Who is the most qualified to tell the story of how America came to be? Marginalized voices and communities have, for far too long, been relegated to contextually lacking footnotes and anecdotal revisionist histories. This leaves the American story to be told from a limited perspective. Yet, this story is multivocal. When the triumphs and contributions of women, persons with disabilities, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are excluded from the narrative, we fail to appropriately acknowledge the diversity, perspective, and perseverance these stories carry. If we as a society wish to establish any form of equilibrium, this pattern of tunnel vision and culturally-deficient storytelling must be broken.

The initiative to intentionally celebrate the contributions of women to American history began in the 1970s. Before this state-by-state initiative the concept of “women’s history” was generally ignored in public discourse. With this in mind, organizations also began to create a curriculum to more appropriately teach students about women’s contributions to American history. In 1980 the Women’s History initiative received national recognition when President Jimmy Carter declared March 2 through 8 as National Women’s Week. In his public declaration, President Carter stated:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

(Source: https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/womens-history-month/womens-history-month-history/)

In 1987, The National Women’s History Project built upon this initiative and petitioned for March to be designated “Women’s History Month.” (Source: https://womenshistorymonth.gov/about/)

Throughout the month of March, Open Heart Kitchen has chosen to honor this tradition by intentionally and joyfully celebrating the women on our team. With a team comprised of over 60% women, the perspectives and experiences of these individuals play an integral role in who we are as an organization.

In a questionnaire sent to the women staff members of Open Heart Kitchen, it was found that the paths that lead women to Open Heart Kitchen vary. A few were first introduced to the organization by way of the volunteer program:

“I started at OHK as a volunteer and enjoyed it so much, that I wanted to be part of their incredible staff. I was excited by their mission and wanted to do something to serve my community.”  – Linda Roe, Site Supervisor

“I started as a volunteer with Open Heart Kitchen in 2010 and loved the work so much that I jumped at the opportunity to join the OHK staff in 2011.” – Shawnda Bost, Operations Director

“I started as a volunteer in 2018. I loved the staff, the volunteers, and the seniors. It makes me proud to help people with such basic needs, food, and human connections.” – Jody Quincy, Site Supervisor

“I was working at a huge for-profit company when I started volunteering at OHK with my mom, Christi, who was then a Site Supervisor. I jumped at the opportunity to apply for a position in the office. My entire life shifted when I joined OHK and started doing meaningful work that I have a passion for.” – Taylor Hoover-Hart, Executive Assistant

Others discovered Open Heart Kitchen by way of job openings that were posted online:

“I was excited about the mission statement when I saw the job posting online, but when a group of intelligent fun-loving women interviewed me, I knew it was the job I wanted.” – Marcy Braidman, Program Coordinator

“I had just graduated college with a degree in Sociology and I was determined to find an organization that was both inspiring and impactful in its mission. OHK definitely fit the bill and I fell in love with the team after my interview!” – Hannah Arionus, Volunteer Coordinator & Development Associate

“I learned OHK was hiring after I saw a Facebook post by our old OD, Clare. I was super excited about getting a job where I can just help people all day!!” – Christ Williams, Program Coordinator

A common thread amongst these women was how they were encouraged by the mission and team of Open Heart Kitchen:

“I had met a few of the leadership team members at the Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance meetings. Meeting the team and hearing from other nonprofit professionals about the people at OHK made me excited that it was a well-established organization and an inclusive, supportive workplace.” Denise Bridges, Development Director

“In addition to being a fantastic organization with an impactful mission, I was inspired to work with the passionate OHK team.” – Heather Greaux, Chief Financial Officer

Though the work Open Heart Kitchen does within the Tri-Valley is full of hope, it also sheds light on the inequalities and systemic injustices that exist within our society. This means many of our team members are often required to hold dissonance that exists between the joy of meeting the needs of people experiencing hunger on the one hand and the ache of seeing this need on the other. With this in mind, many shared about other women who inspire them to continue this work in the community:

“I’m inspired by two daughters. One is the bravest person I’ve ever known and one is the kindest. They help me to be a better human every day! So lucky to have such amazing inspiration so close to home!” – Christi Williams, Program Coordinator

“My mom is my inspiration. She has spent most of her life defying all the stereotypes society has attempted to place on women (she was one of the first female mail carriers). She taught me that one person can make a difference and that there is absolutely nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it even if someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do it. She inspires me to be the best version of myself and not let others determine the trajectory of my life.” – Shawnda Bost, Operations Director

“I think I appreciate my daughters ( and a lot of younger women in general). They don’t allow themselves to be stereotyped, ignored, or mistreated. They stand up for what is right and just and fair.” – Jody Quiny, Site Supervisor

Being a woman often means not merely reckoning with disparities and inequalities, but having personal experience with the trauma and weight of experiencing them firsthand:

“The gender wage gap and the disproportionate share of child care on women are issues that have affected me personally. Being a woman is about experiencing deep inequities and managing body safety and, let’s face it, sexual violence. Unfortunately, the reality is that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s one billion women and girls. In our country, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. I think that we don’t even fully realize that we are experiencing forms of oppression in the everyday choices we make, such as choosing not to take a walk when it’s dark outside or being mindful of clothing and the way we present ourselves.” – Denise Bridges, Development Director

“I think it is important to highlight that being a “woman” is never and should never be defined by one thing. So much of who I am exists outside the “traditional” stereotypes that were culturally engrained in me growing up. I have had to learn and relearn who I am and what I am able to accomplish. Fighting assumptions and being strong enough to be different has been both a huge challenge and an undeniably freeing experience. As females, we are multi-dimensional beings that exist beyond any assumption or binary.” – Hannah Arionus, Volunteer Coordinator and Development Associate

“I am privileged to live in a country where I am free to openly express my gender in the way I choose without facing persecution. However, I feel disheartened every time that a man feels comfortable enough to follow me as I walk home, stare at my body, or talk to me in a way that makes me feel small and unsafe. It happens more often than people may think and it has been happening since I was 12. Unfortunately, this is not unique. It is simply part of being a woman.” – Marcy Braidman, Program Coordinator

In the face of such challenges, these women have continued to inspire our community and lead our organization with wisdom, kindness, and a deep desire to end hunger. Operations Director, Shawnda Bost emphasized the importance of holding “the long view” and staying encouraged to make a more equitable world for the generations to come:

“​​​Women have had small victories over the centuries but I think there are still so many hurdles we face daily. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose hope when it so often feels like women have taken two steps forward only to be pushed three steps back. We make big changes and then those changes are easily reversed. This can be so demoralizing. That’s why I like to take the long view and think of myself in a long line of strong women who are striving to make the world a more safe, more just, and more equitable place for all women, but especially for my sisters who have been historically marginalized, diminished, and made to feel invisible. I want future generations of women to look back on my life and say that my shoulders were broad and strong enough to stand on.” – Shawnda Bost, Operations Director

To state Open Heart Kitchen would not be the same without the wisdom, talents, and perspectives of the women on our team is not a platitude. We absolutely would not exist without these women. Open Heart Kitchen is grateful for all the contributions they have made not only to our organization but to the Tri-Valley community as a whole. To learn more about the individuals quoted in this story, visit Open Heart Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram.