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In the Name of Love

Author: Jean Saylor Doppenberg
May, 2017 Issue

Women get stuff done. Some receive high-profile recognition for their efforts, while others work under the radar, quietly making a difference in the lives of people who can use a little help. Here are three North Bay women changing the world around them.

Erin Schrode

Turning Green

“Citizen activist, rabble-rousing optimist, storyteller, enviro policy wonk, social entrepreneur, millennial, global explorer, and Turning Green co-founder.” So reads the Twitter profile of Erin Schrode, a 26-year-old Marin County native with a long list of achievements on her resume for someone still so young.

Schrode was just a young teen when she and her mother, Judi Shils, founded Turning Green, originally known as Teens Turning Green. Their activism was triggered by a 2002 study reporting that Marin County had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world. The organization sought to raise awareness about the unregulated toxins and chemicals found in cosmetics and personal care products used daily by the average person.

“My mother and I started Turning Green to educate people about mitigating risk in their body care products. Even now, proper legislation has still not passed that would require transparency in product ingredients,” explains Schrode. “We continue to fight this battle with the cosmetics and personal care products manufacturers, because there are tens of thousands of chemicals that have never been tested for human safety.”

Schrode has packed a life’s worth of activism into a few short years. She graduated from New York University in 2013, where she earned a degree in social and cultural analysis. During college she spent terms abroad in numerous countries working to promote environmental stewardship worldwide. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she traveled there as part of a disaster relief team. She founded The Schoolbag, a program to give Haitian students supplies they needed to continue their schooling. More than 14,000 tote bags were distributed in Haiti, packed with paper, books and other necessities donated by several corporations. The operation was so successful in Haiti Schrode rolled it out in other struggling nations with critical needs.

Her efforts while still in college earned recognition from the United Nations, along with praise from the White House. “Erin is a dynamic, passionate and ambitious young woman committed to creating big change everywhere she goes,” wrote Ronnie Cho, an associate director of public engagement in the Obama administration.

Since graduating from college, Schrode has worked as a consultant to numerous corporations, including Apple and IKEA, on generational trends, responsible consumption and driving positive impacts to improve their businesses. She has written for numerous publications about social responsibility and sustainability. During last year’s campaign season, she appeared on ABC News discussing Millennials, progressive values, climate change and generational trends. Last fall, during the tense stand-off against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, she was shot with a rubber bullet while reporting on the protests.

“Erin is a beautiful example of a young woman who believes service to the world is what life is about,” says Stacy Malkan. Malkan is a longtime mentor of Schrode’s, the co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. “Through her activism and her willingness to speak the truth, Erin has inspired many others in her generation to become actors in creating the world they want––by what they buy, how they can be leaders, and how much power they have to shape politics.”

Not afraid of a challenge, Schrode even tossed her own hat into the political arena last year by running for the U.S. House of Representatives in California’s District 2, seeking to unseat Jared Huffman, the incumbent and a fellow Democrat. Once she decided to run, she had only 11 days to file to be on the ballot, for a primary 70 days away.

“I was well aware when we started that the chances of winning were negligible,” Schrode wrote inGlamour magazine about her whirlwind campaign. “Incumbents win 92 to 93 percent of the time. We ended up with 21,000 votes, and 21,000 votes is no small feat in 70 days, starting from literally nothing––no money, no name recognition, no support.”

Schrode doesn’t rule out another run for political office, particularly because there are so few young women pursuing that course. “The decisions being made by politicians today will affect my generation for decades, and yet we have no voice in Congress. But for me it’s always about purpose, not position. If I run again it will be where I can achieve the most impact, where I can best move the needle.”

Earlier this year, Schrode spoke at several colleges and universities around the country about environmental issues and Turning Green, focusing, she says, “on solutions with real world impacts.” She believes she does her best work when face-to-face with students. “I like to make it a full day of engaging with as many as I can. I tell my story, how it was a journey of activism on a local level that brought me to be standing up there in front of them. I hope to inspire them to discover and activate their own passion, to see where the needs are in their own communities.”

