Thank You For Being Such A Vital Part Of Our Team, Rachel Siegel We Look Forward To Sharing More About You So Others Can Get To Know You Better!
Tell us a bit about your backstory and what lead you down your current life path.
My husband and I worked hard to become parents, and when we adopted our first child 19 years ago, I couldn’t bear to leave her with a nanny and go back to work, so I became a stay-at-home mom. But I knew I needed to keep my brain sharp and give back to the community, so I began to volunteer at various organizations. I had worked in the publishing industry for 12 years, so I started out by editing and designing the newsletter for an area adoption organization. After 10 years, I needed a change, so I stepped down from that and started doing the weekly electronic newsletter for my synagogue. I was asked to join the synagogue board of directors and began to run the Marketing Committee. While doing that, I learned how to build and maintain a website; run print advertising, Google Ads campaigns, and Facebook Ads campaigns; creating flyers; writing press releases; and other marketing tasks. I also successfully applied for several big grants on behalf of my synagogue. From there, I started doing foundation and federal grant writing for a domestic violence shelter. A friend and I created a new website for an organization that helps young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities find employment, and now I am chair of that organization’s Communications Committee. I think of myself as a professional volunteer.
What or who inspired you to pursue your major/career?
I have always loved to read, and that’s how I ended up double majoring in English and History and then getting an M.A. in English Literature. Editing is just a natural extension of loving to read.
What is one thing you are most proud of achieving in your life?
If there is one thing I am proud of as a parent, it’s that I have modeled to my children and to our extended family and friends that it is OK for my children to love both our family and their birth families; that they are allowed to feel conflicted about being adopted; that being adopted can be a trauma that needs to be processed along with the “regular” issues that children face as they grow and develop their own sense of identity; and that transracial adoption, in particular, raises many issues for children.
If there is one thing I am proud of professionally, it is the number of grants I have been able to help secure for the organizations with which I volunteer. I love the idea of being able to convince foundations and government agencies to give my organizations money using just my words.
What keeps you motivated? What maintains your passion for and commitment to the work you are doing?
One of the gifts of being a professional volunteer is that I can pick and choose the projects that motivate me. That being said, I just love the idea of being able to make the world a better place.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In some ways, my volunteer journey really picked up speed when I started volunteering at my synagogue and met Jeffrey Wallk. Jeff was president of the synagogue at the time, and he saw something in me that nobody had seen before. He saw what I was already capable of doing, but he also saw in me a capacity to learn. He definitely has taught me skills, but I also think he taught me to think bigger.
Why did you choose to be a professional volunteer for Educate. Radiate. Elevate.?
I chose to get involved because Jeff suggested that the organization could use my grant writing experience to help get off the ground. I pretty much do whatever Jeff tells me to do!
What about the Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s Purpose, Mission, and Core Values speaks most to you and why?
I am the parent of two kids of color and perhaps that makes me more aware of the structural inequities that are built into our educational system than your typical white suburban mom.
Share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started volunteering.
Well, I have a new project going on right now that involves improving water quality in the State of Illinois. One Thursday night in April, I learned that a Glenview homeowners association was planning to trap and kill a pair of beavers living in their water retention ponds because of the tree damage they had caused. The HOA was planning to use underwater traps, which trap beavers underwater where they eventually drown. Starting that night, a group of animal-loving friends and I mobilized. We put together a Facebook group, talked to the media, planned a rally, and told everyone that the tree damage could be easily remediated without resorting to lethal methods by wrapping tree trunks with wire mesh and planting evergreens. Because of the outcry from the community, and because of the information that we shared about underwater trapping and non-lethal remediation of beaver damage, the HOA decided not to kill the beavers. While trying to figure out how to save the Glenview beavers, my group, the Glenview Beavers Fan Club, started to learn a lot about beavers. And what we found was amazing! Beavers are a keystone species; their wetlands habitats–which they engineer–allow other animals, fish, birds, and amphibians to flourish. Healthier rivers and more wetlands in the State of Illinois would help prevent flooding; improve water quality; raise the level of the water table; absorb and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and protect our rivers from agricultural runoff, which then enters the Mississippi River and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a huge dead zone. The solution is “low-tech process-based (LTPB) restoration of riverscapes” to restore the health of our rivers and create wetlands. LTPB restoration (the practice of using simple, low unit-cost, structural additions–e.g. wood and beaver dams–to riverscapes to mimic functions and promote specific processes; and then letting the beavers work their wetlands-creating and water-purifying magic) costs a fraction of conventional river restoration. So my attempt to save two little beavers has blossomed into a large effort to lobby Illinois legislators and agencies to adopt these new strategies so beavers will be valued. Check out our website to learn more!
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
I think the most enjoyable thing is when people value my work and skills. I enjoy being able to take complex concepts and distill them down in a way that is accessible and understandable.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Right now? Work on my beaver project and watch TV with my husband.
Tell about an amazing trip you took. Where did you go and what did you enjoy most?
The most amazing trip I have ever taken was to Normandy, France, with my husband and daughter to see the D Day landing beaches. We hired a private tour guide and he took us to the most amazing places–not just the American cemetery and Omaha beach but to Pointe du Hoc and St. Mere Eglise. As a history buff, it was incredible.
If you were granted three wishes, what would they be and why?
My wishes would be political in nature. I would wish that Mitch McConnell would die and go to hell. I would wish that the Republican party would never win another presidential election. And I would wish for universal health care in the United States.
Is there something exciting you are working on now? What is it and why did you choose to start it?
Yes, my beaver project is super exciting.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? What is it and why did it resonate with you?
There are so many books that I love and reread multiple times. I will take this opportunity to plug the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Historical fiction with a dash of time travel.
Share one professional development goal and one personal goal you have for the upcoming year.
I have been invited to visit the Tulalip Tribes’ beaver relocation program in the State of Washington. Do you know how wildlife experts can tell the sex of a beaver? Unless a mother beaver is nursing, it is impossible to determine the sex of a beaver visually. Instead, researchers nudge the beaver into a cloth sack head first, turn the beaver upside down, and squeeze secretions out of his or her anal glands. Then they give the secretions a sniff. If it smells like motor oil, the beaver is a boy. If it smells like old cheese, the beaver is a female. I would like to experience sexing a beaver. I guess you could say that is both a professional and a personal goal.
The road to success is difficult and requires tremendous dedication. What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
If you want to be a professional volunteer, marry someone nice who makes a lot of money. 😉
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
Well, the movement to incorporate low-tech, process-based river restoration into our state and our country’s policies would result in much cleaner water and healthier river systems, which would benefit all of us.
Please share your favorite Life Lesson quote. How is it relevant to your life?
Everything happens for a reason, but sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and you make bad decisions. It’s relevant because we all need to take responsibility for our actions instead of playing the victim.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch and why? He/she might just see this! 🙂
Melinda Gates so I could convince her to support low-tech, process-based river restoration.