Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Rachelle Wenger
June 25, 2018
How did you first learn about NETWORK?
I first learned about NETWORK through Dignity Health. Dignity Health is one of the largest healthcare systems in the nation. Its mission is to deliver compassionate, high quality, affordable health care service—especially to those who are poor and vulnerable. Advocacy is central to its mission, and NETWORK has been a longtime partner in helping the organization to advance its policy priorities. As the Director of Public Policy & Community Advocacy, I can’t imagine being able to do my work without our collaboration with NETWORK.
What inspired you to get involved and join NETWORK?
To sum it up, it’s the Sister-Spirit that inspires me and that continually draws me in. I’ve been so fortunate to grow up (and be raised by) incredible women religious. They’ve shaped my love for people and community since I was a little girl—through my formative years in elementary school and high school. And as I came to Dignity Health as a young mother and someone starting out in a career in Catholic healthcare, it was always the Sister-Spirit that moved me, made most sense to me, and gave me the reason for why and how I’m called to this work.
What issue area are you most passionate about?
Other than health and healthcare, I’m most passionate about immigration, equity issues (homelessness and poverty), and the environment. As an immigrant to this country from the Philippines at age of five, I have a deep understanding of what it means to be “the other,” to be displaced and to be indebted (this utang ng loob, literally translated in Tagalog means, “a debt of one’s inner self”). All this while continuing to practice what it means to be authentically one’s self, value this broader sense of being home, and give back to and cherish community. There is so much suffering in our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world today. I believe that our passions direct us to seek justice, build meaningful connections, and experience joy and love.
How are you engaging your community on important social justice issues?
I get to wake up to the best job in the world. I wouldn’t even call it work, except that I actually get paid for doing something I love. At Dignity Health, I get to live out my passions, work on social justice issues at both the legislative/regulatory policy and community levels, mobilize grassroots advocacy efforts, and partner with so many amazing organizations, businesses, and leaders of all sorts of shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
How has your advocacy for social justice shaped your view of the world?
I’m often on a plane these days and I never seem to tire looking out of the window—the view still takes my breath away. The sun sometimes gets too bright or the darkness too mysterious and I have to put the window cover down. And so I close my eyes to reflect and pray. Life is so precious. Every day that we get to have to be in it, to be a part of it, and do our part for it—makes me feel so blessed. Advocacy is more than just seeking social justice; it’s actually experiencing this incredible gift in the world called humanity.
How does your faith inspire you to work for justice?
Faith is all things quite alive in and around me, and is also in those things in between that seem like contradictions—that in the moment can’t get quite pinned down by time. In a word, faith is everything to me. Faith lets me know that the work I do to advance justice matters—that it’s meaningful and that there’s more work still to be done.
Who is your role model?
Wow, to pick one would be impossible for me. Every day, at every turn, there is someone or even something that inspires me and that I want to practice to become. Like my dad, who is recovering from a stroke and who I see fighting his way back from paralysis to walk again; like Sister Regina Ann, who I got to know during a break at a NETWORK Board retreat while we sat under a dogwood tree as if the chaos of time stopped for a moment so we could enjoy the beautiful spring afternoon; like my children, Keana Sky and Tristan Blue, who show me the resilience and unbreakable bond of love.
Is there any quote that motivates or nourishes you that you would like to share?
I recently gave a TedTalk style presentation at the closing plenary session of a CleanMed conference, since titled “Finding Your Voice in the Climate Story.” And there was this one quote from Nigerian storyteller Chimanda Ngozi Adichie that I included: “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…The consequence of the single story is this: … It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult.”
It’s just such a powerful way of recognizing what harm we do to ourselves and each other when we fall for the single story. How truly precious everyone’s voice is and how our own story contributes to the greater story of what is humanity.
What social movement has inspired you?
There are lessons to be gained from all the modern day social movements. The one I’m most interested in right now is how our country will continue to grapple with healthcare so that it is accessible and affordable to all. We’ve been able to make gains, but we’ve also made some steps backwards. What inspires me most are the many women and men that work day in and day out to care for others—despite the political winds, despite the brokenness still of our nation’s healthcare system, despite the long road ahead to one day get to a place where we no longer look at healthcare solely as a human right, but as something everyone can depend on during their time of need.