2017/2018 fellows profiles

2018 fellow azul tellez wright shares HER CO-FELLOWS’ stories, PLUS HER VIEW OF THE NINE-NINE GIRLFRIENDS FELLOW’S PROGRAM.

These stories were featured in ninety-nine girlfriends e-newsletters.

(December 2018 / February 2019 / April 2019 editions)


Over the past year, I’ve interviewed the first two ninety nine girlfriends Fellows cohorts to shed light on these four impressive women (five including myself!). Now I’d like to turn the spotlight onto some of our mentors who have guided us over the past few years. I had the pleasure of interviewing my mentor, Eileen Brady, and Molly Gray’s mentor, Abby Farber, who shared their experiences in the program.

What does being a mentor for ninety-nine girlfriends entail? As a mentor, you are matched with one Fellow who may shares similar interests and/or career goals. Mentors attend quarterly meetings with the other mentors and Fellows and are encouraged to meet with their mentee as often as they both see fit. Mentors may also guide their mentee in their active engagement.

What I find wonderful and unique about the ninety-nine girlfriend’s Fellows Program is that each mentor-mentee relationship is different and can be tailored to what each pair wants and needs. Abby explains, “I asked Molly what her goals were for the mentorship and what she was hoping to get out of it. It’s about finding out about what the person wants and needs. A lot of being a mentor to Molly was talking about big career decisions, giving her direction.” Eileen explains that her experience as a mentor surprised her; “As mentors, we tend to think, ‘I should do this. This will be a good thing for someone else, when really I get so much insight, and creative thought out of it. I get to share my story as well as listen to other people’s stories.”

Being a mentor also connects you to a greater community within ninety nine girlfriends. The quarterly Fellows Program meetings are wonderful ways to get to know other members on a deeper level. “When I see Azul at ninety-nine girlfriends events, I have someone to talk to and I can introduce her to other people,” Eileen says.

I think the other Fellows would agree with me when I say that having a mentor is a huge boon in my life. I feel lucky to spend time with an experienced individual who shares my professional interests and guides me in a myriad  of ways.

The Fellows team has just selected three new Fellows for this year, who will be paired with mentors of their own. If you’re interested in being a mentor, contact Irene Foster at fellowsprogram@ninetyninegirlfriends.com. Perhaps you’re considering being a mentor but don’t know if you fit the bill. Here are some words of wisdom from Abby; “There is no ideal mentor. You jump in. If you’re someone who likes to listen, who doesn’t think they have all the answers, who enjoys meeting new people, it’s a wonderful way to connect to your community and to meet people from different walks of life.”

Some members who have served as mentors include Benna Gottfried, Barbara Hilyer, Courtney Mersereau, Eileen Brady, and Abby Farber. Find them at at ninety-nine girlfriends event and ask them about their experience as mentors!


Tong Zhang

Tong is the Executive Director of Oregon MESA, based at PSU. Tong is passionate about the work she does because it brings equity to the education space and encourages students to think for themselves. Before her work in nonprofit management, Tong was a research scientist in tumor immunotherapy. Her experience as a scientist has greatly shaped the work she does now; “As a scientist, I realized how hierarchical and exclusive the systems are for technical and scientific fields. There’s such a lack of representation and a lack of encouragement at most levels. That really fuels a lot of what I do now. I don’t feel like a lot of the experiences that my colleagues and I went through had to happen because we were women, young, or inexperienced. There are so many bright ideas that come from people of different backgrounds and society is missing out on them because the environment hasn’t fostered their growth.”

Outside of work, Tong enjoys traveling and going on day trips with her husband. She’s also a proponent of Asian dramas because she likes the completeness of stories. “I get frustrated with a lot of American TV shows that don’t have an end. All the Asian dramas have around fifteen episodes and that’s the whole show and there’s no more.” She has also begun to write a book about business strategy. This book would target early career professionals and offer management tips that she’s learned over the years and that she wishes were presented in a more relatable manner. She is passionate about helping young professionals in both her work and her free time!

Tong describes herself as an optimistic person, which is why she likes being part of ninety-nine girlfriends. “It’s really easy to get cynical and believe that it’s not going to get better. A lot of what I like to do is about helping make a better future for myself and others if I can. That depends, however, on believing that people, including myself, can change and the situations can change too.”.


Molly Gray 

Molly joined ninety-nine girlfriends during its first year. In both her work and at school, Molly is very focused on nonprofit management. As the Director of Nonprofit Partnerships at the Oregon Public House, Molly coordinates fundraising events, manages ongoing collaborations, and books venue space for nonprofits.  Established in 2010, the Oregon Public House is a philanthropic bar which operates not to make a profit for owners or shareholders but to donate to local, regional, and international nonprofit partners.

