OCT. 27, 2015 … It was just a Help Wanted ad that, in 2005, led Kari Galloway to Friends of Guest House. An ad, that is, and a long history of being “really, really interested in people”—having worked or volunteered at places as diverse as a university women’s center and the John Kerry Presidential Campaign, a domestic violence shelter and Camp Fire Boys and Girls (and her own house-painting business!).
Friends of Guest House at the time was emerging from a difficult period. It had briefly closed its doors in 2003. The Board and staff had re-formed. In 2004, “the” house at One East Luray Avenue underwent a major renovation. And in April 2005, Kari came on board as Executive Director.
Over the next 10 years, the Guest House Residential Program nearly doubled, Aftercare significantly expanded, and the Outreach Program and Speakers Bureau were created. The mostly part-time staff quadrupled. The volunteer corps grew from a handful to 125. The budget more than quintupled. And the number of women Guest House serves per year grew from 30 in 2005 to 150 in 2015, also benefiting their families.
“As Chair of Guest House for 10 years,” says Peter Lunt, who stepped down from that post this past summer, “my greatest accomplishment was hiring Kari Galloway. What Kari lacked in experience in 2005, she strongly compensated for in drive and compassion, and a burning desire to change the lives of female ex-offenders. She has successfully accomplished her goals in a way none of us could have imagined at the time of the interview! I attribute the great success story of Guest House to Kari.”
Kari herself, typically, praises others: “our phenomenal staff,” the volunteers (“they truly have a heart for the women”), the Board (“very supportive: they are willing to take risks and really put themselves out there”) and “the great support from the community.” Most of all, she points to the women Guest House serves: “There have been so many of them who have touched me so deeply and changed me so profoundly forever. They’re truly and without a doubt some of the most inspiring human beings I’ve ever been around.”
An Idaho native, Kari grew up in a rural farming community. She graduated from Western Washington University (B.A., English) and Gonzaga University (M.A., Organizational Leadership). Returning to Idaho, she ran the house-painting company, Galloway/Sandmeyer Painting, and served for two years as Interim Director of the University of Idaho Women’s Center. In 2004, seeking the next step and a wider world, she came to D.C. to job-hunt. Work on the Kerry Campaign followed, ending with the candidate’s defeat. And a few months later, she responded to that Guest House ad.
Looking back, Kari notes the “really big shift in the community response to incarceration in this country. We’ve gone from having it be something that people don’t talk about or even acknowledge—to something people are better understanding and, hopefully, seeing it as a social issue that needs repair.
“We can’t lock everybody up, nor can we throw away the key. Most people get out of jail. If we don’t support them, they have even less opportunity than before, because of the difficulty finding jobs and housing and things like that. They come out with less than when they went in. I don’t need to be a math major to know that’s a recipe for disaster.
“So, first, we’ve got to help people before they get involved in crime. Second, if they’re involved in the criminal justice system, we should provide them with something more than just doing time: I think prison officials are trying to do a better job, but we’re not there yet. Third, when ex-offenders come out—and most do—how can we challenge and inspire them to live life differently and how can we support them on that journey?”
Beyond Guest House itself, Kari has always been active in the Northern Virginia community. She is a founding member of the steering committee for the Alexandria Re-entry Council, participates on the Governing Board of the Alexandria Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness and serves on the Executive Committee of the Alexandria Coalition of Human Service Organizations. From June 2010 to June 2012, she chaired a committee of the statewide Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Re-Entry Council. She has been honored by, among others, Volunteer Alexandria (2011), the Alexandria Commission for Women (2011) and the Washington Area Women’s Foundation (2009).
Kari is married to Paul Stern, a Treasury Department actuary, and has two stepsons.