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Feature Friday

Farewell, for Now

Julia Leitman’s first experience with Sister Schools would go on to shape the rest of her life.  From her penchant for travel to her desire to pay it forward, her participation in a supply drive has left its mark on the seventeen years since.  After four years serving on our Board of Directors, Julia is stepping back from that role to pursue new opportunities to open eyes and change lives.

Read on for Julia’s reflection on nearly two decades of Sister Schools!


After serving on the Board of Directors for the last four years, I’m saying farewell…for now. It’s always bittersweet to leave a team or an organization, especially one that connects with you on such a personal level. But it’s time to spread my wings and explore new opportunities—opportunities that I’m forever grateful to have here in Seattle.

When asked what “Opening Eyes and Changing Lives” means to him, Terry McGill said in his recent interview, “For our kids, it’s changing the lens through which they view things. Changing the way they see the world in a positive, uplifting and kind way. Showing them, confirming to them, that they can make other people’s lives better simply by being kind, simply by sharing, simply by choosing to be personally involved in making another person’s world a little bit brighter.”

That’s how it all started for me (and it’s still true today). In 2004, I was a student at Catherine Blaine K-8 School, which did a supply drive that year. Terry extended the invitation for a group of students to join him on a summer tour to Uganda to distribute the supplies. As you’ve heard my mom, Carol, say in her own interview, I brought home the flyer that day and said I wanted to go. She was hesitant at first, but then agreed to let me go if she could chaperone. That trip opened both of our eyes.

Flash forward, I went on to do what most normal students do—hang out with my friends, go to the movies, play sports, and of course continue traveling. I got the travel bug, thanks to my mom, and eventually visited all seven continents by the age of 19 (yes, I know that’s not normal!).

Ten years after that first trip to Uganda, I was able to return as an adult on the 2015 spring distribution tour. My mom had stayed involved with Sister Schools as a volunteer, then a Board member, all that time. So she was there too. I also brought my now-fiancée, Sebastian. It was amazing watching him let loose and play with the kids—and get to see a much different part of the world than Seattle. The trip reaffirmed why Sister Schools is such a great organization to be part of.

From there, I started volunteering on the Gala Committee, helping plan our biggest fundraising event of the year. It was an easy way to stay involved with Sister Schools while I was busy starting my career in PR/communications.

My mom had become Board President by the time and encouraged me to attend a few meetings as a guest, just to see what it was like. I realized what a great leadership opportunity it would be to join the Board—a chance to practice my own communications skills, develop new skills, work with new people who came from all different fields in their day jobs, and most of all, a chance to pay it forward.

I grew up with Sister Schools, and as a result, I grew up knowing how it can positively impact a child—both here and in Uganda. I wanted to make sure that other students had the same opportunities to discover that for themselves.

On the Board, I served as Secretary all four years (because I happened to be really good at taking notes). I also helped fill a gap in communications and marketing. Working closely with Ella, especially over the last two years, we evolved Sister Schools’ marketing strategy to focus less on asking people for money and more on cultivating and nurturing relationships. As Sister Schools completely pivoted its program during the COVID-19 pandemic, this strategy has proven fruitful and allowed us to continue engaging with our donors and volunteers in new, more meaningful ways.

As the saying goes, I hope I’m “leaving it better than I found it.” I know I’m a better person for having found Sister Schools.

Thanks to every staff member, Board member, volunteer, teacher, student—the list goes on—who made this such as special journey for me. Special thanks to my mom for taking a leap of faith on that first trip to Uganda, all those years ago.

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