In honor of Women’s History Month, we present 31 Days of Revolutionary Women; a series of daily essays by local authors documenting, honoring and celebrating powerful women who inspire us in South Seattle and beyond.
by Brittney Ferara
The first day I met Polly I was in awe of her. I was 16 and was at The Working Zone. I asked another service provider whose art car that was. He replied, “Oh it’s Polly. She is the crazy lady who sends homeless kids to college.” I replied, “Why does that make her crazy?” He brushed me off and changed the subject. To this day, I still do not understand why sending youth to college was a bad thing.
The next time I would talk to Polly I was 18 years old. I had been accessing services at Seattle Education Access (SEA) as a scholarship recipient. I called SEA to check in about changing my degree track to phlebotomy. When I called, Polly answered. I told her my plan and she told me it was not a good plan; that I should stick with social work. I was irritated with her. However, I knew she was right. I went into the office later that week and met with her and she encouraged me to apply for the work study position. That is how I ended up working for SEA.
Over the next three years, I would become extremely close to Polly as her protégé.
Polly is this cheerful, funny, brilliant goddess who lights up a room with her wit and realness. It was a dream to work for her. She was especially kind to me and empathized with me. She didn’t treat me any differently, even though I was a single mom who was a former criminal and a street kid. She talked to me like a human being and, not only that, she also didn’t insult my intelligence by talking down to me.
That said, I did need a lot of help in the sense of case management from a supervisor and someone to meet me where I was at. Polly provided that love and support for me. I lacked positive role models growing up and Polly became exactly that for me and still is, to this day. We stayed friends throughout the years and she was always there to talk if I needed help and especially when I was frustrated with the nonprofit-industrial complex.
In 2014, Polly resigned from SEA. Although it was a hard decision for her, she started a new nonprofit named Patacara. Patacara is a faith-based nonprofit inspired by Buddhism that provides compassionate care to individuals and communities that are suffering.
She originally wanted to make a volunteer pay-what-you-can café; however, in the early planning days of Patacara, she was bringing home-cooked meals to tent cities and that is what inspired her current work with Patacara helping camps. Polly dreams big and is gifted in identifying the needs of a community and going where the greatest needs are.
For a couple years, we ended up becoming roommates, cohabiting in a house raising four kids and a dog. Watching her continued advocacy with Patacara and living with her really helped me clarify my own dreams and, while I still have a continued journey of learning and undoing a lot of my own trauma associated with living on the streets as a reformed gang member, having someone who – no matter what – simply loves me and supports me is exactly what I have needed in my adult life.
They say “it takes a village” in reference to raising children. I believe it also applies to adults. We need community and continuous support even in our adult lives. We need people who are positive role models to keep us in check or to be there when we feel the world is falling apart. Luckily for me, I have that in my adult life, where a lot of folks – even from middle-class homes – do not, due to the individualistic ways our society is operating now.
Polly continues to inspire me to never give up, to always live up to my morals and values, and to do the right thing. And although these things seem simple, it can be very hard, in the world we live in, to do just that.
I would not have become the person I am today without Polly’s mentorship. I believe Polly has also been a very positive role model in other people’s lives who had a lack of good role models. If it wasn’t for Polly, I wouldn’t have created a dream of starting my own nonprofit. She is currently helping me in the early planning of making that dream into a reality. If it wasn’t for her mentorship, I do not believe I would have also become a rockstar advocate, supervisor or social worker.
Featured image courtesy of Polly Trout