A Commitment to Community

Foundation’s investment bears fruit in Tacoma.

“If you want to know what Evergreen’s success in Tacoma looks like, you need to meet Merrill Williams."

That’s a ringing endorsement—particularly when it comes from Olga Inglebritson ‘08, MPA ‘12, managing director of The Evergreen State College—Tacoma. She’s as plugged into Evergreen Tacoma as it gets. And over the years, she’s noted The Evergreen State College Foundation’s impressive commitment to student success in the “City of Destiny,” where the student population is older and more culturally diverse.

Foundation scholarships benefited Williams ‘17, who took time out from her 2017 Washington State Legislative Internship to talk about her experience with Evergreen Tacoma.

“Let me take you back a few years,” Williams says. “If you’d met me then, you wouldn’t recognize me. I was on crack. Trapped in an abusive relationship. And I couldn’t see a way out of that. I was tired of running, tired of leaving, tired of worrying.”

“On July 4, 2011, I was holed up in a motel,” she continues. “The fireworks in the distance sounded like gunshots to me. I was so afraid. My son called me then, and his voice was exactly what I needed to hear. I realized I still had a chance.”

And from that moment forward, Williams made the most of each and every chance afforded to her. She cleaned up and began taking classes at South Puget Sound Community College. For the first time in a long time, Williams had a goal: to get her bachelor’s degree.

Her hard work in community college paid dividends when she applied for and received the David L. Hitchens Scholarship in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen and enrolled at Evergreen Tacoma. Hitchens, an Evergreen founding faculty member, created the scholarship in honor of his mother, who instilled in him a passion for lifelong learning.

A Heart for Activism

Evergreen Tacoma’s motto, “Enter to learn, depart to serve,” appealed to Williams’s activist spirit. She was delighted to discover that she’d get to study the relationship between police and the Tacoma community.

“I’m an activist first,” Williams says. “My internship is teaching me the inner workings of the legislature— how to create change from within.”

As an intern for Sen. Bob Hasegawa of the 11th District, Williams balances a packed itinerary. She answers calls, reads and replies to constituent letters, sits in on committee meetings, crafts reflective papers for her Evergreen coursework, and more.

Williams speaks glowingly of Evergreen Tacoma and donors who helped make her scholarship possible. “People who give of themselves like that—we need more of them in this world,” Williams says. “It’s a domino effect. They helped me, and it’s up to me to do the rest.”

Growing with the Community

Inglebritson sees a positive future for Evergreen in Tacoma with increased philanthropic support complementing the college’s recent transition from renting to owning there.

“The fact that we own our building outright speaks volumes about Evergreen’s level of commitment to the Tacoma Program and the community that gave us our start,” Inglebritson says.

“We started here in the Hilltop neighborhood, and it’s where we’d like to stay. We’ve grown organically with this community, and it’s important to continue serving students here.”

Forging Vital Partnerships

Amanda Walker, Executive Director of The Evergreen State College Foundation, agrees. And she views an endowed fund established by Pam Mayer, in honor of her late husband Kurt Mayer, a Tacoma business leader who leased and whose family eventually sold Evergreen Tacoma’s building to the college, as a sign of great things to come. The endowment will eventually fund four scholarships a year for deserving students in need.

“Generous friends like the Mayer family have taken an increased interest in supporting Evergreen students in Tacoma, which is tremendously heartening,” Walker says. “Such supportive relationships are mutually beneficial for the college and the community."

With robust scholarships and endowed funds helping people like Williams reach their potential, and the local community rallying around our school, the future looks bright for Evergreen students in Tacoma.

If these stories inspire you to give to Evergreen, visit evergreen.edu/give or call (360) 867-6300.