Thursday, 21 February 2019 15:11

Jack Woller: Leading from behind the scenes

Written by  Josh Veal
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Jack Woller Jack Woller Photo by Terry Johnston

As a secular humanist, Jack Woller never saw himself working for a church, much less serving as the executive director. But after life in the world of sports retail left him feeling unfulfilled, Woller went on a journey that ultimately led to Fountain Street Church, volunteering in the community and working at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum along the way.

More than anything, Woller doesn’t actually want to be in the spotlight, seeking instead to use his position and connections to work toward social justice and amplify “the right voices.” 

It’s a philosophy Fountain Street shares, acting as a support system for organizers, students and foreign workers without taking control. The church is atypical to say the least, accepting people of all belief systems and acting as a community asset and theater-style venue since the day the facility was built nearly a century ago. Going forward, Woller just hopes to keep helping the community out.

What’s your goal for yourself and your organization?

My personal goal for myself is to assist the organization in this really pivotal time. Our senior minister is retiring in early 2020. Whether it’s nonprofit or religion and spirituality, the sectors in which we operate have rapidly changed and will continue to. So, my role and goals are to help this organization, which I think of as an essential institution in West Michigan, celebrate its past 150 years and figure out what the next 150 look like. One of the things that I think is beautiful about the organization is that it exists to support all people regardless of belief systems. The church really is a pluralist organization that has been designed literally to be a community asset.

What led you to want to pursue the social justice cause?

I’d like to be able to point to some sort of watershed moment or something. I say pretty regularly that my life is a case study in unearned privilege. ... One of the most helpful things for me on this path, and what I’d hope for a lot more privileged individuals, is popping the homogenous bubble that many live in. When we’re actually able to not live in just that bubble, not only do we tend to be more empathetic and compassionate, but none of this work is a zero-sum game. As I’ve intentionally tried to go down this path, it constantly benefits me in that my life is better for it. By engaging and broadening and popping the bubble, my life is richer; the people that I know, the skills, the cultural competency and literacy.

You said you’re interested in sports. What hobbies/interests do you have?

I don’t have as much time to snowboard anymore. I’m 6’4”, so physics is not on my side and as I’m getting older, my body isn’t working so much anymore. For me, I’d really say the driving thing has been art. That was the original career path, industrial design at Kendall, but then the joke I usually make is I wanted to be employable, so I got a business degree. But that’s still a big part of my life. I’m thankfully a selectively working artist who accepts commissions and usually how that manifests is I do pieces and donate them to nonprofits who have auctions and to Artists Creating Together. And just recently, I launched my new website that serves to facilitate Commissions for a Cause. 

How does that work?

Whenever I take on a commission, I donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in support of the Our LGBT Fund and the Challenge Scholars program. Art has always been one of my decompression and self-care practices, but it’s also another way for me to contribute to the community. Also, I started drawing on napkins for my kids’ lunches, and I do two of those every night. It’s been a big part of not only my connection to my kids but my self-care practices and self expression.

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