Group 2 6 min Read

Join Keri, Maggie, and Ellen for Lunch on April 23!

We are thrilled to introduce our 2024 Step Up to the Plate Benefit Luncheon Chairs, Keri Pravitz, Maggie Vergien, and Ellen Wilwerding. Keri is the Community Engagement Manager at Amazon and a new Bellevue LifeSpring Board of Directors member. Maggie is a longtime Bellevue LifeSpring Board and Fairweather Circle Member and a retired educator. Ellen is a longtime member of the Bellevue LifeSpring One Circle.

Keri Pravitz

Maggie Vergien

Ellen Wilwerding

All three of our luncheon leaders are dedicated Bellevue community members. Read along as they share why you should join them for lunch on Tuesday, April 23, at the Step Up to the Plate Benefit Luncheon.

Hi, Keri, Ellen, and Maggie. What motivated each of you to step up as a 2024 luncheon chair?

Keri: While I just recently joined the board for Bellevue LifeSpring, I have been around the organization for over 30 years, if not longer.  The luncheon has always been an inspirational and educational event about how Bellevue LifeSpring is providing support to children and families in need. Co-chairing this event with Maggie and Ellen allows me to be of service to the youth and families in my neighborhood and my community. 

Maggie: I stepped up previously as a luncheon chair in 2020. After having “all our ducks in a row” for the 2020 luncheon, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel it due to the pandemic. My fellow 2020 co-chairs, Marilyn Herzberg and Karin Dashen, and the Bellevue LifeSpring staff were amazing to work with. We had the speakers lined up, the program set, and an incredible video ready. Thankfully, we could still share the video online and raise funds to help assist families through the pandemic. When asked about being a co-chair for this year’s luncheon, I thought about all my connections in our community and the opportunity to again inspire people to attend my favorite Bellevue LifeSpring event of the year. After being part of the planning for the special Lifetime Achievement award presented to Life Member Jean Haehl at last year’s luncheon, I was even more motivated because of all my incredible mentors in Bellevue LifeSpring.

Ellen: I am passionate about Bellevue LifeSpring’s mission. So, when the chance arose to work with Maggie and Keri on building awareness in our community about children facing food and housing insecurity, I jumped at the opportunity. I love to bring people together to work toward a common goal. The luncheon is the perfect vehicle to keep the spotlight on the more than 4,000 Bellevue students who face hunger every day. I want others to join me in doing what we can to support pathways to success for all Bellevue children.

One of our themes this year is “Everyone has a story.” What is your Bellevue LifeSpring story, and why is our mission meaningful to you?

Keri: I was one of the children in the Bellevue School District who needed support. Growing up in East Bellevue in a single-parent family home, we struggled. I know we received help and support, although it wasn’t talked about. And now, working for Amazon, I have the honor of seeing first-hand the impact that Amazon and Bellevue LifeSpring’s Right Now Needs Fund partnership has on the students and families in our community—families that are going through similar experiences as I did.

Maggie: I want to give credit to journalist Lori Matsukawa for inspiring the theme of “everyone has a story.” Her story led to her beautiful children’s book called Brave Mrs. Sato. The story conveys “how the sharing of cultural activities and an immigration story teach a girl she is braver than she might think.” According to Lori, “Every family has a Mrs. Sato in it.”  When my family moved to Medina from Hawaii for the first time in 1985, we bought “this old house” that needed a lot of work but came with a beautiful property. My friend Priscilla, whom I had met in Hawaii before moving to Medina, helped us in countless ways, including being our son’s assistant basketball coach that first winter. Priscilla happened to also be a member of the Bellevue LifeSpring Fairweather Circle. At her invitation, I went to a meeting and met a number of incredible women.  Before long, I started volunteering with Bellevue LifeSpring. I also helped expand our circle membership and increase attendance at our annual luncheons. The luncheon is an incredible platform to fill the room and tell our story. 

Ellen: My Bellevue LifeSpring story started when I was new to the community back in 2016. I was invited by a neighbor to attend the Step Up to the Plate Luncheon with a group of friends. I assumed there would be a few hundred people there, but I was amazed when I walked through the door at the immense number of people from all aspects of the community who had gathered to support children in need. It was an uplifting event that made me want to jump in and help.

Why do you think coming together this spring with your neighbors and colleagues is important?

Keri: To provide for this community takes the entire community. As Whitney Houston sang, “I believe the children are our future.” It’s up to all of us to ensure the children in our community have a future where they can thrive. To do that, we all have to literally Step Up to the Plate!

Maggie: I love creating opportunities that connect our neighbors, who represent different nationalities and cultures, with members of our circles. During the pandemic, many of my neighbors joined together with members of the Fairweather Circle to help provide food and basic needs support to Bellevue families. We rearranged our garage to make an area to collect food and hygiene items and made weekly deliveries to Stevenson Elementary School. Working together with my neighbors and community members on a good cause is a win-win. It brought us closer together while also helping families in need. The luncheon is important because it helps widen the net of impact and support to neighborhoods throughout the Bellevue School District, as well as the business community. 

Ellen: By coming together, individuals from all facets of the community can combine their strengths, resources, and expertise to address the unique challenges faced by one in four students within the Bellevue School District who experience food and housing insecurity. This united effort not only ensures a comprehensive approach to support but also fosters a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of our children. No one understands the needs of Bellevue children and families more than those of us who live and work here.

What are you most excited about for this year’s event?

Keri: The theme of “everyone has a story” is inspiring to me. We all have been to events where we hear stats and data, but for me, hearing individual stories of impact, empowerment, engagement, and innovation is more meaningful. I’m excited for Bellevue LifeSpring to share these stories with everyone!

Maggie: In addition to working together with a great team, I am most excited about the theme of “everyone has a story.” I’m also excited to bring in guests and honor our 2024 Volunteer of the Year, along with the nominees. 

Ellen: As with every year, I look forward to walking through those doors and being surrounded by a group of people who collectively come together to make Bellevue a better place. Everyone has a story, and I look forward to the attendees being inspired by those around them and excited to join the efforts of Bellevue LifeSpring.

Thank you, Keri, Maggie, and Ellen!

We can’t wait to see you on Tuesday, April 23, at the Step Up to the Plate Benefit Luncheon.  

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