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SpeakOUT’s Statement on Boston Pride

SpeakOUT Boston wishes a Happy Pride Month to the entire LGBTQIA+ community. We know it has been a very difficult year (and more) for our community and, in many ways, even more so for people of color and trans people within the community.

As an organization dedicated to “…ending homo/bi/transphobia and other forms of prejudice,” SpeakOUT Boston is in solidarity this year with other organizations boycotting official Boston Pride events. More importantly, and in the spirit of being actively anti-racist, especially regarding systems and structures, we join the calls for Boston Pride to commit to much greater diversity, equity, and accountability within their board and operations.

While we are thankful for the work done on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community by Boston Pride in the past, we recognize and affirm that the time has come for meaningful change. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. And an LGBTQIA+ organization committed to true social and legal equity for all of its members should be able to say so — and act accordingly. Similarly, trans people and their voices and ideas deserve to be in leadership positions in any broad-based LGBTQIA+ organization.

Queer, Trans, and Bi People of Color (QTBIPOC) have always been leaders in the fight for equity and liberation, and yet, sadly, in the last several years Boston Pride has turned away from that legacy, even in the face of today’s increased understanding of the need to be actively anti-racist. As a result, they have lost 80% of their volunteer force as well as the trust and support of many other members of the Boston-area LGBTQIA+ community and our would-be allies. Many of the volunteers are organizing as Pride 4 the People and we encourage you to become informed about their experiences and demands for a future Pride organization for Boston.

We understand that Boston Pride’s board president has agreed to step down and we want to encourage more changes to the board and organizational structure to ensure that Boston Pride evolves into an anti-racist community organization. SpeakOUT Boston will not be participating in Boston Pride activities until the QTBIPOC community is satisfied with the changes that are made.

From SpeakOUT’s Executive Director and Board of Directors

There Is No One Way

By Tai Tran

I recently sat on an online SpeakOUT panel in a high school health class. Between the students in the classroom with the teacher and the other students on zoom we had a small audience. Even in a pandemic, our teachers and students are continuing their education and meaningful work together. I shared my story about how I taught middle school math and science in California for the past two years and had made it a point to be an openly out queer educator. We live in a world that stigmatizes and erases queer identities in the institution of education; I was not going to recreate that in my classroom. I always introduce myself as “Mx. Tran, not Mr., not Ms., and I’m happily independent, so not Mrs. either.” After sharing our stories, a young male student asked me, “Mx. Tran, you say you identify as nonbinary, but the pronouns on your zoom say she and her, what does that mean?” 

I thanked the young man for his question and quickly added, “Good question!” Afterall, young people nowadays need more encouragement than ever. And to ask questions is a sign of intelligence, or so I tell my own students. We had only reached the halfway point of the panel  and even if we had more time it would not have been enough to explain the intricacies of gender and sexuality to the students. Why do I subscribe to a binary pronoun when I claim nonbinary as well? Are the two mutually exclusive? Should I, perhaps more accurately, use they/them as pronouns instead? Or hir? Or ze? 

For me, these were of course questions I asked myself long ago. And ones that I continue to ask myself. But in the moment, I replied “It just feels more me. More like me. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried he, him, his pronouns. I have tried and used them for years and I certainly know those are not what I want to be referred to as when I am talked about.” And trans/nonbinary people are definitely talked about, especially so when we are not in the room. I didn’t need a whole seminar to tell these young bright minds that there is no one way to be nonbinary. Just like there is no one way to be a good person. I told my story about when I started to experiment with other pronouns I found out this was the pronoun for me. When my trusted friends and colleagues started calling me by she and her pronouns I felt seen and respected. I felt seen the way I wanted to be seen and respected. The way I see myself; not the way the world said I should be. 

Whether principals, districts, lawmakers, or governments are willing to admit it or not, we live in a world that scripts out the life of our youth before they are even born. To be a “boy” or to be a “girl” means something. We all have an inkling, large or small, of what it means. Yet, what would it mean to be nonbinary? I am grateful that I am alive to continue exploring what it means to me. I am grateful to be involved with an organization that lets students hear the stories behind the statistics of people who are so different from them, who are likely very different from their family as well. And I am also grateful for that student’s question. 

