From Our Executive Director: On Being Four Years Young

November 5, 2019 3:50 am Published by

Dear friends, partners, and community,

I just celebrated my fourth birthday as Executive Director of Open Arms. Time is passing so quickly. I often think that Open Arms was nearing adolescence when I came through the doors. I feel a lot like a mother watching my own child in the midst of her own growth and transformation; when suddenly everything she wears seems a little too short, and as her beauty grows by the day.

In my fourth year so much has happened. Our staff has grown to a total of 27 people and counting. Plus, we’ve added two new amazing programs that will expand prenatal support services and lactation support to communities of color in King County with partners like Rainier Valley MidwivesJourney MidwiferyAPI ChayaCamie GoldhammerRhonda Grantham, and the Pacific Islander Health Board.

You might be wondering where we are fitting everyone. Well, we’ve been lucky to share beautiful office space with our friends at Amara, who share our love for children and families. In the past few months, we have steadily recruited and hired exceptional staff, who amaze me with their passion, surprising talents, and healthy senses of humor. This is all possible because our brilliant operations and finance staff keep our world turning. They always meet the challenge, even when that bar keeps rising. One reason we have grown in size is that we are actually “filling out” as our programs grow, adding kick-ass administrative and development staff that we’ve needed for far too long.

You might be wondering by now what hasn’t changed. We are still the same Open Arms, just several inches taller and with clothes that fit, for now… or at least a month ago. If you ever visit our home offices at El Centro de la Raza, you will still find the same warmth, as well as babies crawling under conference tables and stealing things off desks. You’ll see doulas laugh and care for each other, even as they tell stories of just how hard things can be for the clients we support. Our staff continue to reflect the communities we serve, and we are as popular as ever with our referral partners and clients. As our staff grow and mature in their roles, we are accomplishing more complex things. Our staff participate on so many advisory boards, work groups, and panels that it can be awe-inspiring. Current and former clients are emerging as activists in their own right, as you’ll learn when you come to our Labor of Love Luncheon in February 2020.

As I mentioned last year, our outcomes — like cutting preterm birth rates in half and leading home visiting programs in breastfeeding to six months — have gained us some overdue credibility as well as a seat at important tables. That access comes with responsibility, to always stay true to who we are, and to always remind people that improving early learning and maternal child health starts with healthy relationships that are grounded in the communities we serve.

For those of you have known us for a long time, you know that we have always spoken truth to power. Speaking that truth comes with risk, but your support and our strength has made us bolder and more successful. In our first legislative session with a dedicated liaison, we managed to help expand Medicaid to cover doulas, along with Doulas For All coalition members. We are working towards implementing this change equitably and strategically.

Personally, I find myself addressing people trying to appropriate the birth work that always lived in in the communities we represent, or using terms like “equity” and “birth justice” without it being grounded in truth. And yes, being the one to speak out can be draining, especially because we are frequently some of the only people of color in the room.

I often hear that Open Arms is like “David against Goliath.” I always remember that many of our clients face even harsher odds when they interact with healthcare and other systems that are simply not designed to care for them the way they deserve during the most vulnerable moments of their lives. This is about life and death, health, hope, and justice. We at Open Arms will always stand up to the “Goliaths” of this world on behalf of the families we serve. And when we prevail, it will be by being smarter, more agile, and having community and goodness deeply on our side.

We persist against steep odds because if there is anything that Open Arms knows after 22 years, it’s that we were born and raised to be resilient and to thrive. So I thank you. I feel honored every day to be part of this. And as for the “Goliaths” of the world, just remember – David won.

With much love, gratitude, and stubbornness,

Dila Perera