximately 200 members, guests, and grantees gathered at Trail Creek Cabin for the WRWF Annual Meeting. We celebrated the remarkable philanthropists and influential leaders who continue to come together with the common interest of doing good in Blaine County. When gathering in person we were able to look around and truly see the many different ways each of us makes a unique impact. It does take a village when extending our mission and reach throughout the community.

This year, Terri Bullock’s term as Foundation President came to an end, and we welcomed Sandy McCullough into the role. “I am thrilled to be connected to 344 smart and compassionate women who all share a commitment to the health and the vibrancy of our community,” said Sandy. “Wherever you fit in, the values we collectively share – the connection that brings us here today – makes us philanthropic Sisters.”

Gail Landis, Governance Committee Chair, conducted the Approval of Slate of Officers, election of new Directors, 2021 Financial Reports, and Minutes of 2021 Annual Meeting of Members. Gail thanked all of the members who participated in the important online voting process. Announcements included Jeannie Shroads as At-Large board member, Karissa Price Rice as Communications Committee Chair, Sandy McCullough as President, LeeAnne Linderman as VP Leadership, Dianne Tibbs Johsnon as VP Operations, Trinka Dyer as Treasurer, Gail Landis as Secretary. We thank Gail and the entire leadership team for their tireless contributions to WRWF!

We are also very excited about the new Inclusion initiative to be led by Martina Bradford and Becky Lopez, both of whom will champion our Foundation’s responsibility in this area!

It was a joy to hear from Sally Halstead and Megan Pepin of the Grants Committee as they recognized each of our 2022 Grant Recipients and their initiatives. Sally discussed the new “Share-the-load” grants committee structure (that was emailed to the membership on 7/20) and announced Sarah Lurie and Linda Segre as the new Grants Co-chairs. Sally Halstead will now head the Grantee Engagement team and Megan Pepin is our Grants Volunteer Coordinator. Thank you to the entire Grants team!

Special thanks go to our Grantee Speaker, Beth Oppenheimer from Idaho AEYC, to Kristin Hovencamp and the entire Events team, and to our event underwriters. Congratulations to our 2022 WRWF Grantees and thank you to all who attended the meeting and celebration!

Upcoming Events

State of the Valley Health Forum

State of the Valley Community Health Forum

In September, the Education Committee is bringing the State of the Valley Community Health Forum to us!

When: Wednesday, 9/14/22 3:30-5:30 pm
Where: Community Library in Ketchum
Topics: How has health care been impacted in the Wood River Valley? and What challenges different health sectors have overcome or are looking at in the near future?
Panel: The event will be moderated by Dr. Tom Archie, and panelists include:

  • Alisa Barnes, PA-C, Family Health Services
  • Almita Nunnelee, RN, BSN COO/CNO, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center
  • Jovita Pena, Executive Director, The Senior Connection
  • Laurie Strand, LCSW, Owner & Lead Facilitator, Resiliency Rising

Attend: In Person or via Zoom; RSVP via this link from Library

We are looking forward to having you join the Health Forum. 

The Education Committee is still seeking event underwriting at the $100, $250, and $500+ levels.

Please contact Christina, by clicking the link below, if you are able to contribute.

Thank you!

New Members

We are delighted to extend a warm WRWF welcome new members who joined this month!

June Bowe
Fran Buckley
Cindy Dodge
Toni Holden
Denise McCain
Julie Syrdal

New WRWF members are invited to provide photos and a bit of information about themselves to share in the News Brief.

We have so many interesting members and it is fun to read about everyone’s background.

Thanks so much and we look forward to meeting you soon.


New Member Form

Max. file size: 50 MB.
Max. file size: 50 MB.

Member News – Cathy Swink: Valley Woman of the Year Semi-Finalist

Cathy Swink Woman of the Year Semi-finalist

WRWF Future Forward Member, Cathy Swink, was recently recognized for the vital role she plays in our small community as a Valley Woman of the Year Semi-Finalist. Cathy is the co-owner and operator of Ketchum pharmacy, Valley Apothecary.

Over the last couple of years, she and her team have provided COVID testing, COVID vaccine rollout and booster shots for all who need them. This demanding and extremely important job has helped to carry our community through the uncertainty of the pandemic. Cathy shared, “we pride ourselves on having empathy, being accessible and doing things with compassion.” 

Congratulations and thank you, Cathy, for all you do to help valley residents. Read the full Idaho Mountain Express article here.

New Member – Pamela Emery

New Member Pamela Emery

Welcome new member, Pamela Emery, who loves the Wood River Valley’s close access to the great outdoors! She and her husband purchased a valley home in 2019, and now split their time between here and Southern California. This is in part because they have children and grandchildren in both locations.

Pamela has a previous work background in biological illustration. Additionally, she spent a decade as a Court Appointed Advocate in Orange County, California. Pamela held a board position at Homeward – a conduit for information on Marriage and Parenting Teens & Adult Children. She also enjoys sewing, cooking for others, soap making and painting, and has even painted for charitable auctions over the years!
WRWF is delighted you joined, Pamela!