Tai recently finished her service with Teach For America in Richmond, California as part of the 2018 corps, teaching middle school math and science. She is a bright, bold, and brave queer educator who goes by Mx. Tran in the classroom. Her passions include dismantling the anti-queer patriarchy in the institution of education, empowering students with comprehensive sex ed, and being the change she has always wanted to see in the world.

Dear SpeakOUT Supporter,

The last nine months have presented unprecedented challenges for everyone. As an organization that thrives on personal interactions with audiences, our ability to provide exceptional in-person speaking engagements was weakened by COVID restrictions that shut down nearly all of our clients in March. Our programs were hampered for several months as clients figured out how to function remotely and decided whether online engagements would work for them.

Like many other nonprofit organizations, and like many of you, we’ve had to find ways to adapt and survive. As a small grassroots organization, our budget is extremely sensitive to outside forces; we have no cushion or “rainy day fund.” Even now, after we’ve successfully pivoted to online formats, the volume of engagements has not returned to normal.

Because of this shortfall, we need to raise $15,000 in this year-end appeal. It is no exaggeration to say that this year’s fundraising effort is the most critical one in our 45+ year history, and will determine the future of the organization in a very concrete way.

We know that many other nonprofits, local businesses, and even family and friends are no doubt on your list of charitable causes this year; be assured that your gift to SpeakOUT will have a major impact.

While that may all sound grim, we’re also optimistic that with your help we can put SpeakOUT on the path to sustainability. Because, despite this huge disruption to our programs, we have already successfully explored ways to do our work more effectively:

  • This past summer we sought to support LGBTQ+ youth programs looking to keep their members connected to each other. We led online workshops for youth in the Boston GLASS program, enhancing their public speaking skills and helping them build the confidence to share their stories.
  • In October, we held our first Online Speaker Training in a new two-day Zoom format that maintained our strong personal approach while preparing speakers from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, thus expanding our training reach beyond our home state.
  • Our new online engagement formats allow us to present to businesses and reach their employees both throughout the U.S. and abroad. We plan to continue offering online engagements in the post-COVID world to further expand our corporate audiences beyond the Greater Boston area.
  • We continued to support graduating high school students through our LGBTQ+ Scholarship Program. We were very proud to award scholarships to three students and help them realize their higher education dreams; all three are now enrolled in their first year at college! For 2021, the fourth year of the scholarship, we already have a donor who has committed to supporting a scholarship specifically for transgender students and nonbinary students of color.

We are fortunate to have a team of dedicated volunteer speakers sharing personal experiences with a wide range of audiences to create safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people. From college students who want to make life better for queer youth, to teachers who are role models within their own school systems, to political leaders who are trailblazers in legislatures, to retirees who’ve spent their lives working for social justice, SpeakOUT speakers showcase the strong diversity of the LGBTQ+ community.

In October, we asked SpeakOUT members to share their stories again for National Coming Out Day. Each of their insights is unique and illustrates the power of SpeakOUT’s ability to combat prejudice against LGBTQ+ people and others through personal storytelling. Our speakers have a wide range of experiences and a passion for leading sensitive discussions to open minds and change attitudes. Here’s how two of our speakers described what it means to them to be part of SpeakOUT:

“I didn’t grow up knowing anyone in the trans community. I didn’t know if I would be accepted by my family, by the world. Coming out meant starting over as my authentic self. Coming out was terrifying because it was a step into the unknown. SpeakOUT is helping to create a world of visible LGBTQ+ role models, amazing people with unique stories, opening hearts and minds one engagement at a time. I’m lucky to be able to contribute my story.”

“Coming out as an only child in an Asian household was difficult, especially since I grew up with few LGBTQ role models and peers. Today, I’m proud to be part of the SpeakOUT family, a community where I can both lean on and support others.”

SpeakOUT needs your support today. We’re optimistic about 2021, but first we need to make up for losses in 2020. Please consider making a substantial gift this year—possibly doubling what you’ve given in the past—to sustain our work. But no matter what amount you’re able to give, know that your support today will directly improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people during these challenging times.

Make your tax-deductible donation today by making an online donation. You can make a one-time gift or become a monthly or quarterly donor. With positive energy in the air after the election, we look forward to uplifting LGBTQ+ voices in the new year!

