There is more than one way to give to Clark
Two women, from different experiences, discover the rewards of volunteering for Clark’s alumni board and the Entrepreneur Club Pitch Fest
By Claire Sykes
“It’s a way for me to give back to the community.” That’s what Brittini Lasseigne ’05 says about volunteering on Clark College’s Alumni Board. While her gratitude and generosity connect her to a cause she cares about, her gifts of time and talent strengthen Clark’s own connection to the community.
There are many ways to contribute to or get involved with Clark, as Lasseigne shows. A director of philanthropy at the YWCA Clark County, in Vancouver, Wash., with 15 years working with nonprofits, Lasseigne joined the alumni board in the summer of 2018. She’s the first African American on the board.
“I came really open-minded to what the college was doing about diversity, and hoped to offer a fresh perspective as a person of color who understands what racial equity can look like,” Lasseigne said. “It’s important that the diversity of the board be reflective of the alumni we’re trying to engage. I don’t try to represent all African Americans, but with me on the board, maybe more people of color who are alumni will see Clark as a worthy investment.
Lasseigne, other alumni and friends of the college, are playing a critical role by being involved while Clark is in the midst of the largest fundraising campaign in its history. Promising Pathways: The Campaign for Clark College aims to raise $35 million to support eight initiatives—among them, programs in Advanced Manufacturing and Cuisine Management, as well as scholarships. Another is guided pathways, a national model carried out at more than 200 community colleges. Here, academic and professional advisers support students in their specific academic, career and financial plans, while addressing disparities of equity, diversity and inclusion, and other barriers. The Promising Pathways campaign furthers Clark’s efforts to position itself in the vanguard of higher education social equity.
One need not be an alumna to get involved or give financially. Carol Parker-Walsh, J.D., Ph.D., is a small-business owner who didn’t attend Clark. Yet, as a professional consultant for women at midlife, and based in Camas, Wash., she chose to volunteer at Clark, “because Clark grounds students in a practical, real-life education. It’s done so much for the community where I live,” she said.
Parker-Walsh has served in top-level positions with Clark County and been active in the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, she was recognized with the Southwest Washington Women of Achievement Award, now called the Iris Awards, for her diversity-development presentations and trainings throughout the Pacific Northwest. As a consultant, she works with successful, professional women who dream of doing what they love, from local corner-office CEOs to winners of Grammy Awards.
“I help them identify their purpose and bring it into alignment with all the pieces of themselves that make them brilliant and amazing on this earth, so they can do what they’re meant to do and give that to the world,” Parker-Walsh said.
A best-selling author and international speaker, Parker-Walsh also brings to Clark more than 30 years in executive-level leadership, human resources, corporate and organizational consulting, higher education and work as a practicing attorney. In class lectures and panel discussions, and as a judge for Clark’s Pitch Fest, sponsored by the student-led Entrepreneur Club, she fuels students’ dreams.
“I help them ask themselves the deeper questions, about who they are through what they do and the impact they want to make in the world from their businesses.”
It’s a quest Parker-Walsh has pursued since childhood: “I always had a vision of the different things I could do with my future, and was able to ask, ‘What would I need to do to do that?’”
She grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., with a postmaster father who told her she could achieve anything she wanted in life, and a mother who taught her how to dress and behave for any social situation. When they divorced, she moved to Chicago with her mother and two of her siblings. It was there that Parker-Walsh studied and practiced employment law. Her own divorce hurled her west with a master’s in organizational management and behavior, followed by a doctorate in human development and social systems.
By then, Parker-Walsh was a single mother in her 30s. “I’d been wrestling with how others saw me, single and black, yet also highly educated. Those two identities are so disparate. I was trying to figure out where I belonged.”
Her two kids were in the car with her the day it happened, in 2006, on a then-two-lane road in Camas. Parker-Walsh literally heard a voice in her head saying “Turn!” On the right was a drop-off to a ravine, on the left, oncoming traffic flanked by a hill. If she had continued straight, the drunk driver would’ve surely killed them all. A month and three surgeries later, leaving her with permanent steel rods and screws in her leg and shoulder, Parker-Walsh saw the analogy in the accident.
“When we’re faced with two scary options, we can be unsure as to which one to choose and so we don’t. But what becomes clear is to not continue in the same direction,” she said.
