Evergreen graduate Annie Blackledge ’97 has dedicated much of her adult life to public service, working in a variety of capacities to improve the lives of others and bring positive change to the world. Blackledge continues to do that in her current position as executive director of The Mockingbird Society, a position she has held since 2015.
Founded in 2000, The Mockingbird Society has developed into a vital component in the effort to improve the foster care system, and to end youth homelessness in Washington state. With seven chapters spread across the state, the organization helps young people who have personally experienced those issues improve the policies and measures designed to deal with them.
“It’s about making change in the system that has affected their life . . . I think too often in this country we make social policy in absence of the people it’s meant to serve,” says Blackledge.
Like the young people that Mockingbird works with, Blackledge knows the foster care system on a personal level, her knowledge of the system extending beyond her professional experience; she herself grew up in foster care in Buffalo, New York.
“I knew at 12 that no kid should have to go through what I was going through,” reflects Blackledge. “I made myself a promise that I would never let that happen to my kids.”
Blackledge has kept that promise—she has a son, to whom she provides a loving home—but she has also broadened the promise, working to advocate for and empower those who do wind up in the foster care system.
Blackledge knows from personal experience the powerful effect that a caring adult can have on a young person caught in an intensely difficult situation.
Throughout her youth, Blackledge encountered a variety of difficult challenges. High school was a particularly trying time for her. At one point, she found herself attending four different high schools in the span of just one year. The last of those was a Catholic school at which she met a nun, Sister Peter, who became her mentor. Sister Peter was a powerful influence in Blackledge’s life who—among other things—helped her finish high school, and apply for college.
As Blackledge prepared to enter college, she was drawn to Evergreen’s interdisciplinary model of learning. “Everything was contextual” she said. “That made a difference, and that was the big appeal to me of Evergreen, [that] and the fact that everything was interrelated.”
Once at Evergreen, Blackledge studied a variety of topics before graduating with an emphasis in public education. She credits her time at Evergreen with playing a major role in preparing her for a career in public service.
“I think it really helped inform my approach to working with young people, whether it be in direct service or at a policy level,” said Blackledge.
Of the skills Blackledge developed at Evergreen, she says that learning to debate ideas, strengthen arguments, and write persuasively are particularly important to her work today.
After graduating from Evergreen, Blackledge began her career in public service, throughout which she has served in a variety of roles, and acted as a catalyst for change at the local, state, and federal level.
Blackledge’s resume includes a four-year stint as a senior fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, where she worked through the philanthropic organization Casey Family Programs. While there, Blackledge helped develop federal legislation that benefitted children in the foster care system, as well as those experiencing youth homelessness.
Blackledge continues to push for policy reform related to those issues, and to help the many young people affected by those policies. She does this through her leadership role at The Mockingbird Society, where she devotes much of her time to strengthening the organization’s youth development programs, and on legislative and administrative advocacy.
The Mockingbird Society’s focus on empowering the young people they work with has succeeded in bringing about meaningful policy changes and initiatives, and has done wonders for allowing youth affected by foster care or homelessness to have a direct influence on efforts to help in those areas.
“I’ve seen the things that our young people have worked on really have teeth and be able to affect change because they’ve had a seat at the table,” said Blackledge.
For more on Annie Blackledge and The Mockingbird Society, please visit The Mockingbird Society.