Through this role and member education experiences with ninety-nine girlfriends, Molly has uncovered a desire to expand her repertoire and understanding of business operations. She is currently in her first year of the Nonprofit Management MBA program at the University of Portland. In addition to school and the Public House, Molly is looking to gain some experience consulting with nonprofit and hopes to one day work for a foundation.

During her first year as a fellow with ninety-nine girlfriends, Molly was on the Arts and Culture Grants Review Team. That year’s Arts & Culture finalist was My Voice Music. In her second year, Molly served as the Impact Team’s liaison to MVM. In her third and final year as a fellow, Molly plans to continue with the Impact Team and is interested in putting her new business skills to work with the Financial Review Team.


Cleo Tung

Cleo joined ninety-nine girlfriends as a Fellow in 2017. She works for Partnership for Safety and Justice, where she’s been the Development Director for three and a half years. The organization engages in statewide advocacy focused on making Oregon’s criminal justice system more fair and effective for survivors of crime, people convicted of crime, and the families of both. As their Development Director, Cleo oversees the organization’s annual fundraising programs. She explains, “I view fundraising as a form of community organizing and movement building. It’s about developing meaningful relationships with folks in the community, pooling our resources, and leveraging our collective power to effect change.”

Cleo’s background in criminal justice is impressive. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminological research, and quickly became interested in fixing our broken criminal justice system. Dedicated to the cause, Cleo plans to continue working in the criminal justice space. “It’s a problem that I hope we can remedy in our lifetime so I envision myself doing this work for the long haul.”

Outside of work, Cleo spends time at the Oregon State Penitentiary meeting with the Asian Pacific Family Club and celebrating a shared identity of Asian and Asian Pacific Islander heritage. For over three years, Cleo has been one of the many volunteers helping APFC fundraise to build a healing garden inside the state penitentiary. “A lot of the people in the club are serving extremely long prison sentences, so this project is an opportunity for them to be a part of something positive and to bring the beauty of the outside world in.” APFC has raised $350,000 and will break ground next February. “They’re building a community of healing within the prison and leaving a lasting legacy. It’s very humbling.” Cleo is also on the board of OAASIS (Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service), an organization that advocates for policies that help children who have survived sex abuse.

While Cleo is thoroughly dedicated to criminal justice reform she makes times to sustain herself through fun hobbies. Cleo and her husband enjoy cooking exciting vegan meals and taking their dirt bikes out to the Tillamook National Forest. “I’ve never been a very athletic person or had good hand-eye coordination, so I decided to try something really out of my comfort zone. I took a course and found it really challenging at first but I kept practicing and got my motorcycle license. It’s been a journey!”

Cleo and two other inaugural Fellows helped plan and run the ninety-nine girlfriends Awards Ceremony in 2017. In 2018 she served on the Arts & Culture grant review team and hopes to participate on another team again this year.


Emma Hoyle 

Emma joined ninety-nine girlfriends as a Fellow in 2018. She is the Development Director for Portland Homeless Family Solutions, a 2017 Impact Award winner. PHFS’ mission is to empower homeless families with children to get back into housing and stay there. I met with Emma in her office in downtown Portland where she shared with me some of the exciting projects PHFS is implementing.

PHFS recently purchased a facility in the Lents neighborhood that will triple their capacity from eight to twenty six families per night. With this new space, they’ll be able to expand their housing program, life skills classes and their homelessness prevention programs. The building is currently being remodeled using trauma-informed design and architecture, which includes calming colors, natural wood, natural light, and living plants. Research shows that families who live in these intentionally designed spaces experience shorter shelter stays, and more success moving into housing and staying housed.

In addition to the family shelter, PHFS is planning to convert the parking lot on the premises into potentially 40 affordable housing units.

"Receiving the ninety-nine girlfriends Impact Award put us on the map. It ramped us up to be able to raise such a large amount of money in such a short period of time to buy this new campus.”

When talking about her work, Emma exudes positivity; “So much of my identity is tied into my professional work, which I feel really privileged and lucky to do. It’s a way that I live my whole life. The connection to ninety-nine girlfriends is an extension of that. It’s all about actually taking action for me.” Attending the Awards Ceremony as the grant recipient in 2017 inspired Emma to apply for the Fellows program. “I had never been in a room with so much positive energy before. It was so inspiring to see hundreds of women joining together to give these amazing nonprofits a platform and a transformational gift.” As a Fellow, Emma served on the Get Out the Vote team and stage managed the Awards Ceremony.