Executive Director of GROW, Jamie O’Neill, stepped down from her position after eight years of involvement with the organization, citing the pandemic as a big push for spending more time at home with family.
GROW is a nonprofit that uses farm experiences to connect children to healthy foods and nature. O’Neill served as a volunteer, garden teacher, and for the past three years, executive director.
“I am so fortunate to have been part of GROW,” O’Neill said. “I have seen this organization grow from a small group of volunteers to a thriving nonprofit that now reaches over 2,000 children a year. It was so rewarding to work with so many great people over the years.”
She was confident that it was a good time to transition as staff members were prepared to continue carrying out the mission and tasks of preparing educational lessons, school gardens, and free farm camp activities. Additionally, GROW recently merged with the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center.
“Hillview Urban Agriculture has a really deep history of connecting people in the community to local food,” O’Neill said.
The center started as greenhouses in La Crosse with area volunteers growing and harvesting local food. In 2010, it officially became the Hillview Urban Agriculture nonprofit to educate and involve the community.
“This merger with GROW will let them expand, and they will keep doing the school gardens and the farm experiences, but now will also be reaching the community as well,” she said.
O’Neill elaborated on the strains of the pandemic and what that has meant for her personal and work life. In the short term, she plans on taking time at home to help her children with online learning and investing more time in her role as a County Board Supervisor and a Rotarian.
“I have a super supportive husband who takes on as much of the kid duties as needed, but because they are online learning, there is a lot more that goes into it than a typical year,” O’Neill said. “When it came time to decide who should make more time with the kids, it just seemed like the one who is getting paid less and with less insurance made the most sense.”
She said she is not alone, and women and minorities are disproportionately impacted by the virus with jobs impacted and increased demands faced with uncertain childcare.
“Both are stepping out of work, and I think they are also maybe bearing brunts of things a little more in the workplace as well as in the home,” O’Neill said. “I have a higher level of education than my husband, but it is just harder sometimes for women to find equal paying and equally insured jobs out there.”
One possible silver lining that could come from the pandemic would be if it shed light on the issues women and minorities face, according to O’Neill.
She planned to reassess her next steps in January. In the meantime, GROW will continue in their household as both of her children attend schools that incorporate a garden from the nonprofit.