Special Feature: Two Asian American Women CEOs of nonprofits in
Madison, Wisconsin
In your own words, what is your agency trying to accomplish and what programs do you operate to achieve that goal?
Ensure children and their caregivers and families recover from trauma experiences, including child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, child sexual
abuse, community violence, serious accidents, natural disasters, grief/loss, drug endangered families, child sex trafficking, incarceration, homelessness
and parent-child relationship/attachment challenges. We want to ensure each child and caregiver lives to their full potential and be able to sustain safety,
health (social, emotional, cognitive and physical) wellness, as well as the ability to experience joy, beauty, happiness and to be productive and resourceful
in life skills. We have several different programs across the full continuum of services including onsite emergency crisis response, early intervention,
specialized trauma recovery and prevention services.

Established in 1980, the Rainbow Project staff team members were ahead of their time in offering specialized trauma services for young children, infants
through 11 years of age and their caregivers and families. Now, science has shown through early childhood brain development and neurobiology, that the
work Rainbow Project staff have been providing, is now best-practice and evidence-based. The community based, strength-based model has also
emphasized a consumer-centered, culturally- proficient focus. The non- traditional mental health service model was developed as an alternative to the
traditional medical model. The Rainbow model blends advocacy, case management and interagency coordination with other agencies including schools,
early childhood programs, housing, community/neighbourhood centers, even the courts and law enforcement, as well as incorporating the well-
researched clinical and behavioural health prevention and intervention approaches.

We are able to tailor a service plan for each child/adult/family. Many older children and adults stop by our clinic to thank us for helping them recover from
earlier trauma experiences. We cannot change the tragedies that they experienced but we can facilitate healing and resiliency.

Briefly, talk about your educational and professional journey that led you to your current position. –
I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in the Hyde Park area, where I attended elementary school. I finished middle school in the Uptown area and
attended high school in Rogers Park. I then attended a Chicago junior college and soon transferred to Roosevelt University and the Art Institute of
Chicago, with a degree in Fine Arts and Art Education. For my MS degree I attended UW Madison. I think living in poverty and strong racial resentment after
World War II was not easy for my family and other resettled Japanese Americans. Scholarships were essential to finish my education. With the exception
of the UW at the time, each of the other educational institutions I attended was diverse, including the neighborhoods I grew up in. My first job after my BA
degree was teaching as an educational therapist in special education utilizing my skills as an art  therapist. Upon moving to Madison, I attended graduate
school at the UW in school psychology and while attending I was teaching at a local early childhood preschool. We successfully submitted and secured a
two-year grant from the Wisconsin Council on Criminal Justice to start the Rainbow Project. We secured local funding after the two-year grant ended and
now celebrate nearly 38 years of serving the Madison/Dane County community. I think my background helped me realize how not belonging and how not
being taken seriously as well as living in poverty can keep so many families stuck.

What are some of the opportunities that you have experienced as the CEO of your organization? –
First and foremost, as CEO of a non-profit, it is definitely an incredibly rewarding and exciting job! Definitely challenging and perhaps that is why it is so
rewarding. If it were easy the rewards would not be as great in providing opportunities for growth personally and professionally. I recall starting out with
desks we took off the street and all the furniture and office and program supplies donated. With 2.5 FTE staff, I had to do all the bookkeeping, fundraising,
volunteer recruiting and supervision and carry a consumer caseload. Working as a team is essential and that is something that came easier for me
culturally than perhaps majority groups that came from individualistic western cultures. I learned that having a solid sense of oneself is essential in
being adaptable in different social/business settings. Growth in my professional field of passion was also essential. Although diversity was limited when I
moved to Madison, I was able to continue to develop a personal and professional network among Asian, Latin, Native and African American individuals on
a local and statewide, national and international level through groups such as the Wisconsin Women of Color Network, Wisconsin Organization for Asian
Americans, Women in Focus.

What are some of the challenges that you have experienced as the CEO of your organization? –
Most pressing and consistent is the need to ensure funding support for services that we know are effective in helping children and families prosper and
recover from the traumatic event(s) they have experienced, sometimes impacting several generations. Some of the funding systems for public dollars are
separated when it is not a matter of one or the other area of funding such as housing or substance abuse treatment or employment. It is a matter of
coordination to provide comprehensive solutions that include healthcare, childcare, trauma recovery and education.

Have you hit your head against the glass ceiling or experienced sexual harassment and if so, how did you effectively deal with it? –
Oh yes, definitely. I do not want to present as a martyr as there are many folks who have experienced and overcome adversity, challenges and barriers.
Often, in the Asian community, the double ceiling is referred to as the “glass ceiling” of gender and the “bamboo ceiling” related to being Asian American.
Not being heard when speaking up, whether in a meeting or individual situation is common and appears from across genders and yet is amplified when
you are an Asian woman. And when you speak assertively, firmly, you may be received with resentment for being too bold, too aggressive, too controlling
or arrogant. I recall in a job interview that the principal of a school stated he had heard that “….oriental women made great wives”. Needless to say, in a
job interview applicants are checking out and interviewing the interviewer, as well and I did not accept the job at this school. In terms of promotions, I had
been told I would be “out of my league” in running an agency. Even as a student at the UW-Madison, verbal assaults and comments were common. A
professor in graduate school stated that there would soon be too many of the yellow race taking over the country. At a popular campus restaurant being
called “Yoko Ono”, “Suzy Wong” or worse, often in stereotyped accents instead of my name. I recall a car load of UW white male students riding along side
of me down Gorham yelling “ching chong chinamen” to me and slanting their eyes. I had had a bad day and didn’t respond maturely or effectively. I yelled
back some things that were not nice and drove my car alongside them for quite a while. When I finally stopped my car, I was shaking and upset and
realized  becoming like them is not the answer. It was not good for my health and safety and to attaining my own goals.

