As part of GOOD Morning Wilton‘s coverage of the elections on Nov. 6, and of the campaigns leading up to that day, we have set out some guidelines. Candidates are invited to submit one 800-word op-ed piece before the elections. Stephanie Thomas is the Democratic candidate for State Representative in District 143.

Criticizing others while sitting on the sidelines is simply not who I am. That sentiment is what has led me to be your candidate for State Representative.

I am not happy with the divisiveness, extreme partisanship and tone that have taken hold in our country. As a black person, I have never felt more afraid for everyone with a dark skin tone. As a woman, I have never felt like control over my own body is more out of reach. As a human, I have never felt more like the very air we breathe or that going to school, church or the mall safely will soon be over and done.

Although I didn’t know it, my entire life has led me to this point, to this time in our history to serve Wilton, Norwalk and Westport; to play a small role in restoring civility into politics and humanity into governing. Let me tell you how:

What Being Poor Taught Me

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Imagine for a moment doing your homework by candlelight or storing your food outside in the cold because you have no electricity. Imagine never eating together around a dinner table because you couldn’t fit one in your apartment. Anyone who has had to work for everything they have will tell you that although it wasn’t easy, it was the best thing for them. It helps to create character, resilience, and a sense of worth. It allows you to put yourself in the shoes of others and recognize that we all face our own challenges. It removes judgment from the equation and allows me to listen better.

Why My Career In Nonprofit Matters

Public service is the family business. We always gave back, volunteering for the very institutions that helped us and tithing regularly at our church. My oldest sister and twin brother joined the armed forces. My other sister served as a missionary. After working my way through New York University, I chose to join the nonprofit sector instead of a big business, making people my shareholders.

In the nonprofit sector, you don’t receive money unless you can prove that your program is working. All work is results driven and outcome based. Funders invest for a period of time before moving on to other causes. As a result, you cannot treat funders like a piggy bank. As with taxpayer dollars, you have to continually make their investment work by leveraging it to greatest effect.

How Small Business Creates Valuable Skills

After working as an in-house fundraiser for several years, I earned my masters degree in Nonprofit Management from New School University, the only graduate program at the time that offered a nonprofit specialization along with policy work. During school, I joined a small fundraising consultancy as an intern and 12 years later became its President and later started my own company.

In business, I cannot take my customers for granted. I have to be forward thinking, a leader in my field, deliver on promises, and continually look for cost-effective ways to achieve the same results. If I don’t, I will go out of business.

As a fundraising consultant, I have to come up with a plan, year after year, that is both actionable and achievable, and build consensus in groups that often start from widely diverging viewpoints. I work with the most well-resourced among us to protect their investment and I work with the least well-resourced among us to understand what cracks in our system led them to need help.

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These three careers – fundraiser, small business owner, and consultant – mean I am passionate about advancing all people forward, am always forward thinking, believe that another way to make money is to save money, and I always treat everyone with civility because I believe we can always work together toward common goals, no matter how divergent we seem at the outset.

Moving Forward

While door knocking in Wilton, some have said that they don’t know me, so I have used this piece to introduce myself to you. My views on issues from fiscal responsibility to gun safety to education can be found at votestephaniethomas.com.

During this campaign, I have spoken with many of you from every political stripe and I must say, it has given me sustenance. Given what we see and hear every day, it’s easy to become disillusioned with government and to believe that our political system is so broken it might be beyond repair. Frankly that’s what I was feeling a few months ago, before I decided to run. But speaking with you all and being reminded of how kind, reasonable, and simply good, our neighbors are, has restored my faith that we’re not done yet. Our best days do not have to be behind us, and I’m not ready to give up.