West Bloomfield Treasurer, IFLC Community Building Committee member, and newly appointed WISDOM board member Teri Weingarden could have coined the slogan “Think globally. Act locally.”
“Most people don’t realize how important local politics are and how much power members of township boards have to make decisions that affect the community,” says Weingarden. “The local politics is what affects you on a day to day basis.”
Her global view developed as a student in international relations and organizational psychology at the University of Michigan. She spent several years away from home working in Finland, Scotland, and England. Her plan was to join the peace corps and then work for an international non-profit. She also considered a PhD geared towards integrating people from different backgrounds into the workplace.
As she considers those goals and her current work, she muses “I guess I have come full circle, haven’t I?”
After her stints abroad, she returned home to pursue a masters in industrial relations at Wayne State.
She was working as a consultant with EDS (Electronic Data Systems), about to take a job with General Motors that would have taken her to Atlanta, when she met her husband, Howard, and decided to stay in West Bloomfield, the community she has lived in since she was 5 years old.
I make most of my big life decisions on instinct,” says Weingarden. “I always have a feeling that things will work out.”
She took a job with Accenture, formerly known as Andersen Consulting, where her responsibilities included a state-wide diversity program, and diversity training.
When Weingarden became pregnant with her first child, she decided to be a stay at home mom, volunteering wherever she could be useful, serving as a brownie leader and a room mom at school, on the Shir Shalom temple sisterhood board, and as a team captain with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
“Whenever someone needed a mom to volunteer, I was always willing to step up and help,” says Weingarden.
“Then I ran into someone running for local office. And she said you should run for office,” says Weingarden, “I went home and told Howard ‘I think I’m going to run for office,’ and he said ‘okay,’ and I ran for office. And actually won.”
Weingarden’s father had served on the zoning board and the township board, so she had grown up in local government, with a sense of what was happening in the community. She understood the value of participation, felt that she understood what was important to her fellow community members, and knew it was a way for her to make a positive impact.
Her involvement in local government connected her to an even larger number of local organizations, and she was elected to the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce board and the board for Victims of War and Poverty (now One World Mission), which worked to get medical supplies and equipment to war-torn countries. She sat on the Friendship Circle Board, and served as the captain for a Relay for Life team.
Then she met Gail Katz, one of the co-founders of WISDOM, and chair of the IFLC education committee.
“I started following Gail Katz around and I was hooked,” laughs Weingarden. “I had heard about Religious Diversity Journeys and thought it sounded really awesome. Then I heard about Face to Faith and wanted to help.”
Around that time, Weingarden was experiencing intense political conflict within the township board, and was seeking an antidote to the negativity surrounding her.
“I felt like I had to find some spirituality in my life. This was just what I needed,” says Weingarden. “The more spiritual I became the more it helped me handle the negativity in my work world. When I went to these types of activities, I was surrounded with good, kind, accepting, honest people who were doing good in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be around people like that?”
West Bloomfield is one of 10 Michigan communities with a Welcoming Community designation. This past year, the designation came under attack by local community members who preferred not to welcome immigrants. But it was a chance for Weingarden to observe and participate in an interfaith network that supported her goal of good local government.
“It was absolutely horrible,” said Weingarden of the township board meeting where the issue was discussed. “It was the most negative destructive public comment I’d ever heard. People were hostile and mean-spirited. People were standing up to speak in what was essentially a hate mob.”
The experience confirmed for Weingarden that she was where she needed to be and doing what needed to be done.
“I was considering not running for office but I realized how important it was, now more than ever to have people who understand the importance of inclusion and compassion. What if one of the people who was speaking that night took my place? I’m raising a family in this community and I want to live here my whole life, so I realize how important it is.”
At the local level, the interests of the community come together on a wide range of issues, and so do the people who are looking out for them. Through her interfaith network, Weingarden heard about a move to process fracking waste water from Pennsylvania in Detroit, and took the issue to her connections in state government.
“The more you get in the network of people with similar concerns and efforts, the more they connect,” says Weingarden. “I think the more we connect and work together, the more we can help. That’s how we get things done. I have the opportunity to reach people who can make change and I think that’s a very positive reason to be in political office.
Expanding her circle to include WISDOM is exciting for Weingarden.
“I like the idea of women from all different backgrounds coming together to do positive work in the community. I look forward to learning a lot from the women involved. We’re all people working on causes – we’re not Jews, Muslims, Sikhs. We’re people. And particularly with WISDOM, we’re all women.”