Two women, two activists
Two local women, one younger and one older, can’t imagine not being socially or politically active in the Truckee Meadows community
The two women we profile in this story would seem to have little in common. But while Evelyn Mount finds her inspiration in her church’s teachings, and Inger McDowell mines hers from the most secular of places, the world of politics, on a more fundamental level, they are much alike. That commonality springs from their families, who’ve passed on a desire to help others. Like links on a chain, these values extend back generations.
Inger McDowell’s dark brown eyes light up behind her glasses when she talks about politics. It’s really windy outside the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada’s building, where McDowell has this office. She’s dressed warmly with a denim skirt and a charcoal V-neck sweater.
The enthusiastic 24-year-old says she’s interested in how politics work and the effect on society. So, it’s not surprising that McDowell chose political science as her college major.
Yet most people her age today don’t seem to be that interested or involved in the political system. The 18-to-24 age group is often cited as the lowest-participating voting bloc in national and state elections.
But McDowell wants to change that, at least at the local level.
She is the project coordinator of Nevada Young Activist Project, the youth project of PLAN. NYAP aims to empower young people and give them the tools to make the political system more responsive to youth issues.
"[Young people] make up a huge body of individuals in this country who are apathetic, who don’t vote, who need to be engaged,” she says, flashing a wide, genuine smile. “They have so much political power, but they don’t really utilize it. I’m really interested in working with young people and fueling that apathy—which is anger turned inwards—and [channeling] it into something constructive for them to be a part of.”
NYAP has put on events such as Rock-the-Vote during last year’s election season, and it provides workshops and organization training for youth groups. It also sets up internships with other PLAN member organizations such as A Rainbow Place, the ACLU and Nevada Empowered Women’s Project.
McDowell says she has learned a lot about working with the community since joining PLAN. She says one of her proudest moments happened earlier this fall, when she was involved with the Emigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national project advocating workplace rights for and legalization of immigrant workers. The Freedom Ride bus tour, inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, made a stop in Reno on its way to Washington, D.C.
McDowell helped organize local demonstrations in support of this movement. Two hundred people showed up at a rally at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services building, and another 700 showed up at Miguel Ribera Park. She says it was a learning experience for her and reconfirmed her feelings that her work through PLAN is important to people across the state.
“We were a small stop, but we pulled out the numbers for that event,” she says. “It was amazing to see all the people of color there, all different races and classes. … I was really touched by people’s want and need to be a part of that movement.”
McDowell says her mother, Janie Raschilla, helped influence her interest in activism. Raschilla was vice president of the Nevada Empowered Women’s Project, and her work with women and people of color made an impression on her daughter. McDowell also considers two PLAN members, Joice Taylor and Angela Egillespie-Sinyoko, as her mentors.
“They’re inspirations to me because they’re women of color, and they both have been so vital in my ability to grow as a woman of color,” she says. “They took me under their wing and showed me how to be a part of this organization, how to grow with PLAN [and] also to be a part of the community.”
The University of Nevada, Reno graduate hopes to attend graduate school in Seattle next year. She hopes to study something involving public policy or race and gender. McDowell says she sees herself teaching at the university level one day, but she won’t give up her activism.
“I come from an activist background, and I don’t want to leave that [behind],” she says. “It’s a big part of who I am, and it would be nice to bring it into the classroom and share that with young people.”
For the time being, McDowell hopes to keep inspiring young people in northern Nevada to get involved. She believes NYAP is a good starting point because it’s open to people of all backgrounds and allows young people to bond with other like-minded activists close to their age.
“I think young people need to be engaged, they need to be involved, and Reno is small enough for young people to be involved.”
If you are interested in joining the NYAP or other PLAN member groups, call 348-7557.
At age 77, Evelyn Mount seems to have more energy and stamina than many people half her age.
For almost 25 years, Mount’s Community Outreach program has been providing food to thousands of needy families during the holidays. Mount even delivers meals throughout the year to low-income seniors and grandparents raising grandchildren on tight budgets.
Sharing food is something Mount has done since childhood. She was born in Lundell, Ark., and raised in Louisiana and California, and her family regularly shared food with the less fortunate.
In a few weeks, Mount’s home at 2530 Cannan St. will be the headquarters of her annual holiday food drive. On a recent sunny autumn afternoon, it’s hard to believe her modest home in this quiet northeastern Reno neighborhood will soon overflow with food donations and people who need a helping hand.
"[The demand] has grown so much that it gets to be complete chaos on this street during the holidays,” she says, sitting in her light-blue and pearl living room. She has shoulder-length braided hair. She speaks with a slight drawl and moves deliberately.
Mount, who co-founded Community Outreach with her late husband, Leon, says she and her family are already cleaning up the shelves and refrigeration units and setting up folding tables in preparation for the food drive. The endeavor should be a little easier this year, thanks to Carpenters Union Local No. 971, whose members donated their time and resources to renovating Mount’s kitchen earlier this year. Model Dairy has also donated a refrigeration truck to store the turkeys and meats included in the food donations. She says about 1,000 families have signed up for food baskets, and she expects about 3,000 more to sign up before the holidays end.
She estimates Community Outreach fed about 3,600 families during Thanksgiving and about 5,000 families during Christmas last year. The task seems overwhelming when you consider that she kept working even after her husband died, shortly before the holiday season. She says her family, friends, neighbors and volunteer workers helped her continue the annual mission.
“I didn’t have time to feel sad,” she says. “I did feel sad, but there were so many people around bringing up the wonderful things, the funny things Leon did. … It just helped me get through.”
She recounts one instance where her 94-year-old husband had just come home from a kidney dialysis treatment. After resting for a while, he got out of his chair and asked his grandson to help fill up a wheel cart with food to deliver to a neighbor who had been in an accident. Mount says Leon was a strong and determined man, and she intends to keep Community Outreach going in honor of his memory.
“We made a vow that we would do it until we left the face of the earth,” she says. “It’s up to me to keep going. I would be lost without it.”
After the holidays pass, Mount says she’ll close up her house for a few months except to the low-income seniors and families that she cooks for on a regular basis. In her spare time, she says she likes to garden, sew and make crafts. She’s also active in her church, Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church, where she assists in Sunday school every other week and sings in the choir.
Mount credits God for giving her the strength to continue Community Outreach, even when her health was threatening to slow her down. She’s had her knees replaced with artificial ones and has been losing weight on her doctor’s orders. But she says God has helped her through these times and advises young people to also rely on Him when they need guidance.
“I tell all young [people], any situation you’re in, just put God in it. Wait, be patient, be sincere, and things will come forth.”
As the holidays near, Mount will be asking for food and clothing donations as well as volunteers to help deliver food or to provide security for the donations. She can be reached at 356-0238.