In 2008, remarried, Parker-Walsh was making a high salary and traveling the world when her father’s death stopped her long enough to contemplate her life.
“I was miserable. I felt like I was dying inside.” Two weeks later, she quit her job.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” she said. “When you lean in to who you are, into your purpose and what you’re meant to do in the world, the universe puts the stepping stones in front of you as you walk.”
Those stones have been there for Parker-Walsh since childhood. But for Lasseigne, born in Lewiston, Idaho, growing up in various places around the Northwest and as far away as Saudi Arabia, it was rocky, dangerous terrain. Several times she witnessed domestic violence in her family, whose poverty had them turning to nonprofits. Looking back, she also sees in herself “a kid who wanted to make sure that people were included and had someone to talk to, and that they felt loved.”
As a high school student, Lasseigne entered Running Start at Clark, a program allowing eligible junior and seniors to earn college credit. Here she took her first psychology course, where she enjoyed learning about what motivates people to think and act the way they do. Stepping stones finally began to appear.
“I felt called to become a psychologist and work with children who’d been sexually assaulted, given everything that had happened in my life,” Lasseigne said.
At the end of her junior year at Washington State University Vancouver, Lasseigne became pregnant and dropped out to have her baby. Three years later, she returned to finish her degree. But first, she volunteered for YWCA Clark County, and soon landed an AmeriCorps post working with foster youth. Then she volunteered at the organization’s auction and life took another turn.
“It was my first time at a fundraiser, and I was blown away by the generosity of so many people participating in something that would benefit some of the most vulnerable people in the community. You could really feel the joy in the room,” Lasseigne said.
To learn more about how you can become a volunteer at Clark or a mentor for students, contact Kelsey Hukill, director of alumni relations at 360.992.2767.
She went on to work at a group home for foster boys. She also kept thinking about that fundraiser. Later, she realized that instead of direct services with nonprofits, she could use her skills on the administrative side. At the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, from 2008-2012, Lasseigne led its teen-leadership program, supported other programs, planned events and wrote grants. Next for her was a job as director of fundraising and communications at Innovative Housing, Inc., a Portland affordable housing property developer, while serving on the board of Vida’s Ark, a home for pregnant and parenting teens. At the YWCA since March 2017, Lasseigne has led the fundraising efforts for its programs in domestic violence, sexual assault, foster care and early childhood education for low-income families.
Currently, volunteering for Leadership Clark County’s Leadership Development Program, she’s exploring “how diversity plays into leadership, and the implicit biases that affect you as a leader and how you interact with people,” Lasseigne said.
She finds that one of those biases is against leaders themselves. “I don’t see a lot of people of color in senior-level positions in my field, only entry level. Because of this, at one point I wasn’t sure if I could be successful in my career.”
Then Lasseigne attended the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2018 international conference. “That was the first time I’d been surrounded by so many people who looked like me. It told me I’m in the right place, and it inspired me to reach out and be more involved in professional opportunities for people of color in my field,” she said.
Clark as a catalyst
When Lasseigne was invited to be on Clark’s alumni board, she thought about Running Start. “Clark provided a really critical piece for me when I wasn’t all that positive about my life or sure what my future looked like. I had teachers and advisers helping me, taking a real interest in students’ lives,” she said. That first psychology class planted the seeds of a career now blossoming for her, while offering generosity to others.
“Now, if I can engage alumni in contributing to Clark’s Promising Pathways campaign, and also reach more alumni of color, then I can make a difference in others’ lives, as well,” Lasseigne said.
Meanwhile, as Parker-Walsh “helps steward women into a higher version of themselves,” her involvement with Clark helps elevate its standing in the community as a higher-education leader.
“When students have the place and space to gain practical skills and apply what they’re learning, it gives them a head start. Their success only reflects well on the college, allowing for its continued growth,” she said.
The college and its students aren’t the only ones who benefit from those with big hearts who give. When Clark thrives, then the community as a whole is thriving.
Claire Sykes is a Portland, Oregon-based writer whose articles appear in Philanthropy, Ruralite and many alumni publications including Washington State Magazine, and those for M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the Oregon Community Foundation. Visit www.sykeswrites.com.