Welcome New Executive Director, Nicole Vallestero Keenan

Puget Sound Sage is thrilled to announce our new Executive Director, Nicole Vallestero Keenan! A former Sage staff member, Nicole is a champion of racially just and community-centered policy.

Vallestero Keenan has more than a decade of experience in research, advocacy, civic engagement, racial justice organizing, social services, and community and business outreach. Vallestero Keenan was the executive director of the Fair Work Center, a hub for workers to better understand and exercise their legal rights, improve their working conditions and connect with community resources. At the Fair Work Center, she led a staff of seven who trained workers about their rights on the job and offered support when those rights were violated.

Before launching the Fair Work Center, Vallestero Keenan was policy director of Puget Sound Sage, providing research and advocacy in the labor and environmental arenas. One of the community-based research projects she led at Sage focused on understanding how communities of color and low-income residents identify the impacts of climate change.

Earlier, as an organizer with Washington Environmental Council, she played a key role in preventing a coal export facility in Grays Harbor County. The facility, if built, would have contaminated the air and water near several oyster farms and residential neighborhoods.

In 2014, at the age of 29, Vallestero Keenan served on Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee—the youngest person on the committee—where she was a voice for racial equity and workers’ rights.

Her work had an influential impact on the passage of the historic $15/hour minimum wage in Seattle. In 2014, she received a 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Leadership Award from the Seattle Office of Civil Rights and Seattle Women’s Commission, and the following year, she was named one of the “15 people who should really run Seattle” by Seattle Met magazine. This past year, she received the UW School of Social Work’s Early Career Achievement Award.

In addition to the leadership and dedication she brings to her work, Vallestero Keenan is a UW School of Social Work field education instructor who is known for her mentorship of students and other young professionals.

Meet Nicole
Join us in welcoming Nicole at Sage’s 10th Anniversary Celebration this Thursday. Tickets are limited, register now!

Introducing Yolanda Matthews

By Linda Gasparovic

We are excited to introduce Yolanda Matthews, a Rainier Valley Corps fellow who will be serving as the Coalition Organizer of Sage’s Interfaith Economic Justice Coalition!

Yolanda, a native Bostonian who moved to Seattle six years ago, will be responsible for coordinating interfaith support of worker organizing through Sage’s Interfaith Economic Justice Coalition (IEJC). By facilitating conversations and action between faith leaders, unions, and workers, Sage and the IEJC hope to bring a faith perspective to economic inequities in the region.

She brings four years of experience with Got Green through their Young Leaders Program and more recently as a member of the Food Access Team and their Board of Directors. While this is Yolanda’s first foray into the professional side of community building and organizing, she has years of experience in grassroots social justice work. “Being on the ground marching, rallying, protesting, door knocking, strategizing, testifying,” she recalls, “were the social justice tools that I needed to acquire in order for me to be rooted in my work today.”

Yolanda can be reached at yolanda@pugetsoundsage.org. Please join us in welcoming Yolanda to our Sage community!

Staff Spotlight

How did you first get involved with Rainier Valley Corps?
I became involved with the Rainier Valley Corps when I attended the inaugural celebration in honor of the first cohort of RVC fellows. I had been encouraged to apply for the first cohort, but because of school commitments I was unable to participate at that time. However, I was still interested and able to keep abreast of RVC’s activities through their e-blasts.

What was your first impression of Puget Sound Sage?
My first impression of Puget Sound Sage was formed four years ago when I started volunteering with Got Green. While I didn’t know much about Sage at the time, I began hearing about their work through the grapevine and thought, “they must be a great organization if Got Green is collaborating with them on so many projects!” I was also becoming more aware of just how hard they work on influencing policy.

What are you most excited for during your time with Puget Sound Sage?
I really look forward to helping mobilize folks who have the dignity to stand up for what they know are their rights as human beings, and holding local government accountable to the jobs we elect them to do. I am excited to be working with an organization that has such intentionality in making sure that when major decisions on equity are being made in Seattle, the families of color who contribute to the diversity of our neighborhoods have the first seat at the table!

What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I come from a large extended family (my mother is one of 11 children, so I claim 28 first cousins, 27 or so second cousins, and 5 or so third cousins that still reside in my hometown of Boston)! I am a vegan home chef who enjoys experimenting with ingredients and embraces all aspects of healthy living. I’ve been secretly interested in getting my scuba certification for the past 10+ years… maybe now that I’m stating it out loud, I might just work a little harder to actually realize the dream!

Meet Kim Powe, Interim Executive Director

By Kristen Wendt

We are pleased to introduce Kim Powe as Sage’s Interim Executive Director!

Kim comes to Sage with 18 years of experience in public service and grassroots development spanning youth and adult economic development, racial equity, sustainability and climate justice, food justice, health equity, affordable housing, restorative justice and international development. Most recently, Kim served as the Director of Social Equity and Inclusion for a local environmental organizationand as the Director of Sustainability for Multnomah County.

