Janis Never Let Promise of Youth Go Unrealized

By Amy Mullins, Board of Directors Chair at Treehouse

My story with Janis started during a tour of the Treehouse store. It didn’t take long for our conversation to turn from small talk to something much more important. She told me about Treehouse’s mission of giving kids in foster care a childhood and a future. I shared that I had been in care briefly as an infant before being adopted. Although I didn’t yet realize how truly privileged I was to have been permanently placed with a middle-class family, the organization’s important work really resonated with me.

As our discussion evolved, I spotted a box of wooden TinkerToys that someone had donated. Recognizing them, I mentioned they might have value to a collector, and that they might want to sell them on eBay.

Janis asked if that was something I knew how to do. Willing to give it a shot, so began my volunteer career at Treehouse. That’s Janis. She allows people to use any idea, talent or skill to benefit youth in foster care. Sometimes it’s a skill you don’t even know you have.

When Janis called me to see if I would consider being Chair of the Treehouse Board of Directors, I rejected the idea almost immediately. How could I lead this powerful and credentialed board? I allowed myself to feel “less than” without a college degree. I didn’t feel I had the skills, talents or abilities to step into such an important position for the organization. Janis thought otherwise.

With her ever-present grace, she met with me and gave me the space to air out all of my fears about how I thought I might fall short. After careful listening, Janis started listing all the reasons why she and Treehouse’s Executive team believed I was the right person at that time to step into the role. In doing so, she recognized in me that which I had just begun to discover.

Unable to refuse the call from someone I respected so much, I agreed. To get started, Janis recommended a course on board leadership and how to be an effective leader. Not stopping there, she took the class with me. It seemed remedial for someone with her experience. Her response: “I can always learn.”

That’s how Janis leads. That’s who she is as a friend and a human. She holds a fierce commitment to never let the promise of the kids, youth and young adults we support go unrealized—and to always seek improvement. The entire organization has adopted that same approach to their service. This is one of Janis’s greatest legacies.

Treehouse isn’t one person. It’s a platform for the community as a whole to clear pathways for young people. The culture Janis has cultivated here has attracted leaders whose ambitions to improve outcomes for youth in care match her own. From our advocacy efforts to our programming, the contributions from senior leadership on down have been imperative to our many successes. Each one of them believes they too can learn, grow in their roles and meet the needs of our youth.

Goodbyes are hard, and it is especially difficult to say farewell to the remarkable leadership of Janis Avery. She has built a talented team and a culture of innovation that will continue to lead us to incredible outcomes for our youth.

I will be making a gift in her honor this year, and I hope you will join me. With our continued support, there is no doubt that Treehouse will thrive well into the future.

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About the Author

Amy Mullins currently serves as Vice President, Private Banking Officer for Columbia Bank, where in her role as a Relationship Manager she provides personal and customized financial solutions to high net worth clients, their families and their businesses, service business professionals and investment real estate owners. Amy enjoys acting as an advocate and ambassador in areas of social justice.

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