Three Times, All a Charm

June 13, 2014

Leah Olm sat on the L, riding back to her dorm at the University of Chicago after the last day of Campus Camp Wellstone in Chicago.

She remembered the stories old customers told her years earlier during a high-school job at a bakery in Duluth, of a Senator who lifted people up, of a leader who inspired a movement.

At the University of Chicago, Leah felt like a lone liberal in a sea of conservative ideals and libertarian economic philosophies. So when she heard about a weekend program at Northwestern called Campus Camp Wellstone, it was a no brainer to head across town. It was at that Campus Camp that Leah found her voice, “I was representing my group to do a practice earned media session about raising the wage of dining hall workers. We had literally written a rap about it, and I was terrified to be up front to do it. But doing it, and knowing I could do it, because I had the support of the trainers and the other Campus Campers, it was really powerful to me.”

Little did she know then that it was the start of a progressive career, one that has spanned three states, one that she can chart with her connection to Wellstone programs, and one that has culminated with her new job as the Leadership Giving Officer at Wellstone Action.

Leah graduated from the University of Chicago and took an internship with the Oregon Bus Project in Portland. And guess what? Yep, Wellstone came back into her life, “We were about to start a really intense effort to street canvass to register young people to vote, and Wellstone trained us to do it effectively, to do the work with confidence.”

The next few years found her back in Minnesota, working on a series of electoral and advocacy campaigns. In 2008, Leah landed a fundraising gig with NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. And Wellstone Action again appeared, as the state’s 501(c)3 table convened a Wellstone training on Power Mapping and Strategic Planning.

From a Campus Camp Wellstone in Chicago, to a grassroots organizing training in Portland, and a strategic planning session in Colorado, Leah experienced three different types of Wellstone trainings. So what binds them all together? “You get a super solid set of skills, not theoretical, about being effective in the real world. Wellstone is about the brass tacks of effectiveness, but also superfun hilarity. That personality of the trainers really shines through.”

Wellstone helped launch Leah’s career, it supported her as she grew into new leadership opportunities, and now she serves as our Leadership Giving Officer. It’s a job she couldn’t pass up, “I got into development work years ago totally by accident, but I love it. It’s just like other types of organizing: you’re giving people a tangible way to have an impact on issues that they care passionately about. My work helps progressives become catalysts for our movement.”

In this job, she gets to meet incredible donors who support Wellstone for countless reason, from our legacy to the work we do to partner with frontline organizations around the country. And she knows just how important the work is: “Progressive organizations shouldn’t just be seen as transitory. We’re not going away. Our roots are deep, Paul’s legacy is in the water. We’re here for the long-haul and that means growing a base of support year after year with the stable funding structure it takes to thrive.”

Wellstone Action served as a catalyst for Leah’s career. And we couldn’t be more excited that she’ll serve as a catalyst for our next ten years, full of growing, innovating, fighting, and winning.