After 15 years of involvement with the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH), Emma Amiad has stepped down as president, and Mary Van Gemert is filling the role beginning this month.
Amiad is retiring later this year and stepped aside as part of that process.
Van Gemert, a longtime family law lawyer, has been involved with the Interfaith Council board this past year, representing Vashon’s Unitarian Fellowship, and agreed to take on this larger role.
“I am just getting my feet wet, back in the social service area and happy about it. I am feeling at home and optimistic,” she said recently, also noting that Vashon has some very serious social concerns, including homelessness and hunger.
Van Gemert is currently on the Vashon Senior Center board and has a long history of community engagement.
In the 1970s, she was involved with the Seattle Indian Center’s legal services program and in the 1980s, was president of the Neighborhood House board, which provided social services to the five large public housing communities in Seattle at that time. In the 1990s, she was on the board of the Seattle Housing Authority.
“I have a longstanding interest in affordable housing,” she said.
The council works with islanders who are homeless or at the risk of becoming homeless and provides a variety of assistance, ranging from help with rent and utilities to assistance paying for prescription drugs or car repairs. It also sponsors the daily free meals program at island churches, which an array of volunteers prepare.
Board members of IFCH typically field requests for assistance daily, Amiad said — a situation that is getting worse.
“It is an ongoing, never-ending problem,” she said. “The need is only increasing as the cost of housing has gone up. That is scary and is driving a lot of the charity work here.”
With Amiad, Nancy Vanderpool is one of the founding members of the council. She does most of the boots-on-the-ground work in assisting people with their needs.
“We have grown this into quite a large organization that has fantastic support” she said, noting that she is sad to see Amiad leave, but understands her wish to retire. “We have had many wonderful years working together and built an organization that has many supporters and volunteers. It has been really good work.”
That work will continue just as it has for years.
Amiad said it was an honor to have served as the IFCH president for such a long time. But she added that there are many people on the island who believe people in this community who are homeless somehow brought it on themselves.
“That is so wrong. Most of our homeless grew up here,” she said. “They are our family. It’s easy to support the arts or conservation or heritage sites. It’s really hard to care about those whose salary never stretches far enough, or whose loss of a job puts them on the street. I commend all of our 600 meal providers, dozens of shower volunteers and the hard work of a few dedicated folks who work so hard to keep our families in a home and give our homeless some hope.”
— Susan Riemer