The United Way family is full of people who are dedicated to the mission—and still there are those that stand out. Neil Powers is one whose commitment to social justice, the right to housing and core belief that we should be kind went above and beyond made an indelible impact on everyone who met, and worked with, him. Neil passed away September 11, 2018 and while he left the team more than two years ago to explore his beloved Canada, we miss him dearly.
Neil joined the team when the community was adding more than 2,000 units of supportive housing for people who were chronically homeless. He worked with direct service partners to make the most of every donor dollar so that wrap around services—like onsite nursing and case management—were fully funded. From going on donor calls to poring over spreadsheets, Neil made sure we were serving the absolute most people possible.
“Neil Powers was a smart, talented and politically savvy leader who was fiercely committed to social justice. His rich knowledge of housing policies from his work at Seattle City Hall and throughout Canada helped push our thinking about the strategies and resources necessary to bring people indoors. Neil pushed me to be a better colleague, friend and champion for people experiencing homelessness. We need more Neils in this world.” –Lauren McGowan, our director of ending homelessness
Neil worked for years with our city and county partners, so when we rolled out a new Vulnerability Assessment to ensure all providers served the most vulnerable first, Neil was top choice to get the job done. He was often the first in internal meetings to remind us that while yes, return on investment’, ‘assessment’ and ‘evaluation’ were all key, important terms – we were definitely still talking about people. Moms, dads, brothers and sisters who had individual stories and circumstances. And, because he spent time getting to know people – he was often sharing those stories as a way to keep the conversation grounded.
At the office, he brought Fresh flowers, from the market to the front reception area every week. Every. Week. When he was away on vacation, he made arrangements to have someone else deliver the flowers – truly, not a week went by when we weren’t fully donned in freshness. He also regularly brought in bagels and baked goods from the best bakeries for all of us, sharing his foodie tendencies and tastes
When he left United Way for the great white north, ever thoughtful, he paid for and threw his own going away party because he wanted everyone to enjoy it and didn’t want to shirk the responsibility of planning and cleaning up to others. That thoughtfulness was Neil’s hallmark, it’s how we remember him and it’s how we will honor his memory with kindnesses both big and small.