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Elise DeGooyer seeks new avenues to work for justice

Elise DeGooyer reflects on her 10 years at Faith Action Network.


After 10 years as co-director and then executive director of the Faith Action Network (FAN) of Washington, Elise DeGooyer is seeking a new way to continue her commitment to justice.

"Like every position I have held, it will likely be a calling in human services and justice work," she said.

"As executive director, I worked with the staff and board to gather people of faith and conscience to have impact on politicians and communities," she said, "helping FAN live into being statewide and multifaith."

The FAN Board will work with a transition consultant, Rose Waterstone, to survey the FAN network stakeholders and determine future leadership and directions with the goal of having new leadership in place by fall.

In 2014, Elise started working with FAN as co-director with Paul Benz, who focused on public policy. He has formed Partners for Social Change to continue his work.

Her role with FAN has focused on administration, fundraising, development and finance.

Motivating her desire to change policies, she brought passion from being program manager for children's nutrition at Northwest Harvest statewide, from working with unhoused women at the Church of Mary Magdalene's Mary's Place and from research at the University of Washington (UW) School of Social Work on HIV-AIDs prevention for mostly women.

"Feeding programs, food banks, housing programs and homeless shelters all address problems that have policy solutions," she said. "We will only make the changes needed when we have political solutions to the problems."

At Northwest Harvest, Mary's Place and the UW, she saw the need for advocacy.

"While faith communities help people survive and provide care and compassion, they do not have the resources or time to address all the problems," Elise pointed out. "We need to go to the source of the problems and change policies that harm people."

Elise, who grew up in Yakima, graduated from Gonzaga University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and religious studies. She spent the next year as a Jesuit Volunteer at Father McKenna Center in Washington, D.C., when mental health care was deinstitutionalized, putting more people on the streets.

"I saw that there were few supports and no housing for people," said Elise, who observed that at that time there were few women or families who were homeless.

"It escalated from there because there was limited time for other social services to address systemic causes. More churches opened doors as food banks and shelters, and joined coalitions to address systemic issues," she pointed out.

She returned to Seattle to work in human services and run a food bank at the multicultural St. Mary's Catholic Church, where many came for food and emergency services.

After that, she helped start Sojourner Place, a shelter-to-transitional living program, sponsored by the Sisters of Providence.

Elise completed a master's degree in liberation theology and cross-cultural ministry at Maryknoll School of Theology in Ossining NY, in 1991.

"I have always sought to combine my faith with social justice and social change," she said.

At FAN, Elise worked with Paul Benz and Kristin Ang, who built relationships with legislators to drive policy changes based on values and priorities the FAN board and staff established.

To accomplish that, she helped FAN expand staff to 10—six full-time equivalency—to live into its goal of being statewide by hiring part-time regional organizers. They have expanded FAN's presence in Spokane, Tri-Cities/Yakima and Wenatchee.

The idea to have regional organizers developed when FAN helped with the 2020 census outreach, and identified trusted local people as messengers to promote COVID vaccinations.

Elise is proud of political changes she worked on with FAN, representing decades of advocacy.

For her, ending the death penalty and removing it from Washington state law was a major effort of the faith community for many decades.

"The governor called for a moratorium. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, but we needed to take it out of the law so another governor could not come and reinstate it," Elise said.

She was with a group of faith-based lobbyists when that law was signed, noting that one who had worked for that goal for 30 years sobbed at the accomplishment.

"It shows the power of persistence," she said. "Systemic change takes time and hard work."

Another long-term effort bore fruit in 2024. The Working Families Tax Credit passed 10 years ago but was not funded until last year and has provided much needed cash to people.

"There have been so many victories over the years, and it has been worth the effort," she said, referring people to the accomplishments listed at

In addition to reviewing action related to priorities of protecting the safety net, advancing immigrant and refugee rights, promoting economic justice, increasing affordable housing, addressing environmental justice, fostering civil rights, expanding access to health care and persevering for criminal justice reform, the page lists past legislative successes back to 2011.

Those include passing police accountability bills in 2018, supporting missing and murdered indigenous women, and protecting renters from eviction and rate increases.

Every year, FAN requests more money for the Housing Trust Fund, money faith communities can access when they build housing on their property.

FAN addresses many issues, Elise said.

"The agenda develops out of conversation with FAN's network, which is how we added climate change and environmental justice, youth mental health issues and gun responsibility," Elise said. "We are responsive to what faith communities are most interested in."

"It has been energizing and invigorating working with FAN," Elise said. "I have met amazing people across the state whose vision and faith inspires us to do incredible things."

For information, call 206-625-9790.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June 2024