In this episode of the DCFYI Digest, we spoke with Jackie Gillan about how impactful Establishing Roots is for her and the DCFYI community.
DCFYI: Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit about how you found DCFYI?
Jackie: My name is Jackie Gillan and I have spent my career in consumer affairs and worked as a public interest lobbyist on highway and auto safety. I got involved in DCFYI because of my friendship and relationship with Gail Amidzich. After she got involved in DCFYI, she invited me to one of the events for a couple of years in a row. I attended and was so impressed with the organization and what they were doing and what they were achieving that I decided I want to get more involved, not just in attending the fundraiser, but in helping to make it a success and helping make the organization a success.
DCFYI: How did you first hear about Establishing Roots?
Jackie: Gail had sent me an invitation and I wanted to support the organization. I had gotten involved in other efforts to help out those that are not as fortunate as we have been. I had been working, volunteering at a soup kitchen. I went to the fundraiser and met the people involved and some of the teens that they were helping. I honestly was blown away by just what they were trying to achieve and what they were achieving in terms of really having a positive impact on the lives of these teens. I have worked with a lot of organizations and volunteered with different groups. This one just really kind of blew me away at how effective they were and just the energy they brought to the issue. The teens were great. A lot of places, you write a check, and you send it off and you know they're doing good. I try to support as many of these groups I can, both internationally and nationally and locally, but this one is just, it's working, and in a niche that is so needed and sometimes forgotten. I just am so impressed with what they're doing and how they're doing it and the impact it's having on these lives.
DCFYI: What does the fundraiser mean to you?
Jackie: The fundraiser is an opportunity to share the story of DCFYI with my friends, and to raise money so they can do what they're doing. I’m frankly amazed at the budget that they have and what they're able to do. I look at some of the budgets of other nonprofits and I think to myself, oh my gosh, look at how DCFYI, on such a small budget, still has such a large impact in this community. Back to when you said how did you get involved? Another reason is I was living out in the suburbs in Silver Spring. That's where I raised my kids; we moved to Capitol Hill about 11 or 12 years ago. The idea that they're working in our neighborhood, trying to improve the lives of these teens is something that I feel strongly about. I support a lot of international and national groups that are out there working on environmental issues and hunger. But here was a group, right in my neighborhood, that was having an impact. I really wanted to commit myself to doing more than just supporting them financially, but to telling friends about it because I know there are people who feel the same way I do and live on the Hill and are involved in or work for associations or work for members, and they should know about what's going on. This is a good opportunity to connect with them and to get them to support financially, what DCFYI is trying to achieve.
DCFYI: Do you have a favorite part of the event or a part that you feel is the most impactful?
Jackie: I always like hearing from the teens and when I solicit donations from people, I always try to make them promise that they'll come to one of the fundraising events. It truly is energizing and it's so moving and you're seeing all these people come together and you're seeing the teens talking about how this has affected their lives positively. That kind of energy, you don't always get that. I go to a lot of political fundraisers and fundraisers for other groups, but here you have the actual teens that are involved and the actual adults that are working with them. It just makes you feel good about wanting to give them money and trying to get them more money. It's a really upbeat event too, especially nowadays with so much bad news and, not that you want to dismiss it or not recognize it, but you go to one of these fundraisers and there's a really positive attitude about it, both in terms of the people that are contributing, in terms of the teens, not to overuse the word but energizes you because you think, oh, my gosh, look at the budget they're working on. Can you imagine what they could do if we could just get more money for them and more resources into the organization? So that's my goal.
DCFYI: Do you have a favorite year of attendance?
Jackie: I've only really been involved, for three or four years and I wasn't able to go last year, but the year before, I guess that might have been the first year we’ve had it since Covid kind of peaked. That was a favorite of mine because I was involved in trying to get money for them and showing up the night of the event to try to help set up and meeting people. That night you meet people that are volunteering like you are, that you may not know, and everybody is just so positive about it and wants it to be successful. I think that is sort of a great feeling to be over at Eastern Market and being around all these people and also when the teens talk about their lives and what they're trying to do and how DCFYI is helping them. I always walk away, whether it was one, two years ago or some of the others. I've gone to a feeling like, okay, we can do this. We can get this done.
People were struggling. You know, kids were struggling who were in their own homes and their parents trying to get them the computers that they needed and the resources they needed and trying to step in and take care of that and try to fill that gap when they were going to school. When you think about it, who was helping these foster teens? A lot of them didn't have that kind of support that a lot of kids get from their parents. There was DCFYI anticipating their needs or trying to get them computers, trying to get them the tutoring, trying to get them the resources they need, and trying to fill that gap and step in. It is just another reason why DCFYI is such an amazing organization. They anticipate what the problems are, and they go about trying to solve them. I never really thought about foster teens until I got involved in DCFYI. Some of them don't have ideal foster families, I mean, that's a reality. To know that there is a resource like DCFYI to help them when they're in that situation is quite amazing, and again, it's a need that's there. It may not be as popular as working on environmental issues or things like that. They're all deserving issues. But I think that they have stepped in and really addressed a societal problem and try to help these individuals. When you meet them, these teens are just wonderful, wonderful people.
DCFYI: What would you say to someone to try to convince them to come to the fundraiser?
Jackie: Well, I do that all the time. Most of the people I’m hitting up for cash are people that probably spend a lot of nights a week going to political fundraisers because they're lobbyists or work for different associations. I say if you want to go to a fundraiser that will make you feel really good when you walk out the door and really feel like you're making a difference in someone's life, you got to come to this fundraiser. I have been successful getting a lot of these people to show up. I wish I could do more and I'm trying to do more, but a couple of the people that I enlisted to be sponsors are continuing to be sponsors and feel the same way once they get a glimpse inside of what this organization is all about. People come back and that's no small credit to Susan and the other staff there, because I know it's a very lean and mean staff. They're doing a lot of things, putting out a lot of fires and trying to be there. It's quite amazing when every year Susan puts together her list of accomplishments and you see what this one organization has done as far as having a positive impact on so many teens’ lives.
DCFYI: Do you have anything else that you'd like to add about the DCFYI or the fundraiser?
Jackie: We need more money. I work with organizations that have much, much larger budgets, and yet this organization working on the budget that it does, there’s just a significant impact on the lives of these teens. I sit on the boards of two or three nonprofits. I'm helping two other groups. This one, to me has a special place in my heart because, It is working with these teens and trying to step in and fill a role that isn't in their life right now.