Interview with SD350 Member of the Month: Bill Wellhouse

Bill Wellhouse is Acting Treasurer of the SanDiego350 Board and leader of the Coalition Team.
SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?
Bill Wellhouse: I got involved about 6 years ago after I retired from education. I found SD350 by doing a google search. I really got involved in 2015 when I volunteered to help organize the Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice in 2015–that was timed to coincide with the pope’s visit to Wash DC.
SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?
BW: Reserved, dependable, stubborn (so my wife says).
SD350: What drives your activism? 
BW: A deep understanding of the science; a profound sense of place and the fear that that might be lost; a lifelong interest in wilderness, especially mountain wilderness, gained both from working there (as a backcountry ranger) and backpacking / trekking in many different wildernesses but especially the Sierra.
SD350: What is something you learned about how to be a good partner with organizations?
BW: There has to be give and take; partners need to feel that they are being listened to and that their input matters; when leading up to a big action you need to keep your partners informed and engaged.
SD350: Since you do so much – you’re the treasurer, run the Coalition Team and also help organize big actions, what is your favorite part of doing this?
BW: As a math major I am not afraid of budget analysis that comes with being treasurer, however, I have a lot of respect for accountants because there are many accounting procedures I don’t understand. I enjoy being on the coalition team because I like getting to know other orgs and their leaders and I enjoy recruiting them to be partners when we are planning a big action. I also enjoy putting together parts of the program in a big action and generally playing a supportive role.
SD350: Was your background with charter schools helpful for what you do now? Can you compare and contrast the two?
BW: Yes, as an administrator/director in several charter schools I learned a lot about working with boards, handling budgets, hiring and managing employees, and the legalities of being a non-profit. I also learned, usually the hard way, how to work with people as a team. What’s different is that charter schools are in the public sector, have more legal constraints, and receive a lot more scrutiny and also have many different stakeholders–parents, students, board members, the public, to deal with. I do miss working with students (I finished my career in high schools), their energy, their liveliness, but I do not miss meeting with parents over discipline issues.
SD350: How did your background and culture form you and play into your considerations on environmental justice?
BW: My mother was from Mexico–her name was Graciela–and all of my uncles, aunts, cousins on that side of the family still live in Mexico or along the border in Texas, so, although, I generally grew up as white middle class, I have a lot of understanding and sympathy for the difficulties people of Mexican heritage face here. I also was the principal of a small charter school in an immigrant and low income community (City Heights) and came face to face with the struggles many of our students endured on a daily basis. During the Vietnam War I was fortunate to receive a conscientious objector classification and worked for two years as an orderly in the emergency room of an inner city hospital in Cleveland witnessing the violence and suffering people in a racialized society face.
SD350: What is something that makes you happy about what you do with SD350?
BW: This is important work and I am able to use some of the skills I’ve developed over a lifetime in education such as planning, coordinating, working with a variety of personalities, and meeting the needs of different stakeholders. There are times when I am being stretched unexpectedly that I appreciate, things I might not ordinarily do, like participating in rallies and marches.

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