Sincerely,

Ellyn Ruthstrom

Executive Director

P.S. For a gift of $100 or more, we’ll send you one of our #ProudStories t-shirts with our rainbow-colored mohawk-wearing speaker graphic. Or you can order one for $25 on its own!

Q and A with Gabi Morgan (she/her/hers)

To celebrate National Coming Out Day we are highlighting the coming out experiences and insights of several of SpeakOUT’s speakers. We asked them to fill in some of the details of what coming out was like for them and how it has affected their work with SpeakOUT. When our speakers share their stories out in the community, they inspire others to have the confidence to live more authentically and we hope it will do the same for you.

Gabi Morgan started working with SpeakOUT three and a half years ago. She is 64 years old and enjoys hosting events as well as participating in trivia.


Q: If you had to use one word to describe how you felt after coming out, what would it be?
A: Authentic

Q: Why was coming out important to you? How was it challenging?
A: The secret was eating me up for too long. I was letting the fears drive me. Afraid of being judged.

Q: If you could have told your younger self one thing before coming out, what would it be?
A: Don’t be reckless, but never NEVER let fears make all your decisions for you.

Q: How does SpeakOUT’s use of coming out stories help to create change?
A: It helps people with questions identify with other people and situations.

Q: How have you witnessed SpeakOUT positively affect those around you?
A: I have done engagements where audience members actually came out to us at end of the session.

Q: Why do you volunteer your time with SpeakOUT?
A: It helped give me a voice and confidence in who I am and the opportunity to listen to and help others.

Q and A with Bill Barnert (He/Him/His)

To celebrate National Coming Out Day we are highlighting the coming out experiences and insights of several of SpeakOUT’s speakers. We asked them to fill in some of the details of what coming out was like for them and how it has affected their work with SpeakOUT. When our speakers share their stories out in the community, they inspire others to have the confidence to live more authentically and we hope it will do the same for you.

Bill Barnert has been with SpeakOUT since 1980. He is 64 years old and enjoys  the theater, music, movies, education, and comedy.


Q: If you had to use one word to describe how you felt after coming out, what would it be?

A: Apprehensive.


Q: Why was coming out important to you? How was it challenging?

A: I felt that I was living a lie – lying to my parents, my family, my friends. Hiding my sexuality had put a barrier between me and everybody, and I wanted to take that barrier away. It was difficult at first, because in some ways I felt that until I told ANYONE, it was OK that I hadn’t told my parents. But I wasn’t ready to come out to my parents, so it was a Catch-22. I couldn’t tell them first, and I couldn’t NOT tell them first.


Q: If you could have told your younger self one thing before coming out, what would it be?

A: Spend less time fretting, and more time dating.


Q: How does Speak friendsOUT’s use of coming out stories help to create change?

A: I was at a weekend of college LGBTQ+ leaders at my Alma Mater, Brown. A young woman came up to me and asked “Are you Bill?” “Yes,” I said, “Why?” “Because I go to Colby College in Maine, and before you [SpeakOUT] came up to give an assembly, there were barely two out gay people on campus who talked to each other, and now we have a gay group, I do speaking engagements, and I quote you all the time!”


Q: How have you witnessed SpeakOUT positively affect those around you?

A: At one of the SpeakOUT Training Weekends, there were a number of high school students, and their parents. One of the mothers came up to me & started talking about her daughter as if I should know both of them. I finally confessed that I couldn’t place her, and she blushed. “Oh, of course! We can see you on TV, but you can’t see us! And I used a fake name.” She had called in to SpeakOUT TV when her daughter first came out, and I was the first person she had discussed it with, and she felt much better afterwards. And here they both were at a SpeakOUT Training!


Q: Why do you volunteer your time with SpeakOUT?

A: It really makes a difference in people’s lives, and that’s a good feeling.

Q and A with Michael Bookman (he/him/his)

To celebrate National Coming Out Day we are highlighting the coming out experiences and insights of several of SpeakOUT’s speakers. We asked them to fill in some of the details of what coming out was like for them and how it has affected their work with SpeakOUT. When our speakers share their stories out in the community, they inspire others to have the confidence to live more authentically and we hope it will do the same for you.

Michael Bookman starting working with SpeakOUT eight years ago. He is 45 years old and enjoys traveling.


