SOZO TEAM MEMBER HIGHLIGHT:
Mary Plese, Chairman of the Board
Q: Mary, how long have you been involved with Sozo (history, timeline, etc.)
M: I went on my first short-term trip in 2007 and have returned I THINK 13 times since (you lose track after a while.) I’ve been on Sozo’s board since 2013 as Secretary.
Q. What drew you to Sozo’s work/mission?
M: Well, my involvement with Sozo actually began as a joke. When Flatirons was preparing to send its first short-term team to Afghanistan, I was in the offices and noticed the team collecting passports. I sarcastically remarked, ‘Why isn’t my passport in this pile?’ I was challenged to ‘put my passport where my mouth was’ and from that, my husband and I went! I absolutely fell in love!
M: Absolutely. I’ve gained a greater appreciation of my life at home and how truly over the top blessed we are – something I didn’t have such a deep perspective on previously. More importantly I have been impacted by what rich lives Afghans lead with so little materially. I’ve also been amazed by Afghan hospitality and the value that’s placed on relationships. I’d trade most anything to be able to import their hospitality—I don’t feel we scratch the surface here at home.
Q. What is the biggest challenge Sozo faces?
M: I see two: 1) The ever-changing political landscape in Afghanistan, and 2) Reaching new supporting partners. The difficult part is casting the vision for the difference involvement in Sozo’s work can make on an organization. Connecting with Sozo was one a pivotal moment for Flatirons. When an organization plugs into Sozo, the impact is undeniable.
Q. What do you wish people knew about Afghanistan or Afghans?
M: That they care for one another so well and they truly do life together – community is so apparent. Afghans also have a great appreciation for what the United States has done in their country.
Q. What would you tell a potential supporter (could be donor, short-term team member, etc.) about WHY this cause is so important?
M: Investing in Sozo’s work is tangible and can be trusted. We/You can ‘follow the money’ and show/see what your support is doing in the lives of Afghans. Sozo relies on our Afghan leadership to determine what is really needed, as opposed to what we think is needed from an American standpoint. This allows support to directly target the need in a culturally appropriate way, equaling greater impact, deeper relationships and less waste/missed targets.
Q. As your role on Sozo’s board has changed, what is your biggest goal for this year?
M: Involving more partners and exposing more people to the vision of Sozo. The heart will follow.
Q. Tell us about yourself!
M: I was born and raised in Denver and am an University of Colorado Boulder alumna. I was in Senior Management with IBM for 30 years retiring as Manager of their Business and Technology Office, overseeing the majority of the Western United States. While with IBM, I was on the Executive Board for the US Multiple Sclerosis Society and served as Event Manager for Special Olympics. Following my retirement, my husband Dallas and I opened an Irish pub in our little town of Niwot, CO (just outside Boulder), where we reside with our sweet yellow lab, Brody. I’ve been on staff at Flatirons Church for 8 years, supporting our Executive Leadership Team.
Q. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to have with you and why?
- A dog
- My favorite drink
- Books, including my Bible
….all are necessary for survival!
Q. Who has inspired you in your life and why?
On my first trip to Afghanistan, we met with a group of IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) – literally the poorest of the poor – they had nothing. During our visit, I was introduced to one of the elders’ wives. She was, and still is, the epitome of strength and elegance. She’s endured challenges and circumstances I can’t begin to understand, but her spirit and beauty inspire me. This original group of IDP’s became the first residents of Barek Aub, a community Sozo continues to support today. I think of her often and still see her most every time I return to Kabul.