Helen Price Johnson grew up on Whidbey Island, graduating from Langley High School and then earning a degree from Mills College. She and her husband Dave raised their family on the island. Helen has spent her adult life in service to the community, and was named a Home Town Hero in 2004. She is a third-generation small business owner on the island, was twice elected as a Board Member of the South Whidbey School District and in 2008, Helen made history by becoming the first woman elected to the Board of Island County Commissioners.
LSC: How does your cross-sector experience influence your work as a Commissioner today?
Helen: It helps me to understand the complexities of the issues we face as a local government. For example, the federal cuts to the food stamp programs affect our most vulnerable citizens, adding hunger to the list of stresses they face. It hits some single parents, some veterans and has a negative impact on some children's ability to concentrate on learning in local schools. It also reduces income for our local grocery stores and thus, our local economy. Each sector is interwoven in our community's safety net. When thinking of adding local resources to backfill these budget cuts, I consider all these things.
LSC: Looking back on your life experiences, what are your key leadership lessons from your work in each sector? (How do you need to think in each sector?)
Helen: There are more similarities than differences among the three.
Public: I focus on trying to do the right things for the right reasons and striving for the greater good for the community over the long term. It is important to be a responsible steward of public resources.
Private: I believe in the triple bottom line when providing a quality product or service to our customers at a fair price.
Non-profit: Partnerships and relationships are important for each sector, but especially with non-profits. The care and feeding of volunteers is vital to success here.
LSC: What do you believe helps people effectively partner across these three sectors?
Helen: To be an effective partner, one must actively listen to the other to understand the opportunities and challenges ahead. Then, you can craft a strategy that honors the needs of each partner.