Q: If you had to use one word to describe how you felt after coming out, what would it be?

A: Reborn


Q: Why was coming out important to you? How was it challenging?

A: It was a part of my journey to form and uncover my true identity.


Q: If you could have told your younger self one thing before coming out, what would it be?

A: Seek and interact more with others who have already “come out.”


Q: How does SpeakOUT’s use of coming out stories help to create change?

A: It facilitates a recognition of our vulnerabilities and shared humanity.


Q: How have you witnessed SpeakOUT positively affect those around you?

A: That is a resounding, “YES!”


Q: Why do you volunteer your time with SpeakOUT?

A: It is therapeutic for me.


Q and A with Quyen (Win) Tran (she/her/hers)


To celebrate National Coming Out Day we are highlighting the coming out experiences and insights of several of SpeakOUT’s speakers. We asked them to fill in some of the details of what coming out was like for them and how it has affected their work with SpeakOUT. When our speakers share their stories out in the community, they inspire others to have the confidence to live more authentically and we hope it will do the same for you.

Quyen Tran starting working with SpeakOUT three years ago. She is 43 years old and enjoys drag performing (she has 15+ years experience), waterfall chasing, skinny dipping, foraging, and being an avid plant daddy.

Q: If you had to use one word to describe how you felt after coming out, what would it be?

A: Liberating.


Q: Why was coming out important to you? How was it challenging?

A: So I could stop hating myself & actually start living. It was challenging because I gave up a promising career. 


Q: If you could have told your younger self one thing before coming out, what would it be?

A: Your blood family won’t understand you, but you’ll create a whole new family that spans the whole country and will do anything for you at the drop of a hat.


Q: How does SpeakOUT’s use of coming out stories help to create change?

A: We create visibility and room for those who previously thought there was no place for them. 


Q: How have you witnessed SpeakOUT positively affect those around you?

A: Because of my experience of working with SpeakOUT, I’ve realized just how important my visibility is and how I can change people’s perception of the gay community. I now use my social media as a place where I’ll present current queer education for folks who may not have someone in their lives to help them with that.


Q: Why do you volunteer your time with SpeakOUT?

A: Because I specifically want the high school kids to have an easier time with it than I did. My hope is if I can get to them sooner, the better adjusted they will be and their personal development will be better off.

Everyone’s Coming Out Day Deserves to be Celebrated

By Ellyn Ruthstrom, Executive Director of SpeakOUT

National Coming Out Day can be a significant moment for LGBTQ+ people who are newly empowered to step forward about their sexual orientation or their gender identity. On that day, you can feel like the whole community is welcoming you with open arms and cheering just for you! And we are. We know the courage it takes to make that choice to live authentically and to reveal deeply personal parts of yourself to important people in your life. Each person’s journey is different and whether you are 14 or 74, we all deserve to be celebrated and welcomed into the community.

National Coming Out Day also provides a space for folks who have been out for decades to attest to the transformative power of the coming out experience. As those of us who are “tenured” know, you don’t just come out once; you end up having to come out throughout your life whenever you are meeting new people and heading into new environments. It’s a bit like flexing your muscles, and it becomes easier each time you do it. 

SpeakOUT speakers have been venturing into classrooms, boardrooms, auditoriums, public libraries, churches, temples—anywhere we are invited—to share stories about LGBTQ+ lives since 1972. Raising awareness about our lives and answering questions from the audience (“Ask Us Anything” is our motto!) are extremely important parts of our engagements. But many of our speakers volunteer their time and energy for an even more personal reason. They know how potent a role model can be for someone who hasn’t yet come out. One of the things that our members often say is, “I wish there had been a SpeakOUT when I was growing up. It could have saved me a lot of struggle if I had seen a confident LGBTQ+ adult talking about their life.” And some of our own speakers were originally members of a SpeakOUT audience and felt the impulse to pay it forward by telling their own story to the next generation.

This week, as a lead-up to National Coming Out Day on Sunday, October 11th, SpeakOUT will be sharing our members’ insights about their own coming out experiences and highlighting the power of telling those stories to raise awareness. We have a generous donor who is pledging to match the first $2,500 of donations this week—doubling the impact of your gift! We’ve pivoted during COVID to online engagements and your support today can help us continue our awareness-building work. 

