Tocqueville Member Profile: Jim and Christian Westra
For the Westras, making a difference in the community does not happen overnight. Rather, it is a commitment someone makes throughout their lifetime. This insistence on long-term service is a proud Westra tradition. Jim Westra upholds these cherished values, as does his son, Christian. His young grandson, Jack, is also starting to observe them. As an experienced Tocqueville Donor, Jim served on the United Way’s Board of Directors from 2006-2017. He remains a member of the Board’s Compensation Committee.
Jim and his wife Betty live on the North Shore and are passionate and loyal donors of United Way. Over the years, their son Christian became involved with United Way in his own right, initially as a member of Emerging Leaders, more recently as a team leader at his law firm reviewing Venture Fund applications, and as a Leadership donor. Christian lives with his family in Boston, and has already begun introducing the next generation to United Way. Christian and his 5-year old son Jack, volunteered at the Thanksgiving Drive distribution day in South Boston this past November.
Jim and Christian both graciously shared their thoughts about why they serve, and how United Way helps them make lasting, impressive change.
For Jim, United Way’s appeal lies in its ability to perform many different, critical duties in the community:
I have been involved with the United Way for approximately 15 years as a volunteer, Board member and Tocqueville donor. While there are many deserving non-profit organizations in the Boston area, I believe United Way plays a unique and vital role. United Way, as an indispensable partner to many community-based organizations, galvanizes important volunteer opportunities, develops and executes upon innovative solutions to pressing social problems, such as the highly successful social impact bond program designed to end chronic homelessness, and serves as a powerful advocate on many important social issues.
It has been my privilege to work with many of the senior management of United Way. To a person I have found them to be passionate, pragmatic, diligent and talented.
Jim describes his pride in his son’s relationship with United Way, and why reaching out to the next generation is so important:
I am particularly pleased that my son Christian has chosen to become involved with United Way. We have emphasized in our family the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy and I am grateful that Christian has chosen this organization to devote his time and financial resources. The problems United Way addresses certainly span generations, and it is vital that we recruit young people to assist in our mission.
Christian also has thoughts about his generous service. He explains how supporting United Way aligns with his interests in addressing persistent problems:
I have always had an interest in public policy, and wanted to get involved in an organization that has a significant impact in addressing some of the more systemic issues – like homelessness and unequal access to education – that affect us as a society. I joined the United Way’s Community Impact Committee last year, and now serve as the chair of the Community Impact Committee’s public policy subgroup.
Christian describes his attempts to engage his colleagues in the work United Way does:
Ropes & Gray is a longstanding supporter of the United Way, and it has been a real privilege for me to serve as a member of the firm’s annual campaign. One of the things I have tried to do is to help colleagues see firsthand some of the ways in which United Way improves people’s lives. Last year, for example, we sent a team of over twenty people from Ropes & Gray to participate for the first time in the Thanksgiving Project and hosted a United Way grant review and whiskey-tasting event at Ropes & Gray for members of United Way’s Private Equity and Venture Capital Council.
As Christian explains, one volunteer assignment was particularly touching:
Handing out turkeys in Dorchester last November with my six-year-old son, Jack, as part of the Thanksgiving Project, was one of the highlights of the holiday season for me, and an experience that I know Jack will never forget.