A Rising Tide: Polly Ferguson

Born in England, Polly is no stranger to moving all over the world. She even spent her career as an International HR Manager for Johnson & Johnson. Now, however, she appreciates having her grandchildren only 10 houses away in San Jose, California. Introverted, yet passionate, Polly likes to jump in first and figure out the details later.

Kia: Have you always been the chapter leader for CA, San Jose – 2?

Polly: Yes, and we’ll be celebrating our 14th anniversary next month! In 2009 I read about Dining for Women in a magazine, a few days later saw a news program with Marsha Wallace, and not long after that had a friend send me a Christmas card that included information about her chapter. It felt like a sign! So, I visited my friend’s chapter meeting, loved it, and then started my own. When inviting new members, I made sure everyone knew at least one other person besides me, as I thought their chances of staying involved would increase. We have almost 100% attendance every time, even after all these years. Everyone takes ownership. Although I’ve always been the leader, we have a secretary and treasurer, everyone else has to host or present once or twice per year. We also have Team A and Team B who rotate cooking for the potluck. Team A is on even months and Team B is on odd months.

Kia: Your chapter has been a strong and consistent group for over 10 years. What do you think contributes to your sustainability?

Polly: We all work together, so it’s a shared chapter. People also continue to engage outside of our chapter meetings. Some are in book clubs together, cooking groups, or even walk together. We also set up a trip once to visit a former grantee, Limitless Horizons Ixil. Six of us stayed for a week, taught art classes, had home stays, and ate lunch at different student’s parents homes every day. It’s one thing to hear about these issues, but to walk into these homes, see the dirt floor, and feel the smoke sting on your eyes because there is no cooking ventilation, it stays with you. I also keep track of our donations, not just monthly contributions but other causes we support. I think it’s been over $200,000 over the years. I’ve kept that in the forefront. Our members say all the time, “this is one of the most significant things I do in my life.” Kia: Your chapter always hosts a potluck. Why do you find that valuable?

Polly: Since we’ve been with the organization a long time, we remember the saying “one woman at a time, one dinner at a time” and that has stayed with us. We also wrote our own affirmation. The potluck allows everyone to contribute. Some make dishes inspired from the grantees, or use recipes off the website. Chicken and rice is popular, we’ve found that to be worldwide. We also sit down family style so that we are all together. This allows conversation to flow between us and that’s great.

Kia: After so many years as a chapter leader, do any particular meetings stick out in your mind?

Polly: I’m actually really excited about this month’s meeting. The featured organization, The MoonCatcher Project, creates menstrual pads for young girls, so I have invited my Girl Scout troop to the meeting. They are all in 5th grade and starting their periods soon. I think it’s important to expose them to the struggles other girls are facing during this time in their lives and also normalize talking about your menstrual cycle. I did this with my daughters and found the conversation enlightening, and it also gives the girls confidence.

Kia: Outside of your chapter you have made some great friends within Rise. Can you tell us how that happened?

Polly: As an example, I went on my first Rise trip in 2010 to Kenya. I decided to go a little early and was on the same flight as another Rise member, Francine. When we got to the hotel, they had given away our rooms and they only had one room left…with one king-size bed. Well, we had just met in line on the plane, but we ended up having to sleep in that king-sized bed together that night! We found it hilarious. I’ve since visited her in Wyoming, and we’ve traveled to Oaxaca together. I’ve also stayed in contact with other members from that trip through Facebook. I like to stay in touch with people.

Kia: What are your hopes for the future of Rise and our movement?

Polly: I hope everyone embraces the growth and the change. A few members of my chapter had questions about some of the recent changes, so I reached out to Home Office to get answers. Beverley offered to speak with our chapter and answer our questions. She was open and friendly and cleared up some of our misconceptions. I hope if anyone else is unsure about things, or if they have questions, that they reach out to find the answers. Don’t be afraid! I’ve also found the Annual Report to be super helpful. I take a lot of pride in what we’ve done over the past 20 years and seeing the numbers and the impact make me excited about what we are doing.

If you are interested in being featured on “A Rising Tide” or have a recommendation for a chapter or chapter leader who should be featured, please email Kia Hunter, our Volunteer Manager, at kia@togetherwomenrise.org.