Despite her worldwide travels, Schrode’s heart remains in Marin. “I’m a North Bay girl and plan to stay that way for the time being.” 

Gracie Francisco

10,000 Degrees

As a young girl, Gracie Francisco dreamed of being a teacher, and credits her older brother, Joseph, as the catalyst. “We lived in a rough area of San Pablo. My brother has special needs, and it was important to my parents that we have access to better schools,” she explains. “He was my inspiration, and he and his friends helped shape my desire to be involved in education.”

Her family relocated to San Anselmo when Francisco was eight years old, and she and her brother were enrolled in the public school system. While a senior at Sir Francis Drake High School, she began applying for college scholarships. On March 1, 2011, her mother saw a notice for a scholarship being managed by 10,000 Degrees. The deadline to apply was the following day. Francisco applied, but wasn’t expecting much. That summer she learned she was a recipient. “That moment changed the course of my life,” she says. “It was divine intervention.”

Initially called the Marin Education Fund, 10,000 Degrees became the San Rafael-based organization’s new name in 2010 to better reflect its mission to provide a rich resource of college access and success programs for students from low-income households. The goal is to help these students––many of whom are the first in their family to enroll in college—prepare for and successfully complete college. The organization is funded largely through private donations, corporate support and foundations. The also receive major funding from the Marin Community Foundation.

Francisco was exploring her options for getting more involved while still at school when she received an email from Scott BonDurant, the college success director for 10,000 Degrees. She first established a relationship with BonDurant through the organization’s Facebook page. “Scott became an ally and one of my biggest supporters as I navigated my studies and the messy financial situations I was trying to understand,” says Francisco.

She began working for 10,000 Degrees, moderating an online program remotely, while still in college at UC Santa Cruz. In 2013, she got involved with the organization's Success Starts Here program that supports rising college freshman as they transition out of high school and into college. She worked on the Success Starts Here committee for several years, and also created content for workshops presented to new college students. In addition, she served as a student advisor at the Summer Intensive, which solidified her desire to continue working in this field.

From that experience, Francisco witnessed how 10,000 Degrees helps these students understand the educational process to attend college step-by-step, rather than leaving them to blindly wander through it without support. When Francisco graduated from college in 2015, she started a fellowship at 10,000 Degrees, and last summer was promoted to a full-time college advisor.

Francisco, 24, is working with a group of 72 students this school year. “In my role as college advisor, I travel between the three high schools in the San Rafael City school district [San Rafael, Madrone, and Terra Linda]. Every day is different, but I’m usually at these schools meeting with students, teachers and counselors. We also work with our students after school and in the evening. On Tuesday nights, we take them through college prep work sessions.”

The students in the program come from low-income backgrounds. She and her team assist the students in researching and exploring colleges, composing resumes, applying for scholarship funds, and writing personal statements for applications. For most students it’s difficult, because no one in their immediate lives has ever experienced the process, she says. “We work with students to help them build the confidence and understanding to continue navigating the many steps of the college process, even when they’ve transitioned out of high school.”

Kim Mazzuca, chief executive officer of 10,000 Degrees, says Gracie has shown an extraordinary commitment to give back to her community and extend opportunity to the next generation of students. “Many of our college advisors are just like Gracie—a 10,000 Degrees alumnus who first served as one of our fellows and is now a full-time college advisor. The beauty of our work is that it’s being done by people who grew up and attended schools in the communities we serve, and they return after college as role models and near-peer mentors.”

Several years ago, 10,000 Degrees expanded its program to include Sonoma County schools, where the need is great, says Francisco. “Right now in Marin we have advisors in all the public high schools, and students from every school are in our program. But in Sonoma County we haven’t even scratched the surface. There are many more students there we want to be serving.”

One of the best parts of Francisco’s job, she says, is building relationships with the students. “I get to work with them through their challenges and some tough personal stuff. And when they get accepted at a college or receive full financial aid––when it’s a really big victory like that––it’s worth celebrating because I’ve watched them as they overcome many hurdles to get there. I love this work and feel very fortunate to be doing it.”

