Beth Roalstad, executive director, Women’s Resource Agency
Beth Roalstad admits she can be a tough opponent when it comes to debating issues she’s passionate about. That’s because she got many early lessons in debate around the kitchen table while growing up.
“My parents and I have always been on opposite sides of a lot of issues,” she says. “I’m always pushing the envelope with them. But it taught me from an early age how to defend my position and how to debate respectfully.”
Those advocacy skills have allowed Roalstad, executive director of the Women’s Resource Agency, to be a powerful voice on behalf of women and families. The concept of lifting others up is central to her work, and to her life. “Lift as you climb is what I live by,” she says. “As you rise, you should take others with you.”
A graduate of New York State University at Oneida, she set out on a political path. An internship with a conservative Upstate New York congressman, Hamilton Fish IV, got her into the thick of things in Washington, D.C., in 1991. She did a dual internship with the National Organization for Women, which honed her feminist agenda advocacy skills. In addition, she volunteered, raising funds for a nonprofit that supports children in poverty. “I was totally hooked on nonprofit work after that,” she says.
Her career path led to Colorado. She worked as education coordinator of the Mental Health Association of Colorado in Denver, then moved on to Project Wise. There she became more deeply engaged in working with women and families living in poverty. She wrote grants, ran events, facilitated support and education groups. While she was there, the budget grew from $175,000 a year to $400,000.
All this time, life was happening to Beth Roalstad. Her resume includes gaps, overlapping activities, etc. “I had this career and these objectives, but I also got married, had two little girls, and tried the stay-at-home mom thing for a while. That didn’t work for me.”
The path ultimately led to Colorado Springs and the Women’s Resource Agency. When she arrived, the board was ready to pull the plug. Roalstad had six months to save it or close it down. She was only part-time at the beginning, yet she had to work a miracle. It would be a cliché to say it wasn’t easy. Roalstad put in long hours and dealt with the stress. In the end, she prevailed. And she says it was well worth it.
“I’m someone who looks for opportunity to come along. The Women’s Resource Agency was an opportunity to preserve something of value to the community. Now, I get to talk to our clients every day, and I love it!”
The mission of the Women’s Resource Agency is to empower women and girls “to attain and maintain personal self-sufficiency and economic independence through intervention and prevention programs for at-risk girls and employment readiness and personal development programs for women.” The organization offers a range of services and Roalstad sees that service spectrum increasing.
Not surprisingly, the agency will take a political stand on issues that affect women and families. “If something is going to have an impact on our clients, we certainly will take a stand,” she says. Still pushing the envelope, just like around her parents’ kitchen table, but with a little more at stake than a healthy debate.
By Dan Cook