When Katie Tolley reflects on where she got her giving spirit, she goes back to a familiar place: Christmas season at the mall with her mom.
Each year, Tolley's mom would take her and Tolley's sister to the Tree of Sharing. Tolley remembers sifting through the tickets that each represented a different kid wishing for a gift for the holidays, choosing one child to donate to that usually reminded Tolley of herself.
"My mom is probably the most generous person that I've ever met," Tolley says. "She set a really good example for us about giving back."
Today, Tolley, 34, applies that spirit of giving to her work at Lutheran Community Services, where she serves many roles both as an employee who manages the building and as a volunteer. She's in charge of raising money for Lutheran's Chocolate and Champagne Gala, which has raised record amounts under her leadership. And in her spare time, she volunteers as a crisis response advocate, working overnight and on weekends for Lutheran's 24/7 sexual assault and crime victim crisis line. When a call comes, she's ready at a moment's notice to rush to the hospital to hold a sexual assault survivor's hand during a forensic medical exam, guiding them through a traumatic experience when they're often unsure what to do.
But Tolley doesn't stop there. Somehow, between raising her daughter and working full time, she finds time to volunteer for the Arc of Spokane where her husband, Luke, works. She also has volunteered for the Northeast Youth Center, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest and, of course, the Tree of Sharing, just to name a few.
Erin Williams Hueter, Inland Northwest director for Lutheran Community Services, says Tolley exudes kindness and compassion every day.
"She's really dedicated herself to making our community the best place it can be through her personal life and professional life," Williams Hueter says. "I don't think a moment goes by that she's not thinking how she can help other people."
Growing up in Spokane Valley, Tolley never envisioned working for a nonprofit as part of her future. All she knew was that she wanted to help people.
At first, she wanted to become a police officer. Then she wanted to be a nurse. But when she graduated from Eastern Washington University, she ended up working in the plumbing and heating wholesale industry. When a job opened up at Lutheran Community Services a few years ago, she was happy to take it.
There, she started to see how important volunteers were to the work that Lutheran does. She decided she wanted to do more. So last year, she asked to take her vacation time to go through the more than 40 hours of training required to become a victim advocate. There are staff advocates who take calls throughout the week on the crisis line, but Tolley wanted to volunteer on nights and weekends to offer some relief.
Sometimes responding to calls on the crisis line means Tolley will try to soothe and educate victims who are calling and seeking answers. Sometimes, when a sexual assault victim goes to a local emergency room, the hospital will call Lutheran and an advocate like Tolley will respond. She has a go-bag full of clothes and toiletries ready so she can get to the hospital within minutes and assist the person with whatever they need.
"It's solely my job to support them and let them know what their rights are as a victim, to give them an idea about what's coming next and what the process looks like," Tolley says.
Beyond her work at Lutheran, Tolley volunteers or makes contributions to a seemingly endless list of charitable organizations: United Way, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Center for Justice, and others. And whenever a friend calls looking for help, Tolley is there.
"I think it's important to just spread joy where you can," Tolley says.
One organization, however, remains close to her heart. Just like her mom did for her, Tolley and her husband take their 4-year-old daughter to the Tree of Sharing each holiday season.
Tolley says they don't have the means to make big donations. There have been years when they barely have money to pick out one gift to donate to a child in need, yet they end up donating to several kids anyway.
Still, she's there every year, doing whatever is possible to help.
"I see from the inside how big of a difference volunteering even just a little bit of time or making small donations can make a big difference," Tolley says. "It's like that drop in the bucket analogy: If everybody gives a little bit, it goes a long way." ♦