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FAN’s co-director brings experience with justice issues

Elise DeGooyer
Elise DeGooyer brings background of advocacy.

As co-director of the Faith Action Network (FAN) of Washington since February, Elise DeGooyer continues years of faith-based commitment to social justice.

“I appreciate the breadth and interconnection of issues we address through FAN.  I value the ability of the interfaith community to do more than anyone can do alone,” she said in a recent interview.

At FAN, Elise is responsible for administration, finance and development.  Co-director Paul Benz’s responsibilities are program and policy.

At regional summits last spring, she met people around the state, heard from partners and learned about issues that matter to them.

Recently, for example, FAN celebrated that the State Legislature passed SB-5173 to allow two unpaid holidays for faith or conscience.  The Islamic community, whose children had unexcused absences for their holy days, proposed the bill, and FAN supported it.

FAN is also part of a diverse movement of faith communities supporting Initiative 594, which says that anyone acquiring firearms in Washington State must pass a background check, no matter where they obtain the gun.

“We support it because gun violence is up 150 percent this year,” Elise said, noting that the effort includes having faith leaders and faith communities endorse the initiative, volunteer and invite educational speakers.

Through the election, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church is funding a part-time position at FAN for Stacy Anderson of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. She is organizing the faith community on Initiative 594.

People are concerned about the environment, so we connect people of faith on those issues, plus on wage theft, economic justice, criminal justice, hunger and poverty,” she said.  “There is also concern this year about economic inequality and the death penalty.”

Elise, who grew up Catholic in Yakima, earned a degree in 1983 at Gonzaga University in journalism and religious studies.  She joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked a year with homeless people in Washington, D.C.

“I saw the connection of faith, politics and services as I watched more homeless people emerge under policies of the administration at that time,” she said.

Her connection of faith and social justice also had roots in experiences with Gonzaga’s campus ministry, its social justice committee and weekends serving meals at the House of Charity.

“That experience, in particular, opened me to the lives of homeless men,” she said. 

“While I was at Gonzaga, the assassination of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and the murder of four Catholic sisters also politicized my understanding of faith with justice and my belief we are called to embrace that.”

As a student, she joined a protest at Riverfront Park on behalf of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Guatemala, women who sought information on family members who had disappeared.

Then I went to Seattle to work in human services, running a food bank at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Central District.  From that ministry, I learned about people who faced emergencies, needed food and slept on the church campus,” said Elise.

She participated in the Central American activism at St. Mary’s, a multicultural parish that drew many Latinos through the sanctuary movement.

After two years there, she was involved in several church urban ministries, including helping start Sojourner Place, a Sisters of Providence shelter-to-transitional-housing program.

At Maryknoll School of Theology in N.Y., she earned a master’s degree in liberation theology and cross-cultural ministry in 1991.

Elise worked with the University of Washington’s School of Social Work for 12 years on a research team, looking at HIV and AIDS prevention for women.

When the world changed after 9-11, she had a young child and wanted to act.

Elise started Seattle’s Women in Black Thursday vigils for peace before the war in Iraq.  She was involved with that effort until three years ago.  At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 75 women would stand in the downtown shopping core as a spiritual witness when it was unpatriotic to speak of peace, she said.

For more than three years, Elise worked in administration and development with the Church of Mary Magdalene, an ecumenical ministry with a day center and services for homeless women. 

As program manager for children’s nutrition at Northwest Harvest, she worked on state hunger and food issues.  The nutrition program provided food in backpacks to 10 school districts.  Children took the backpacks home to supplement their meals during vacations.

Now the backpack program has expanded to Spokane in eight schools of highest need.

With Northwest Harvest, she developed advocacy initiatives with a statewide focus group, talking with people who come to food banks to find out what more they need in order to have enough food for their families.

“We used comments to form our legislative agenda.  For six years, we took individuals and groups to Olympia,” said Elise, who has a post-master’s degree in pastoral leadership at Seattle University.  “We published reports of groups, sharing data and highlighting stories.”

This fall, Elise has been organizing regional geographic cluster meetings for FAN’s advocating faith communities. 

These gatherings are an opportunity for members of the advocating faith communities to meet with neighbors, update each other on their advocacy efforts and learn new ways to come together to improve lives.

The Faith Action Network also has services of two interns.  They are Amber Dickson from the one-year United Church of Christ Justice Leadership Program, and Gretchen Brown, a two-year organizing intern through the General Board of Global Ministries Fellows Program of the United Methodist Church.

Amber grew up in Western Washington and attended Seattle Pacific University, graduating with a degree in psychology.  Gretchen, who grew up in North Carolina, is a recent graduate of Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s in history and a concentration in religious studies. 

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