She knows that success is not a zero sum game and that true sustainability is not achieved when it is at the expense of others. She has a passion for working where sustainability and economic development intersect, which is often where people of color and low-wage communities converge.

Kim holds a Master’s in Business Administration in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (now Presidio Graduate School) in Seattle, a Master’s of Urban Studies, Community Development, from Portland State University, and two bachelor’s degrees from Georgetown University.

Kim has had the privilege to be Larry and Lynn Powe’s daughter, live on four continents, marry a wonderful partner and have a daily teacher in her daughter.

Kim can be reached at kim@pugetsoundsage.org or (206) 568-5000 ext. 11. Please join us in welcoming Kim to the Sage community!

– The Puget Sound Sage team

Staff Spotlight

How did you first get involved with Puget Sound Sage?
The first time I was involved with Sage was when I was in a giving campaign at the Social Justice Fund. I was blown away by the work I learned about in the application.

But I really got involved with Sage when we were co-hosts for the Climate Summit at Daybreak Star. It was a phenomenal day with dynamic speakers on the local, regional and national level. We were able to caucus and I got to meet some of the people I still get to work with today.

What was your first impression of Puget Sound Sage?
Before I worked here my first impression was: “Wow! These people are doing fantastic work, I hope that I get to work with them more.” After I started working here my first impression was: “Wow! These people are doing fantastic work, AND are absolutely amazing people. I am so lucky to get to work here.”

What does climate justice mean to you?
To me, climate justice means we all have a healthy, safe, comfortable and beautiful place to live, work and play on this earth.

It means that race, income, sexual orientation/gender, religious affiliation, region or nationality are not predictors of health, wellness, life expectancy, access to beauty and nature, or an overabundance of benefits or burdens, because we all live in a sustainably justice society. In such a society means we are not harming our soil, water and air, or the beings that depend on them; and, there is recognition that there are many valid and effective ways to achieve that society, not just ones proposed by dominant culture.

Describe a recent traveling experience.
Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, a place that I had driven through on my way to New Orleans before, but had never stayed. I was there to learn about some of the work that members on the reservation were hoping to do. Driving around with them as they described the history they had there, the truths, the hurts and the hopes that they had, energized me and gave me hope.

Under that expansive sky, with the Rockies in the distance I had a sense of openness and possibility that I don’t feel in the city. The spirit of my hosts was humbling as they told me of injustices that they experienced, while maintaining a level of authentic patience and determination that reminded me of the expanse of time.

I left there excited for the work that they were going to do (and did do, organize the FIRST EVER Native contingency to testify at the Wyoming state legislature to hold their elected officials accountable to promises made), feeling connected to their hopes and efforts in ours here, and vowing to return to in solidarity again.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I have moved over 24 times, lived in 17 different cities, 4 continents and speaks 4 languages.

Introducing Debolina Banerjee

By Kristen Wendt

We are pleased to introduce Debolina Banerjee, Sage's Climate Justice Policy Analyst!

Debolina's work at Sage includes research-based analysis of climate policies, campaign support on climate justice issues, and building power within Sage’s local and statewide climate coalitions.

She has research experience in transit-oriented development, the environmental impacts of unorganized industries and project management for real estate development. In addition, Debolina has extensive experience working with grassroots activists and marginalized communities in India organizing for social justice around food, sustainable agriculture, clean environment, community development and women’s empowerment.

Before joining Puget Sound Sage, Debolina was with InterIm CDA researching the impact of the receding affordable housing stock and increasing risk of displacement faced by the immigrant and refugee communities of Seattle’s International District. She holds a Master's degree in Applied Environmental Studies in Planning from the University of Waterloo and a Master’s Degree in City Planning from the Indian Institute of Technology.

Debolina can be reached at debolina@pugetsoundsage.org or 206-568-5000 x18. Please join us in welcoming Debolina to our Sage community!

- The Puget Sound Sage team


How did you first get involved with Puget Sound Sage?

I was a SouthCORE member through InterIm CDA and used to attend the meetings with Leslie, InterIm CDA's Real Estate Development Director.

What was your first impression of Puget Sound Sage?

My first impression about Sage was that it is a unique organization deeply rooted in social justice and equity that creatively blends community participation, organizing, research and advocacy to work towards sustainable solutions for communities in Seattle and King County.

What does climate justice mean to you?

Growing up in India, I’ve experienced both sides of climate and environmental issues. On one hand, communities have immense traditional knowledge of living with nature, yet on the other hand, new practices and lifestyles in the name of ‘development’ are moving away from it with little regard to the impacts. Being in the architecture and planning field, I’ve also witnessed the impacts of development and have come to believe that any planning policy has a direct impact on both people and the environment.

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