I would not be the kind of neighbor I am today had I not met Betsy Hoffmeister in 2009. We had lived in North Delridge for a couple of years, and with two kids to care for, I spent most of my days at the park or walking them around the neighborhood.
We were a one car family, so we stuck around Delridge most of the time, and though I didn’t like our dilapidated playground with it’s missing bolts and rusty metal structures, the swings worked just fine. One day while pushing my kids on the swings, I saw Betsy talking with two large men while wrangling her two kids. I was impressed as her kids came to join us on the swings and treated each other with kindness (not too common among siblings). And, I wondered what was going on, but was too shy to ask.
A month or so later, the reader board at the community center read something like, “Come Design Our New Playground. Free Dinner.” So, I walked into the meeting after making dinner and leaving my husband to watch the kids. What I didn’t expect was that I would leave the meeting having signed up to be the Public Relations Chair for the playground build!
Betsy literally rallied that meeting to find folks to stand up and help create a new playground within 3 months!
The experience left me knowing that I had to stay involved in the neighborhood to help it change to a place I wasn’t complaining about. So, I wanted to talk to Betsy about how and why she does what she does – and tell her how much she has inspired me…
I asked Betsy how she became involved in rebuilding the playground in the first place…
I did the SNAP training years ago, and it just freaked me out. All of that disaster prep that needed to be done got me pretty involved into meeting the neighbors. I really believe that if neighbors know one another we can reduce and prevent crime, enjoy one another with events like the neighborhood cider press, Night Out, Delridge Days, and neighborhood clean ups, and also support one another during power outages and floods. I used to be really active on the neighborhood council to help make sure the neighborhood is a good place for people to live.
So, after working fairly fruitlessly with the city of Seattle to try and make the playground at Cottage Grove more suitable for younger kids, the folks at KaBoom, a playground development organization, got ahold of me and said, “We want to build a playground at Delridge Community Center, do you want to participate?” And I said yes. It seemed logical to go with the project that was going to work rather than to keep tilting at windmills at Cottage Grove.
The details are a blur, but we got a group of neighbors together, put our heads together, and did it. Sometimes you just have to make things happen.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently the President of the Board of Directors of La Leche League of Washington State (an organization that provides breastfeeding support for families), which is why I dropped off the radar in the neighborhood.
It’s a lot of work. One of the big initiatives that we’re looking at right now is equity in breastfeeding support. So, we’re looking at who we are as Leaders and what we’re doing to try to meet the needs of every breastfeeding person in Washington state. We are asking, “What communities aren’t we reaching? Why not? What can we do to change that?” I’ve learned a lot about social justice and equity in the past two years and it’s something I’m really passionate about right now.
One time we were driving home and I slowed down to wave and greet a stranger. One of my kids said “Mom! Why do you have to talk to EVERYONE!” and I said “That’s how we build community. People feel welcomed if they’re greeted, and if they’re up to no good, they’re less likely to do it someplace they’ve been seen and greeted.” Just doing my part.