Member News – Giving Back – Lilian Wu

Lilian Wu and Senator Pete Harkham

Congratulations to our WRWF Education Committee member, Dr. Lilian Wu, a Volunteer New York! Leadership Westchester 2022 awardee. In June of this year, Lilian was honored by N.Y. State Senator Pete Harkham while commemorating Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) month and her work with the Westchester County Gov on the Asian American Advisory Board, along with mentoring young women in the field of science and STEM Education. Lilian was presented with a N.Y. State Commendation Award and a Senate Proclamation.

She currently serves as Chair Emeritus of the U.S. National Academies’ Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine.

“I have experienced a sense of belonging from my friends, colleagues and Westchester elected officials, even during this difficult time with so many incidents of hate,” said Dr. Lilian Wu. “It has encouraged me to become a visible and active member of my community.”

WRWF Future Forward member and Social Media Lead, Rebecca Ybarra Palma, interviewed Lilian about giving back.

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Q: What was your earliest influence on becoming involved in philanthropy?

A: My grandfather, an educator, was a big influence in my life. Rather than finding people with the same ideas and creating polarization, he always listened and worked to find a larger whole from diverse opinions and ideas. This is how being American (as an immigrant) and a member of the WRWF means to me: We come together as strangers. We give each other a voice. And we collaborate to find solutions.

My own earliest involvement in volunteerism was in the early 2000s as a member and chair of government committees to advance the careers of women in science and technology.

I joined nonprofit boards at universities with an entrepreneurial/start-up spirit, including The New School in NYC, Olin College of Engineering, Claremont College KECK Graduate School of Applied Life Sciences, and Fordham University. Then, I joined nonprofit boards with a research/medical focus, including Muscular Dystrophy Association, Burke Neurological Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine, and EcoHealth Alliance. Additionally, I am on the nonprofit board of Public Agenda, with a research/democracy focus. During the pandemic, I joined our Chief Executive of Westchester County NY’s Asian American Advisory Board.

Q: Tell us about your focus on education, mentoring and participation on the WRWF Education Committee.

A: My initial interest in joining the Education Committee was to educate myself on the Wood River Valley (WRV). Coming primarily to ski and for the summer each year, I knew little about the socio-economic picture and needs of our valley. We started the annual State of the Valley panel discussion and our large, 2-year grant focused on the longer-term, basic needs of WRV. Today with Jenni Riley and Susan Passovoy leading the Education Committee, we have looked at the topics of “our needs coming out of the pandemic” and “balancing growth with our valley’s values.”

Q: What wisdom or takeaway should Future Forward members like me know about active philanthropy, i.e., not just writing checks, but giving back your time and talent to the community?

A: My education about the valley has made me a really more engaged WRV person. I now hear the diverse voices and needs of the valley. I want to help build bridges across communities and give people a voice by being the best authentic leader I can be.

Q: Lilian, your many outstanding achievements include being a member of President Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and also serving on several National Science Foundation Advisory Committees. What were those experiences like?

A: Well, it was great when getting my start and I had terrific colleagues with me. I cared about making progress because in the 2000s, women who were scientists and technologists were still perceived as never going to be as devoted and/or as good of a scientist as a man. So, there were a lot of those kinds of issues about enabling women to have families at the same time. It was a practical problem that we tried to solve, but the two areas clashed. So I encouraged our outlook to be broader, especially for women. I felt it was a good experience and I accomplished what I wanted to do. Today, my focus is more about my community, the people I see—and I don’t see an end to that focus.

Q: Tell me about your thoughts on diversity and inclusion.

A: Laura Midgley and I looked at diversity and inclusion for the valley and how we were going to structure grants or the projects to encourage the valley’s nonprofits. We were at the Sun Valley Museum of Art and I wanted to understand from her point of view, what would inclusion look like? She told me that you can look at a painting and just think to yourself, “I like this painting better than this painting.” You can have those kinds of very superficial reactions, or you could have a different reaction, like noticing how an exhibit is put together, to really see all the aspects of a collection of work.”
She used the words “to really see,” rather than “just look”, and I really felt very strongly about that distinction. This is because I have felt that with some individuals, we often don’t see them and we simply have them as being part of a category. Examples are: “This is my server”, or worse, someone that’s in the background and I’m not even aware I know somebody is there doing something good. I started thinking a lot about that phrase “I see you” and I tried hard to think about that in my own personal interactions with people. “I hear you; I see you”, and I want people to really realize the interaction is about the two of us.

Q: What does being an American mean to you?

A: When I came to the U.S. everyone respected each other’s differences and I never felt like I didn’t belong. Then, the pandemic hit, and I heard remarks like “go home” and violence started up around the world. I started to think of myself as a category again. I spent quite a bit of time trying to resolve it and what I realized in the end is that it’s about relationships. Having something deeply in common, coming together, and listening to one another to do something good is what healed me. I came to understand what being an American really comes down to—we come together as strangers, give each other a voice, and together we do good and solve problems. That is what gives me the most meaning and it is tied to philanthropy and what can be evolved out of this sadness. You have to be engaged, have a voice, and give others a voice.
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This interview was inspired by earlier coverage by the State of New York:
Harckham Commemorates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Honors Dr. Lilian Wu of IBM | NY State Senate (

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Thank you to this month’s News Brief contributors:
Christina Bauer, Alli Frank, Carol Hoffman, Anne Jeffery, Emily Jones, Sandy McCullough, Rebecca Ybarra Palma, Karissa Price Rico, Sarah Shepard, Renee Spooner