Happy International Women’s Day! We are celebrating today by sharing inspiring, thoughtful interviews with two of Open Arms’ women leaders. Read the full interview with CEO Leah Hébert Welles below, and check out our interview with Board Chair Chandra Torgerson here.
How long have you been with Open Arms, and what brought you to your current role at OAM?
I started in 2013 as the Executive Director and have been here almost 8 years. I had known about OAM for a long time, but the position opening was perfect timing. I was looking for an urban organization with a deep connection in the community and found that here!
What is your favorite aspect of your current role at Open Arms?
I love helping this organization grow and do more! It is so exciting to see what we can accomplish. And I love hearing and (still) learning about the incredible impact our food has in people’s lives. Our clients share some of the most moving stories with us — and they stay with me. The man who ate an OAM pastry as his last meal before he passed away, the woman who gained the weight she needed from our meals in order to stay in her home with her aging husband — we are so lucky to be part of people’s lives in this way.
In honor of this year’s theme #ChoosetoChallenge, how do you personally choose to challenge?
I like to challenge people’s perception of what a woman leader is, or what people think they know about women as leaders. I also like to challenge the status quo. I HATE the words “this is the way we have always done it.” The status quo is not good enough — we should always strive to be better, to do more, to be more diverse, to be try new things.
How have you handled challenges you’ve been presented with in your careers or life in general?
I was a single mom at age 17. I brought my daughter to college with me, and there were many, many days we struggled to pay bills and had little food in the fridge. Challenges make you who you are. I literally would not be here in this moment at Open Arms, or who I am, without those days. I know what it is like to ask for help and be treated with respect, and I know what it is like to be treated like you are nothing but a problem. I carry that with me every day and turn it into something good.
What advice would you like to share with our future women leaders?
Listen to the women who have come before you. Learn your history. Never think you are the smartest person in the room. Never settle. Always remember the big picture. Learn how to do it by yourself. But then find some other great people to do it with.