Growing up in Seattle gave Emma Roberts, 28, not only a love for the outdoors but also a passion for social justice that she puts into practice as a professional working for nonprofits.
Roberts is director of development strategy and operations at BBYO, a pluralistic Jewish youth movement for students in grades 8 through 12. The Washington resident moved to the nation’s capital in 2005 to attend George Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
Prior to BBYO, Roberts spent a year in northern Thailand working with the Burmese Women’s Union through the American Jewish World Service, which gave the group a grant.
While there, Roberts used her non-profit fundraising experience to raise money to support the organization’s pro-democracy agenda.
Roberts recently talked with us about her experience in Thailand, her attraction to the outdoors and what she likes most about living in Washington.
What was it like working in Thailand?
It was a wonderful experience. My primary interactions were with this group of Burmese women and with the Burmese community. I did a lot of different things — from helping them write funding proposals to teaching them English. I learned a lot while I was there. It was interesting to be outside of the United States, and a lot of my job had to do with following the news and what was happening in Thailand and in Southeast Asia and in Burma.
Burma has been under military dictatorship for many years. While I was there in 2010 and 2011 they had just started the process of opening themselves and trying to relieve some of the sanctions that were put on the government. So, it was a very interesting time to be working within the community and I learned about what that part of the world focuses on and what the news is like over there. It’s very different than what it is here. It was a very eye-opening experience.
What is it about the outdoors that attracts you?
Seattle is really pretty, and you can feel the nature, the outdoors in everyday life. If you are standing outside anywhere in Seattle you see mountains in two directions and you’re surrounded by water. It’s quite powerful. I just like being able to get outside of the city and find a little peace and quiet and feel disconnected from my cell phone and Internet and all of that stuff. I don’t like to do this alone. I like to be with people that I want to have conversations with and spend time with. I like it because it’s physically challenging to go on hikes, to go camping, backpacking and skiing. It’s great exercise. The air is fresh, and I find it really rejuvenating.
What do you like most about living in Washington?
I like that it is a dynamic city that also feels very manageable to me. I don’t feel overwhelmed here. I don’t know whether it’s because there is enough green space. The buildings are not too high. It feels a little slower pace than many big cities. I really like that. I like the people that I’ve met. I’ve made friends from all over the country and all over the world. And I like how people are constantly coming here and visiting and leaving and coming back and there’s always something going on.
From where do you get your passion for social justice and equality?
I think it comes from where I grew up and where I went to high school. I went to a high school that was very diverse and very socially and politically active. The student body was very socially and politically active. And it exposed me to a lot of people who are very different than me and to a lot of the inequalities that we have just because we’re different. I think that high school and that environment, really set me on a trajectory to pursue this career and to find an interest in traveling and in experiencing life within different cultures and communities.