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The Russell Family Foundation Search

A Conversation with Fabiola Greenawalt

A Conversation With highlights TRFF team members who help oversee the Foundation’s programs and operations, providing a glimpse into what it takes to make this work possible and where these leaders find inspiration.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


What is your role at TRFF?

I am a Program Officer and responsible for managing the Foundation’s grantmaking programs. This includes identifying and evaluating grant opportunities, developing and implementing strategies, making grant recommendations to the Foundation’s grants committee and board of directors, and managing the Foundation’s relationships with grantees. I am also responsible for ensuring that our grant programs are effective in achieving our charitable goals. I do this by identifying and supporting our grantee partners, and by ensuring that Foundation funds are used in a way that makes a positive impact on the world through our place-based focus.

One of our grant programs is the Environmental Education (EE) Program and it is focused to support organizations that offer opportunities to youth to foster environmental stewardship, provide outdoor environmental education experiences, and promote lifelong learning. Specifically, we provide opportunities for students in grades 5-12 who live in Pierce, King, Kitsap, Thurston, and Jefferson counties to have outdoor experiences in places with a strong connection to Puget Sound. Historically, we have prioritized programs that serve kids from low-income backgrounds who would not otherwise have access to outdoor experiential learning opportunities. In 2024, our grant guidelines will look a little different as we made some adjustments that include narrowing the King County focus to South King and also including Mason County.

Earlier this month we launched a new grant program, Food for Climate Solutions (FCS). This new program focuses on addressing the negative impacts of climate change while fostering a thriving local and regional food system and more equitable access to local, healthy, and sustainably grown food. We will be investing in local organizations that are addressing farmland stewardship, increasing the sustainability of farm businesses, supporting farmers, strengthening the regional food system, and promoting the adoption of climate-resilient, organic, and regenerative farming practices. Food for Climate Solutions prioritizes opportunities for organizations serving historically excluded communities given the historic and systemic barriers they face to land access and sustainable farm enterprises.

How long have you worked at the Foundation?

I have worked at TRFF for 13 years, since October 2010.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born and raised in a small town called Antigua in Guatemala. I am the fifth of six children and also an aunt to ten of my siblings’ children. In 1991, I moved to Gig Harbor, WA, and since then, the Puget Sound region has become a second home to me.

My work experience in this country began as a barista at Starbucks. This job helped me develop various skills, including customer service, but more importantly, it allowed me to learn and practice English, which is my second language. After that, I worked in banking and at a law firm in Seattle.

Before starting my role at TRFF, I worked for the City of Seattle. Initially, I provided administrative support for a team who worked on child development, and later I transitioned to supporting multiple directors of the Department of Neighborhoods under three different Mayoral administrations. During my time with the City, I was a core team member of the second cohort of the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI). The RSJI’s focus was to promote departmental policies and practices that include a racial equity framework, provide staff with resources and tools to address race-based disparities, and ultimately develop an anti-racist institution to achieve racial equity. I highly value the opportunity I had to participate in the RSJI, and I continue to use that experience to guide my work, prioritize, analyze my power, and influence decisions in my role as a Program Officer.

My introduction to philanthropy was in October 2010 when I was hired as the executive assistant to our former CEO, Richard Woo. Richard was an excellent mentor who taught me about philanthropy, and thanks to his support and mentorship, he and other leadership members at TRFF provided me with additional opportunities to learn more about grantmaking. As a result, I was promoted twice, and I currently hold the position of Program Officer.

What do you enjoy most in your role as/overseeing grant programs?

In my opinion, philanthropy is about building and cultivating relationships, establishing innovative networks, and actively listening to the community being served. My goal is to be a thoughtful contributor, delivering the right tools, resources, and vision to grantee organizations and other partners to increase their capacity and learning, and to advance TRFF’s organizational mission and goals.

The role of overseeing grant programs is a very rewarding one. It is a great feeling to know that you are helping to support organizations to achieve their goals and seeing the positive impact of their work. I am also grateful for the opportunity to work with people who are passionate about making a difference in our environment through different strategies. I am lucky to be in a relationship with these individuals as I get to learn a lot from them, and I am always motivated by their energy and enthusiasm.

What is coming up for Environmental Education and Food for Climate Solutions?

Our Environmental Education program recently went through a strategy update to ensure that the program’s goals are aligned with our newly refreshed vision, mission, and values. Our grant guidelines have been updated to reflect these changes.

Our Food for Climate Solutions launched in July and we’re excited to begin funding in this area and excited to learn more about the organizations that are supporting efforts to combat climate change through food solutions.

Where/who do you get inspiration from to do your work?

I draw inspiration from several sources. Firstly, the people I work with at TRFF, including the board, staff, and community partners, as they inspire me with their passion and dedication to social justice and environmental sustainability. I am proud to be part of a team that is working to make a positive difference in our region and the world. Secondly, challenging times also inspire me to work harder and be more creative in finding solutions. I believe that we can make the world a better place, and I am excited to be part of that effort. Lastly, my personal family values, both those I grew up with and the ones my husband and I have created for our family: honesty, respect, integrity, and love.

What are you currently reading?

Currently, I am not reading anything but I have a few books waiting to be read and hope to get to them soon.