Housing Up has recently conducted an interview series of our Associate Board Members to shine a spotlight on why they joined Housing Up and support our mission, and what motivates them to do this kind of work. Read about Associate Board Member Laura Wagstaff below.

What compelled you to serve as a member of Housing Up’s Associate Board?

Laura Wagstaff

As I was finishing up my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the George Washington University, I was looking for opportunities to learn more about social topics that influenced health but weren’t so inherently connected. In any public health program, you quickly learn about the ‘social determinants of health’ –conditions in which people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health outcomes and risks. Housing and health are absolutely intertwined through both direct and indirect pathways.

What are your goals for the board, both this year and long term?
I feel fortunate to be a part of the Housing Up Associate Board, and it’s inspiring to see other young professionals so committed to a social cause. My goal for the year is to continue to learn as much as I can about the issue of affordable housing and the solutions that Housing Up implements.

I also would like to get involved in the more hands-on volunteer opportunities that Housing Up organizes. I think it would be an amazing experience to help youth with academic counseling and to see first-hand how housing stability increases their opportunity to succeed in other realms.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?
I am inspired by so many people but keeping it close to home: I’m constantly in awe of my parents. They both came from humble beginnings and worked their way towards success. They’ve always encouraged me to pursue passion over profit, and my dad really drove home the golden rule – to always treat others as you would like to be treated. He even got a custom board created with the phrase and hung it on our kitchen wall!

What is your vision for a DC with adequate housing, what does that look like to you? What motivates you?
My passion for public health motivates me. I’m excited to be working with Housing Up because I believe that the quality and accessibility of housing has a profound impact on a range of health outcomes. One of the first concepts I learned about when completing my MPH was ‘allostatic load’, which refers to the long-term damage to chronic exposures of stress – I’ll expand below on how I think that relates to housing:

My vision for DC would be to provide as many people as possible with the resources they need to be successful. Reducing some of the stress that so many face – whether that’s worrying about where they’ll sleep day-to-day, where they’ll find their next meal, or how they’ll find employment in a rapidly changing professional landscape – can have a drastic impact on their lives.

I would also say a personal vision would be a collective focus on equity, rather than equality. We’re not all born and raised with the same resources –

whether those be financial, emotional, academic, etc. – and I think if more people took the time to recognize the privilege that they’ve had in their lives, they’d be more inclined to help others who were less fortunate.

I see DC as somewhat of a symbol of our national identity. If we allow thousands to remain homeless within the nation’s capital, what kind of message does that send? The command to ‘promote the general Welfare’ is written in the Constitution for the United States of America, but that message often seems to be deemphasized or forgotten.

If you had an opportunity to convince someone why they should support organizations like Housing Up, what would you say?
Besides just being the right thing to do to help those in need, I would say that the whole community benefits when neighborhoods are inclusive and diverse. Additionally, affordable housing has been found to have a positive impact on overall community health, economic investment and development, and educational success.

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