SpeakOUT speakers represent the beautiful spectrum of our LGBTQ+ rainbow, and on National Coming Out Day my hope is that everyone within our community feels the liberation of living true to ourselves.

SpeakOUT’s 2020 Board of Directors

SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors has brought on three new members in the last six months. We are always interested in hearing from prospective board members who want to contribute time and energy to the LGBTQ+ community. The board meets once a month (currently virtually) and has opportunities for board members to support the organization’s fundraising, events planning, organizational development, and more. If you are interested, please email Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at ellyn@speakoutboston.org to find out how you can get involved. We especially encourage people of color, and transgender and nonbinary individuals to apply for a seat on the board.

Meg Duberek joined the board of SpeakOUT in March 2017 and after a year as Vice Chair, she is now the Board Chair. Meg previously volunteered with Horizons for Homeless Children and REACH Beyond Domestic Violence. After the November 2016 election, she was reinvigorated to spend her free time focusing on social change. Meg values the focus of SpeakOUT on breaking down interpersonal barriers and changing hearts and minds, and knows that this vital work must go hand in hand with policy change within our political climate. During the work day, Meg is a member of the Communications team at an education consulting nonprofit. She analyzes reporting, tracks data, and assists with website development. In her spare time, she is usually found outside hiking, kayaking, or in a hammock with her kindle. 

Andrew Chou joined SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors in September 2018. After serving as Treasurer for a year and a half, he is now in the Vice Chair role. Andrew’s affinity to SpeakOUT stems from his belief that sharing personal experiences and building community are critical to helping LGBTQ individuals better understand their identities and allies better support their LGBTQ peers. Outside of his involvement with SpeakOUT, Andrew enjoys his day job in finance and is a spin class regular, an avid squash player, and an aspiring pastry chef.

Jenn Guneratne joined SpeakOUT’s board in July 2014, having initially signed on as a volunteer in late 2013 to assist with the organization’s social media presence. Since then, she has watched the board grow with a number of highly talented and enthusiastic members. Jenn is excited to be involved with the Board during this time of growth and she is serving in the role of Board Clerk. Professionally, Jenn has worked in both arts organizations and educational institutions, and is currently working for the Undergraduate Affairs department at Boston University College of Communication. Jenn’s background and interests span the gamut of drama, music and musicology, photography, deaf studies, involvement with the LGBTQ community, and commuting around the city on her trusty bike.

Sherry Jones Maspons joined SpeakOUT’s board in February 2019 and has recently taken on the role of Treasurer. She’s been an advocate for LGBTQ organizations in the North Shore and Greater Boston areas for many years. She acted as marshall for the Ova4D Lesbian Group in 2018 for the Boston Pride parade. As a Financial Systems Analyst and Consultant she chased large financial institution mergers and acquisitions from MA, FL, NC, OH. She then returned to her hometown of Marblehead in 2014 and currently sits on the Board of Directors for her Rowing Club, RocknRow. Sherry enjoys cooking and hosting dinner parties, cycling, gardening, traveling and sailing. 

George Grattan’s career and volunteer history wind through the woods of both academia and non-profits, including editing, writing, marketing, program management, public speaking, board service, environmental activism, and general “doing of stuff.” George joined the board of SpeakOUT in the fall of 2014, and served as Board Chair for three years. He has worked at Ceres, Bentley University, Earthwatch, and the Urban Ecology Institute and has taught American literature, writing, and environmental studies courses at Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross, his alma mater. A proud bisexual/queer, cisgender man, he lives with his wife, Mary, in Waltham, MA and can be found every third Wednesday of the month hosting the Bisexual Resource Center’s “Bi/Pan+ Guyz Social Night.”

Catherine (Cat) Tepoz joined SpeakOUT’s board in December 2019. She previously volunteered with DBSA Boston, a mental health support group. Cat is excited to be a part of the LGBTQ community and to share her personal experiences with others. Professionally, Cat works for Bank of America Private Bank in the financial district. Outside of her involvement with SpeakOUT, Cat is a part-time MBA student at Boston College’ Carroll School of Management. In her free time, Cat can be found going on small hikes. 

