Jay Kang is the new nonprofit guy in town

Learn more about Thurston County Food Bank's new CEO. Also: local boats, prairies and food bank outreach


When I was the Director of Volunteers at the Dallas Public Library, I often heard, “so you’re a volunteer?” Those of us in the volunteer management profession hear this a lot. However, I was surprised that when I became the Executive Director of the Austin Public Library Foundation, I still was asked, “So what do you do for a living?” Surprisingly, many people do not realize that those of us working for nonprofit organizations do earn a salary. About 10% of the US workforce works for nonprofits. Keep in mind that teachers, hospital personnel, and even the coaches at state universities (in most cases) work for nonprofits. While the salaries at most nonprofits do not rival those of similar for-profit companies, you can still make a good living working in the nonprofit sector. Therefore, I thought it might be a good idea to visit with one of our local nonprofit executives to hear more about their road to nonprofit management.

New guy in town

Jay Kang was appointed as the first CEO of the Thurston County Food Bank in November 2022. Prior to his role at the food bank, Kang was involved with both faith-based and community-based nonprofit organizations for over 35 years in various leadership roles serving the refugee and immigrant communities – something that is familiar to Kang. Kang immigrated to the US as a youth, and being of Korean descent, his father was not too excited when Kang told him that he wanted to pursue being a pastor. “Most Korean parents want their children to grow up to be doctors. My father told me he would disown me if I pursued a religious career,” said Kang.

Serving God

Ironically, Kang’s path to community service was (sort of) dictated by his parents. “My name is Jae Hun which means serving God.” Kang earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion degree from Alliance University in New York, NY, and a Master in Divinity and Master of Arts in Counseling from Mission Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Kang found that being a pastor was not everything he hoped it would be. “it’s more political than you think.”

But Kang still wanted to serve the community. He started as Program Manager at Safefutures Youth Center where he worked with at-risk youth. “I really got to know the gangs.” From there, Kang became the Family & Social Services Division Manager at Neighborhood House Kang returned to his roots as Director of Development and Communications and later Deputy Director at KWA – Korean Women’s Association and most recently served as Senior District Director at Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

All these experiences taught Kang about what it takes to be a good leader. “I learned my lifelong motto that to be a good leader, you have to first be a good follower and listen to everyone.” To this end, Kang meets with every Thurston County Food Bank staff member at least twice a year. “I want to hear what they are going through, and I do my best to address any issues that they point out. I take notes and then follow up with them at our next visit to see if the issue has been resolved.” When dealing with the issues of the food bank, it helps that Kang is a Certified Laughing Instructor as well as a Gracious Space Trainer.

The future of the food bank

Kang’s work in refugee and immigrant services taught him that there is more to nourishing people than just food. “While at Refugee Services we developed a community resource center with core services that included a food bank and other nonprofit partnerships to create a hub of services. Food is only one aspect; we must expand our ocean of services and form partnerships and alliances with other area nonprofits.”

Nonprofits need your support now!

Last year, over 700 nonprofits from all 50 states endorsed the Nonprofit Sector Strength and Partnership Act. Sadly, nothing became of it. This week Representatives Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) will reintroduce the bill with nearly identical text under the Nonprofit Stakeholders Engaging and Advancing Together (Nonprofit SEAT) Act. The bill mirrors the 2022 bill and would establish formal structures and policies to leverage the knowledge, trusted status, and reach of nonprofits. This is an opportunity to secure a seat at the table for the nonprofit sector, and legislators need to know that their constituents support this.

The bipartisan Nonprofit SEAT Act will:

  • Establish a White House office on nonprofits to ensure that our sector and its work are visible at the highest levels of government.
  • Create an interagency council and an advisory board with diverse representation from the sector to ensure that decision-makers understand the needs and expertise of nonprofits.
  • Provide regular nonprofit workforce data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – data that other industries already receive.
  • Streamline fundraising registration across state lines.
  • Improve the federal grant process (something I have been a part of a team working on for YEARS)
  • Increase access to national service and expand volunteerism. (thank you SERVE Washington)

Please take a minute to reach out to our representatives in Washington to tell them that you support the nonprofit sector.

Wooden ships, err, boats.

Recently I have been humming the Crosby, Stills and Nash tune ‘Wooden Ships’. Could it be because the 41st Annual Olympia Wooden Boat Fair will be this Saturday and Sunday, May 13 and 14, 2023?

The fair, always on Mother’s Day weekend, is a traditional community and family event held at Percival Landing Park in downtown Olympia. On display will be all types of wooden boats, including power, sail, row boats, dinghies, kayaks, and canoes.

There will be local artisans, homemade food products, local musical entertainment a children’s boat-building booth, among many more nautical-related items.

I was surprised to learn that you do not have to own a wooden boat to join the Olympia Wooden Boat Association. The association is open to anyone interested in the history, construction, and/or preservation of wooden boats, new and old.

Members enjoy exchanging ideas about the ownership and maintenance of wooden boats as well as sharing friendships with people of similar interests. Members primarily assist the Association with hosting the Olympia Wooden Boat Fair. For more information or the membership or the fair, click here or email

Appreciate your local prairie

Prairies are an essential part of the South Sound landscape by

  • Supporting pollinators
  • Providing open space for birdwatchers and nature-walkers
  • Protecting nearby communities from wildfire
  • Sequestering carbon
  • They are also culturally significant to many Indigenous communities in the region who have long relied on prairies for food, medicine, and ceremony.

During Prairie Appreciation Day on May 13, Thurston County’s Community Planning and Noxious Weeds departments, Stream Team, and others provide a history of prairies in our region, explore the challenges our prairies face from development and invasive species, the ongoing efforts to protect and restore them, and what you can do to support this rare ecosystem.

Prairie Appreciation Day is organized by Friends of Puget Prairies and is a great opportunity for people of all ages to connect with nature and learn about the importance of preserving our natural heritage.

 Soliciting your ideas

If you know of a nonprofit that is doing something great, celebrating a success, needs some outstanding volunteers, or hosting an event, let me know! This column (aside from a little education) celebrates nonprofits!

Mary Beth Harrington, CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator) lives in Tumwater. She travels the country speaking at conferences and to individual organizations articulating issues facing nonprofits. Send your ideas to her at


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