Katrina Thurman

Social Advocates for Youth

California native Katrina Thurman spent her senior year of high school in Moscow, where she saw the fall of the Soviet Union first-hand. “That increased my gratitude for all the advantages that America has and does well, and I doubled down on my commitment to community service,” she says.

When younger, she’d contemplated a career that might keep her traveling internationally. “But then I looked around the United States and decided there was a lot to accomplish right here––such as fighting poverty and improving a juvenile justice system not serving our youth as well as it should. So at the age of 20, I changed my career path.”

Thurman is the new chief executive officer of Social Advocates for Youth, a 46-year-old organization serving Sonoma County youth ages 5 to 24 with emergency shelter and affordable housing, grief and mental health counseling, and career and life-readiness programs to help break the cycle of abuse, homelessness and hopelessness among this population.

Armed with a bachelor of arts’ degree in communications from Arizona State University and a master’s in applied anthropology from the University of Maryland, Thurman’s first professional job was conducting interviews with men re-entering society after long prison sentences. “They had been incarcerated very young and then released with no money and no skills, but many had a true desire to work toward a second chance.” In another job she advocated to improve poor working and living conditions for thousands of poultry industry workers in rural Maryland.

“From the moment I got my first temp job at a small non-profit, community development work has been my passion,” she recalls. “That had been the focus of my grad studies––understanding humans so we can help make our communities stronger, and examining how we behave and interact with one another to live in society.”

Thurman, 42, says she has no fear of change. “I embrace change and have always found that great things come from it. I just don’t say ‘no’ to opportunities. When there was an opportunity, I took it if I needed to stretch and challenge myself. When I finished college, I packed up my car and drove cross-country to Maryland. I can look back and honestly say I’d do it all over again. I encourage everyone to do that because the risk is usually worth it.”

Thurman became an executive with Goodwill of Central Arizona for five years. After relocating to Sonoma County in 2008, she was named executive director and chief executive officer of West County Community Services, a position she held until joining SAY in 2013 as its chief operating officer.

She says her early advocacy work with the prisoners is somewhat similar to what SAY is achieving. “Humans need each other for support, and our work is really to be there for people who have not had support. For many of these kids, support wasn’t there on the day they really needed it. So we are here to be the supportive adults in their lives who can help connect them to the pathways to success with emotional well-being, economic self-sufficiency and housing stability.”

Matt Martin, the former CEO of SAY, recalls the first time he met Thurman. “I knew I’d found someone I wanted to work with. SAY was poised to grow tremendously, and we needed someone with Katrina’s vision, her drive to always do better, and most importantly, her love of people to lead our program staff through that period of growth. Katrina is an incredible thought partner, and I’m excited to see her growing into her role as SAY’s next CEO.”

As chief operating officer, Thurman designed SAY’s $7 million budget and was responsible for overseeing it. “Together with the finance officer, the COO makes certain the business is running as it should and that we have all the resources and infrastructure in place to do the most work we can as efficiently as we can. As COO, I also had the honor of helping to design the SAY Finley Dream Center and oversaw the construction. It was quite an adventure.”

The current president of SAY’s board of directors, Scott Pritchard, says he joined the board because he wanted to make a difference. “It’s been a great joy to work with Katrina. It’s rare to meet someone who cares as deeply as she does for the youth we work for and who also understands how to put passion into action. As board president, I’ll be working alongside Katrina to continue SAY’s legacy to the youth of our community.”

Now in her role as CEO, Thurman is excited to be getting out and about more and meeting donors. “Before, my duties were more internal. I was responsible for delivering services using our donor’s investment in our youth, but didn’t have the opportunity to be out there thanking them. Now, every day I meet another wonderful person who cares about kids and families.”

It’s the kind of work, she says, that fuels her heart. “It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning, to know that what I’m doing is being of service. There are an infinite number of ways to do that, but it comes down to the fact that humans were meant to be there for each other.”

 

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