Emerging Leaders Fellowship Honors Ruth Woo’s Commitment to Future Generations

Ruth Woo dedicated her life to making her community a better place, taking the role of both activist in her region as well as a mentor to many future civic leaders who would develop into prominent figures. Her work was shaped by her life experience as the daughter of Japanese immigrants–living through things like the World War II internment camps and the ensuing housing discrimination targeting Asian people in the 1950’s. She became well-known in Asian-American communities for her talents in political organizing, becoming a trusted and respected innovator in areas of social justice and equality.

In 2017, The Metropolitan King County Council recognized Ruth Woo’s revered contributions, approving the creation of a fellowship program to help mold future leaders in the public sector. “Developing this permanent fellowship is a fitting tribute to a woman who spent her life shaping our communities for the better,” said the then Council Chair Joe McDermott.

Recently, we talked with Jeane Robles, one of the 2019-2020 Ruth Woo Emerging Leaders Fellowship recipients who have been working in the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) for the past few months.

Getting Jeane’s Take on the Ruth Woo Fellowship

Give us some background on the fellowship:

Jeane: “The fellowship centers youth from communities of color and other marginalized communities who have not historically had access to work within the public sector. Currently, there are three fellows: Ayan Abshir (FMD), Gurdeep Gill (DNRP), and myself, Jeane Robles (DCHS). The goal of the Ruth Woo Fellowship is to provide fellows experience in public sector work by rotating through three departments in one year. I will be in DCHS until the end of January.”

What helped you choose this work?

Jeane: “I initially intended to pursue a career in student affairs and work with college students on their journey, but as a student myself, my head was filled with worries not related to school. My journey towards this fellowship started in graduate school as I faced barriers in healthcare during my [gender] transition. Laws and policies either stopped or delayed my choices about my body, so I wanted to go to the source – the government. The Ruth Woo Fellowship has allowed me to take one year to learn about how the government functions and connect with folks who are fighting for their own battles.”

Working in DCHS and King County

Students and staff at Learning Center North celebrating Jeane’s birthday.

In his short time at DCHS, Jeane has been involved in the following projects centering on our department’s Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) initiatives:

  • Building relationships with youth who are working towards their education at Learning Center North, Reconnect to Opportunity and YouthSource
  • Working with the ESJ Leadership Team to analyze data from the annual DCHS ESJ Survey. The survey was designed to assess the department’s progress toward becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist, multicultural organization, as well as employees’ engagement in departmental ESJ activities.
  • Being a part of the Leadership, Operations & Services Team (LOST) as they worked on building the foundations for an app that allows individuals to reflect on their racial justice journey.
  • Discussing ways to improve the King County Equity Team’s EIR tool. The Equity Impact Review process and a tool to identify, evaluate, and communicate the potential impact – both positive and negative – of a policy or program on equity.
  • Learning about the Request for Quotation (RFQ) process with the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy team as well as researching and tracking DCHS-specific legislation with our government affairs team.

Aside from his impressive work in DCHS, Jeane has been working on revamping the policy on All-Gender bathrooms in King County as well as advising on how the county collects gender identity and sexual orientation data–updating and bettering our current best practices. Jeane has also been involved with some of the various Employee Resource Groups (Affinity Groups) around the county.

In the past two months, I’ve learned that the most important thing while working to make change is building your community of support. Change takes time, strategizing, and mediation between folks who have different ideas about what change means for them. So, during that time it is important to make sure your support system has got your back. Most folks want to do great work, and we need each other to do it. Shout out to my community at DCHS!