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DC EcoWomen Success Story: Mary Ellen Kustin

Since moving to the DC area seven years ago, I have had two blatant “ah-ha” moments of realization that I have found my community. The first was when a friend of mine from grad school convinced me to come see Jamie Rappaport Clark speak at an EcoHour; I was blown away by the talk and the group discussion that followed. I found myself in a room with over 50 well-informed women hailing from government, non-profit, and private sector jobs, all passionate about environmental and social issues. While still finishing up my degree, the event reassured me that, yes, I would be able to work on issues that matter to me with people who also care deeply about the world around them.

After the formal Q&A part of the evening wrapped up, I stayed to chat with some of the other ladies there. I don’t remember any of what we talked about, but I do remember heading home on the train with my friend and thinking: I guess this seemingly mandatory DC ritual of networking isn’t so bad after all.

Granted, I’m a fairly extroverted person. But I was hooked on the thought of hanging out more with these people who took time out of their busy lives to learn and discuss topics ranging from ecology and politics, to advanced technologies and meditation. So I did. I went to book club meetings, happy hours, and of course more EcoHours. I graduated and started working downtown. I went to more EcoWomen events. I volunteered to help run some of the events and eventually joined the all-volunteer board.

Fast-forward to February 2013. I was  back in a room full of fabulous EcoWomen and although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to start down a path to my second “ah-ha” moment. The featured speaker was Heather White, Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Heather’s talk was awesome, the discussion that followed was fun — I didn’t want it to end. So I spoke to Heather afterwards and learned that we had more in common than I realized. She told me that she was happy to share some of the words of wisdom and the patient ear she had benefited from along the way. She said I was welcome to stop by her office sometime and chat longer — so I did.

Now, I’ve enjoyed many an informational interview conversation, but this one was a pure delight. Thankfully, the abundance of EcoWomen interactions I’ve had and skill-building workshops I’ve attended that set me up for success when the opportunity presented itself. And I probably wouldn’t have made it to that coffee chat if I hadn’t met her at EcoHour.

I joined the government affairs team at EWG this summer. The position is exactly what I want to be doing. A few weeks into the new gig, I looked around and thought, “ah-ha, these are my people.”

Don’t worry — I haven’t forgotten about the kick-butt network that led me to my new job! I’m currently serving on the national board and helping to start chapters across the country. One of those chapters is being co-led in Colorado by EcoWomen who used to live in DC. And one of those ladies is the very friend who took me to that very first EcoHour I attended.

I’m thrilled to be a part of this growing community of women who empower each through knowledge and friendship. I’m confident that this won’t be my last EcoWomen success story.

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