In Honor of Laura Van Zandt


My friends tease me that I am too naïve for thinking a workplace led with integrity and kindness is the norm. But to me – it is.

I met Laura in 2005 when I applied for the job of Office Manager at REACH. I had heard about the job with the endorsement that “REACH is led by amazing women,” namely Laura and Heather Latham, the Associate Executive Director at the time. I wanted a job I enjoyed with people who were passionate about social change and that I could manage while in a master’s program - and I had no plans for where my career would go from there.

Deb Heimel, Associate Executive Director
Deb Heimel, Associate Executive Director

Over the years, REACH grew and changed, and I grew and changed. Laura told me she believed in me, and more importantly she showed me. After a class on strategic planning where I used REACH as a case study, Laura and Heather took me out for ice cream to listen to my proposal. She wanted to hear what I had noticed and what my thoughts were. A year later, we were trying to move the location of the office. We worked together to find a space and manage the details. And then the move fell through at the last minute. Laura took me for ice cream to ease the disappointment.

Come to find out, she loves ice cream.

In my first year at REACH, I went with her to a meeting with a minister at a local church. I wanted to know what we were going to talk about and what we were hoping to get from the conversation. She said she has a general overview of REACH that she shares – but mainly we would listen to what was important to the minister and her congregation and work together to see how we should proceed. I watched her easily meet new people and enthusiastically get to know them.

Over the years I got to see a different side of Laura’s leadership. The side that says, “I was thinking of it this way, but someone has pushed me into a new direction – what do you think about this?”. Being close to power means you see things that are easy to miss from far away. And I saw that she asked for help. She called our insurance broker to ask specific questions, she called the bank for instructions, and she called on many of you for advice and guidance - whether emotional or practical - based on your area of expertise. When I was a kid, I thought that people were leaders because they know what to do in every situation.  But working with Laura, I have learned so much more. Leaders make decisions, yes. And they are people who make mistakes, ask for help, apologize – and keep showing up.

Laura and Deb at the 2019 Reach for the Stars Gala
Laura and Deb at the 2019 Reach for the Stars Gala

Laura showed up for me in spirit and also in person. She loves being with people. She was at all the events, whether church services or rallies for our legislative priorities. She shows up – and you know she is there. Laura speaks up at statewide meetings and asks the questions others are too nervous to ask. She is always strategizing and analyzing. She has read the news, she knows the people, she has done the research. She doesn’t say when or how – but she is prepared, and you know somewhere in there she has spent the unheralded time to do that work.

Seventeen years is a long time to work with someone. I am grateful for every day of it.

As we prepare for REACH to move into a new chapter of leadership, I like to tell Laura that although she won’t continue to get to be my boss, now we can just be friends. But whatever our relationship turns into, she will be in my heart forever. She has already been a friend, mentor, occasional debate partner, more often strategic partner, and always a cheerleader. I know she has done this for so many of you reading this.

Our work is healthy relationships – we envision a world where everyone knows love and respect in all their relationships. And where we are part of a community that sees us for our strengths and humanity. This will not change – this is the work of each of us, individually and collectively. We will honor Laura’s legacy by continuing this – together.

Donate today… to honor the work Laura has done and to build a solid foundation for our next Executive Director.