Chessy Whalen joined the board of SpeakOUT in January 2020, having moved to Boston from the UK in late 2019. In London, Chessy worked with a UK-based LGBTQ charity, Just Like Us, an organization that also uses storytelling and personal connection to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues and acceptance of LGBTQ people. Seeing the similarities with SpeakOUT, she was really keen to get involved. Chessy’s day job is as a Strategy Consultant and in her spare time she enjoys reading, British TV, and trying new food either in her kitchen or out to eat.

Supporting SpeakOUT Builds Safer Spaces for LGBTQ+ People

For over 45 years, SpeakOUT has been helping to build safer spaces for LGBTQ+ people through our personal style of storytelling and community education.

Each year, our trained speakers conduct over 100 engagements within local middle and high schools, colleges, businesses, faith communities and many other venues while sharing our diverse experiences and perspectives in order to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ identities. Our long history and the richness of our membership of over 100 speakers illustrates that our style of community engagement works to change the way our audiences see LGBTQ+ people. Sharing our stories in a variety of settings opens up a dialogue that enhances understanding and truly affects the climate of the places where we speak.

Our work also reaches other LGBTQ+ youth and adults who feel supported in their schools, workplaces, places of worship, and other community spaces when they hear our stories reflect some of their own experience. One of the leaders of an Employee Resource Group that hosted SpeakOUT at their Pride event shared their feelings:

“It’s been not even an hour since our event ended and I am already getting incredible feedback from so many colleagues here. I think the work that you are doing is beyond valuable, especially to an organization like ours. My goal for the year was to move the needle for our LGBT staff, and the three of you more than achieved that in only an hour. I personally cannot express my feelings toward you for how much your stories meant to me.”

SpeakOUT is one of the many LGBTQ+ organizations that educated the community about protecting transgender rights during the #YesOn3 campaign in 2018 and we continue to raise awareness about transgender experience beyond the ballot box. Societal acceptance takes education, and personal connection is often key to making that final step to understanding and empathizing with someone else.

SpeakOUT members led a panel at Suffolk University recently to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance.

In addition, SpeakOUT conducts private speaker trainings to help other organizations and activists enhance their public outreach skills, including LGBTQ+ youth groups and transgender activists in New Hampshire who successfully advocated for the passage of their own state’s transgender rights bill in 2018.

SpeakOUT also initiated an annual scholarship competition for LGBTQ+ undergraduates who live or study in the New England region to assist them with expenses for their studies. We’re committed to awarding at least two scholarships per year and hope through our fundraising we’ll be able to expand to additional scholarships. This end-of-year campaign is one way for our supporters to help ensure that happens in 2020!

Our bi-annual speaker trainings attract interested volunteers from throughout the Greater Boston region and beyond. Our fall training included folks from Vermont and New Hampshire who are deeply involved in their own LGBTQ+ activism and will be using their enhanced public speaking skills to advocate within their own communities. We love the opportunity to disseminate our storytelling techniques to help our community SPEAK OUT—no matter where they are doing it!

Our speakers also benefit from the act of sharing their stories and connecting with our audiences. Many of them find it a healing and confidence-building process to talk about the challenges and triumphs they have encountered throughout their lives.

“Being given the opportunity to talk about what makes me who I am is a gift. It is letting me revisit and work through issues that I had buried and it is letting me deal with the emotions that bubble up from that in a new and constructive way.”  

Some of our speakers have volunteered for SpeakOUT for ten, fifteen, and even twenty years! Whether they are speaking to high school students or within a corporate setting, they know that their stories can help create safer environments for LGBTQ+ people.

To keep us thriving we need your support. Please consider making a gift today to keep our training program strong and to help us provide a wide range of speakers to those spaces that still need LGBTQ+ awareness building—even in Massachusetts! On our Network for Good page you’ll have the choice of making a one-time gift or becoming a monthly or a quarterly donor, which is easy to set up and allows you to spread out your donation throughout the year in smaller increments.

Regardless of how you choose to give, thank you in advance for your generous support. Your support goes directly back into boosting awareness of the LGBTQ+ community as we share our #ProudStories!

We wish you the best in this holiday season as we all look forward to 2020 with strong hope of positive change and peace.

Michael Bookman, Board Chair & Meg Duberek, Vice Chair