Salaries in any job were and still are often inequitable for females whether they be teachers, waitresses, therapists and child care providers. Somehow
the old idea was that the male was the breadwinner and had a heavier burden to carry so received higher pay. I also see the added challenge of
employees of non- profits not being compensated fairly as if there is justification for less pay because one knows what we are getting into and we do the
work we do because we are so dedicated. On the other hand, I have been consistently fortunate to have mentors, supporters and colleagues over the
years who have been invaluable as support and advisors.

What leadership qualities do you bring to your position? –
I believe I possess a determination, a passion and a confidence that is open to input and dialog with others and a desire to work together with maximum
fairness and integrity to help fulfill the organization’s mission. I believe in working in partnership, whether it be with colleagues, co-workers, consumers or
funding source representatives. I believe a certain degree of sacrifice is needed for those in a leadership position but in balance also is an ability to
practice self-care and good role modeling and decision making. I am constantly in awe of the courage of the consumers we work with and I am proud and
honored to be a small part of their lives and to be a part of a very noble profession. I also have the ability to build trusting relationships, educate and learn
from others and communicate with respect and directness and accountability.
Sharyl Kato
Director & Child & Family
The Rainbow Project
Size of Agency Annual Budget – $1,241,334
Number of Staff – 20
By Jonathan Gramling
Renee Moe
President & CEO
United Way of
Dane County
Size of Agency Annual Budget - $20,685,828
Number of Staff – 64 FTEs and 1,000+
community volunteers
In your own words, what is your agency trying to accomplish and what programs do you operate to achieve that goal? -
United Way’s mission is to unite the community to achieve measurable results and change lives. We focus on the 64,000 children, women and men in
poverty living in Dane County, with some support for the additional 100,000+ who are asset limited, income constrained and employed. With the current
resources we’re able to raise, we estimate we’re reaching about 1/3 of families who are working their way toward stability. We also work to strengthen a
sense of community and empowerment for the full population of Dane County, creating relationships and opportunities to understand community issues
and engage in being part of positive change.

We fight for the education, financial stability and health of everyone in Dane County, believing that education, income, health and how we treat each other
are the building blocks of a stable life, and ultimately a thriving community. Collaboration is core to our work, and we partner with non-profits and many
others to design cross-sector strategies to reduce and eliminate the root causes of economic and racial disparity and increase family stability.
Additionally, we tell our community’s stories, analyze data, and engage in change-making through giving, advocacy and volunteerism, most notably
through partnerships with business and individuals through workplace-based campaigns.

Most important, we tie those two components together and evaluate/report  effectiveness, learning and progress. To create the community we all want and
expect, we know we need to work together. Our tagline is the power of many, working for all.

Briefly, talk about your educational and professional journey that led you to your current position. –
While at UW Madison, I worked on a class project for the Partners in Giving (State, UW-Madison and UW Health) employee campaign. United Way staff
was involved, and they recruited me for an internship at United Way, which turned into a permanent position. With great support and mentorship from
many in our community, I was promoted a number of times, earned an MBA from UW-Madison, and in 2016 after a nation-wide search, was hired into the
role of President and CEO. It is a huge honor and responsibility to serve our community in this role.

What are some of the opportunities that you have experienced as the CEO of your organization? –
Working with exceptional professional staff, alongside our committed volunteers and effective partners provides a comprehensive view of how our
community works — and where we need to do better. United Way is an intersection where the community can meet to understand some of our most
complex issues from different perspectives, and therefore create meaningful and measureable change together.

What are some of the challenges that you have experienced as the CEO of your organization? –
The revenue model of large businesses forcing top down employee support of United Way is long gone. (Thank goodness.) Matching donor interests with
community change initiatives that actually make a difference are not always congruent. Donors have needs, nonprofits have needs, and families working
toward stability have needs, and they aren’t always in alignment. Educating and building shared understanding that respects all stakeholders takes time
and trust. I have an inner-drive to get more done, and as CEO, I have to understand that patience and working with and through others to achieve more
together than we can alone is how to create change that sticks for the long-term.

Have you hit your head against the glass ceiling or experienced sexual harassment and if so, how did you effectively deal with it? –
Yes. I learned from the feelings of powerlessness and shame, and do my best to empower and support others whenever possible. Harassment should
never be tolerated.

What leadership qualities do you bring to your position? –
I care deeply, I understand every person has assets and perspectives to share, and I know that getting things done with attention to effective use of
resources is critically important.

Anything else that you think is important to bring up –
I’d like to personally invite EVERY person in our community to create positive change for families. Volunteer, advocate, support financially, add your voice
to help us learn… United Way is an important way our community comes together to address challenges and change lives. We encourage everyone to
join the fight!