Changes coming for Empower Missouri

Today’s Weekly Perspective will be a bit different. We normally drill down into a priority public policy area, but some big changes are in progress here at Empower Missouri, and we’d like to share our vision as well as concrete progress that our Board of Directors and staff are making in implementing a new strategic plan. Our efforts are designed to take us to new levels of efficacy (that is, the power to bring about evidence-based public policy).

I was so honored to be called as Executive Director on October 1, 2012, because I came to admire what was then called the Missouri Association for Social Welfare when I was hired by one of MASW’s anti-poverty allies in 1991. We had three part-time employees when I was hired – one each at 30, 20 and 10 hours per week. Missouri is 300 miles long and 240 miles wide and has more than six million residents. Clearly we had to grow in order to be more effective in accomplishing our mission – to secure basic human needs and justice through coalition building and advocacy. Thanks to a committed Board of Directors, volunteers, staff, and to my efforts as well, we have rebranded, added staff, updated our communications infrastructure, and had numerous public policy victories over the past eight-plus years.

Now it is time to do even more, and our Strategic Planning Retreat in October 2019, and many work sessions since, have led to a plan for how to get there. In coming months, I will be shifting my priorities to become Empower Missouri’s Policy & Organizing Director. My main responsibility will be to lead Empower Missouri’s newly-formed Policy & Organizing Team as we advocate for the issues that are our primary focus – food security, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform. I also will oversee implementation of an Organizational Partnership Program designed to harness the grassroots and grasstops power of direct service providers throughout our state. Lawmakers will still be seeing me as our registered lobbyist – possibly even more frequently – now that some administrative duties will be lifted from my shoulders.

Our staff has also undergone some transitions:
Sarah Owsley Townsend has already moved into the Policy & Organizing Manager position and will partner with me to shape our evidence-based policy proposals, our organizing strategies, and our presence in the Capitol Building. She will have direct oversight of our Senior Policy and Organizing Coordinator, our Justice Organizer, and other organizing staff positions as they develop. 

And speaking of the Justice Organizer role, Molly Pearson became Justice Organizer with Empower Missouri on February 13, 2020, and will staff the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition effort to reform Missouri’s outdated, cruel and medically inaccurate HIV-specific criminal codes. Molly is no stranger to the coalition, having been an active member since February 2018, as a practicum student focusing on HIV policy in 2019 and our interim staff for the coalition during summer 2019. A graduate of Brown School at Washington University (MSW, 2019), Molly has been a passionate advocate for HIV justice all her life, having lost her parents to AIDS-related illness in 1989 and 1994. Molly will be expanding on the work of the wonderfully effective Chloe Owens, who transitioned to a new organization on January 31st.

We have also had a change in our Communications Director position. Rico Bush is set to join Empower Missouri as Communications Director on March 2, 2020. Before coming to Empower Missouri, Bush was a reporter and multimedia journalist with television stations in St. Louis, Portsmouth, VA, and Tulsa, OK. He is a graduate of University of Missouri School of Journalism. In all his vocational endeavors, the common thread has been sharing stories that can change public policy in ways that build stronger communities. Rico will be expanding on the work of another staff member, Conner Kerrigan, who did amazing work for us for nearly a year, but has been recruited away.

We wish Chloe and Conner the best in their future endeavors. Empower Missouri is happy to have had the opportunity to be impacted by their talent and hard work. 

Christine Woody is our Senior Policy and Organizing Coordinator, who, as many you know, is still with us fighting the good fight. She has been with us since 2006 and will continue to coordinate our advocacy around food security and criminal justice reform, as well as programming in St. Louis. 

In order for Empower Missouri  to optimize the talents and passion of its staff— present company included—and for our new strategic plan to unfold, we will need a new Executive Director to handle the administrative and fundraising responsibilities demanded by our expanding statewide organization. The Board of Directors will first hire an Interim Executive Director to handle those duties while they conduct a comprehensive search process.

 To apply for the interim position, go to this link. In the coming months, we will post the job announcement for the permanent Executive Director position, and we’ll appreciate your assistance in distributing it to a diverse pool of talented prospects.

These changes will need a strong base of justice-minded donors, and we are thankful that more and more of you are choosing to sustain us through monthly gifts. Please consider investing in our new Policy and Organizing Team and the great communications work that Rico will be doing by going to our donations page, and notice the opportunity to make your gift a recurring donation. In order to secure justice, we must be persistent in our organizing and in our giving, and we thank you for your faithful actions in regards to both!

-Jeanette Mott Oxford

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