Mary Jones joined the Grassroots Fund in July 2023 as the Program Manager for the Grow Grants Program. She brings a decade of experience in environmental change-making to her role, including time spent in environmental education, non-profits, philanthropy, and community organizing. She is a strong believer in the brilliance and power of everyday people to re-shape local communities and institutions in ways that restore healing relationships with each other and with the land.
Outside of the Fund, Mary is an avid fiber artist, currently pursuing her Master Weaver certification. She has several published weaving patterns and her tapestry work has been shown both regionally and internationally. She lives in Holyoke, MA, with her partner, Yoni, and their beloved cat, Jellyby. Mary holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Earlham College and an MS in Environmental Justice from the University of Michigan.
We asked Mary three questions to get a bit more insight into how she came to be the person she is.
When you think back on your life thus far, was there an experience or a person or a book that you recognize as essential to influencing the paths you’ve taken since, including the one that led you to the Grassroots Fund?
During my time at Earlham College, I was part of the Bonner Scholars, a scholarship program for students with high financial need. The program requires students to complete ten hours of service a week each semester to a local organization. It’s like an alternative to the work-study jobs that a lot of college students do, but it’s work study out in the community. When I started college fifteen years ago, the small post-industrial host town of Richmond, Indiana, (about 38,000 people) was down on its luck. Unlike most of my Earlham peers, I spent a lot of my undergrad time in Richmond, not on campus. My service site for three years was Townsend Community Center, an independent black-led community group run by residents who were living and addressing the problems that my environmental studies program was teaching me about. In class, we talked about theoretical benefits and harms of environmental issues. But at Townsend, I saw them in real life.
Living a civically engaged life became important to me via Earlham and the Bonner Scholars program. From that experience, I knew I wanted to be in the real world working with people directly impacted by problems and not in a classroom or in some organization that studied those problems. Grassroots Fund speaks to me because the people seeking grants are really rooted in the places they are applying from, they know their communities’ complex histories, and are acting to take their communities back into their own hands.
When your energy is low or you are feeling overwhelmed, what or who revives your spirit and gets you going again?
This is where fiber art comes into my life because fiber uses an entirely different part of my brain. With a weaving or knitting project, you have to focus just enough that you cannot think of anything else, giving your mind a kind of break. A weaving or knitting project is satisfying in a different way from other parts of my life in that I see what I’m creating take shape right before me. Also, floor looms are complicated machines and take a lot of focus to set up, which also draws on other parts of my brain. And weaving itself is meditative. I’m lucky that I have a creative outlet to allow for more balance in my life.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you snorted/cried/exhausted yourself?
Let me say at the outset that my partner and I are not a “matchy-matchy” kind of couple. That said, we do have a couple of the same shirts that we both love. I’m from Texas and my partner* is a forester who loves understory plants including flowers. Among the many other things for which my home state of Texas is famous is the state flower, the bluebonnet. My partner and I each have the same T-shirt from Texas with bluebonnets on it. The other night, we were going out to a food truck event for dinner. When he came home, he made a beeline to change from his work clothes and came out with the same bluebonnets T-shirt I had on. That made us both laugh!
*Fun Fact: Mary’s partner is the Director of Conservation & Sustainability for City of Holyoke where, among other things, he oversees the implementation of the city’s award-winning Urban Forest Equity Plan.