Women’s History Month is coming to an end, and we’re wrapping up the celebration with two incredible sisters who are making a difference in their Arizona communities. Kathleen and Emily Yetman work every day to improve food systems, active transportation, and community design to build a healthier, thriving future for Arizonans. Kathleen is the Executive Director of the Prescott Farmers Market, and Emily is the Executive Director of Living Streets Alliance in Tucson. Learn more about this dynamic duo, the work they do, and their vision for Arizona communities:
What path led you to the work you do today?
Kathleen: Growing up, our parents stressed the importance of service. That looked like being in Girl Scouts, joining service clubs in middle school, volunteering in the community in high school, and serving with AmeriCorps in my twenties. Service was my roadmap to leading a nonprofit organization. I recognize that service is also a privilege, and that I wouldn't be where I am today without the safety net of family to catch me when I experienced hardships or chose to pursue alternative jobs.
Emily: Kathleen and I grew up in Prescott and were fortunate to spend a lot of time outside, building forts, playing in rock piles, climbing trees, and exploring. We also knew the people in our town, and understood that we were part of the community. Those things helped us grow up feeling deeply rooted in place and with a sense of connection to nature and to others.
We also had family down here in Tucson, and I remember being totally intoxicated by how full of life the streets were when we'd come visit. You could see people of all ages walking and biking by, at all hours of the day and night, hear the laughter of other kids from the school across the street, smell the citrus blossoms this time of year. My brother, sister, and I could walk a few blocks and find ourselves at a park or at Rincon Market. It was so striking to me, even as a kid, that I had access to the city around me, that it didn't require being escorted somewhere by my parents.
Eventually, many years later, my fascination with the outdoors, design, and public spaces led me to landscape architecture. I got a master’s degree from U of A, and over the course of my time there, I became more and more interested in the idea of streets as public space and how those spaces could help foster community. During that time the very first Cyclovia happened here (it was a grassroots effort -- Kathleen played a big part in that!), and 5,000 people showed up. It demonstrated that people want our streets to function like this every single day. They want to be able to get on a bike to go to school, instead of having to always use a car. They want to have places to walk to. They want opportunities for spontaneous social interactions and adventure. It became clear there were a lot of voices out there with a shared vision, but no mechanism for bringing them together to mobilize for positive change. That’s when Living Streets Alliance was born, and where I jumped in.
What brings you the greatest joy?
Kathleen: I experience joy when gardening or caring for my fruit trees on a sunny day with my two sons.
Emily: In my work, and in most aspects of my life, I am energized by collaboration. I love working with people on meaningful projects and outcomes. Collaboration is one of the most fulfilling and rich experiences I have, on an ongoing basis. I get to work with new people in new ways, learning so much in the process about myself and others too. Having an amazing team of co-leaders around me, helping make the world a better place – what could be better than that?!
What does it mean to be a mom engaging in this work?
Kathleen: First, I wouldn't be able to do this work without a community of friends and family supporting me. My parents frequently take care of my children so I can work. The question that seems to be on repeat in my head is, "Do I focus on raising my children to be kind adults who will change the world for the better, or do I work to make this world a place worthy of inheriting?" The answer of course is both, but it doesn't mean it's always easy. I frequently feel overwhelmed and resentful. I'm still finding the right balance and every day is different, but in general the solution for me is actually to further blur the lines between work and home. As working moms, I think the expectation is that when we're at work we focus completely on the tasks at hand and when we're at home we are 100% engaged in our family. That's impossible for me. Working in the nonprofit sector inherently requires flexibility and so does parenting. The paid work I do benefits my children and raising my children has given me a new lens through which I do that work. I show up, do my best and try to be kind and gentle with myself along the way.
Emily: Kathleen and I are both passionate about what we do. There's endless need, possibility, and potential, so sometimes there’s a temptation to do more…and more...like, if I could just get a few more hours in, I could get us closer to where I know we can go.
As a mom, I have anxiety about what the future holds for my children – with climate change, and a very polarized society. The work I’m doing gives me hope. The trick is finding balance; I want so badly for my children to have a good future, but I can’t let that future-oriented idea get in the way of being with them, in this moment.
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