Kathryn Tolbert ’74 wants to develop a web-based archive to store and exhibit the stories of Japanese war brides. Jessica Forsyth ’95 wants to dedicate more time to her New York City-based nonprofit that helps at-risk youth in the skateboarding community. Both will get their wish thanks to Vassar’s annual Time-Out Grant.
Created for Vassar alumnae/i age 40 and older, the grant supports those who wish to make a career change or take time out to pursue a strongly desired endeavor. The Time-Out Grant provides up to $45,000 for those who have the desire but lack the financial resources to make a professional leap of faith.
The grant will provide Tolbert with the opportunity to work on a project that’s close to her heart—telling the stories of Japanese war brides, who married American servicemen after World War II and left their native country to start new lives in the United States. Tolbert’s mother, Hiroko, was one of those women. After marrying an American G.I., in 1952 Hiroko moved to an Elmira, New York, chicken farm owned by her new husband’s family, far away from her family and existing Japanese American communities.
“I want to talk to [these women] and gather their stories,” Tolbert says. “I think the Japanese war brides tell a particular slice of the American immigrant story.”
Though a print journalist by trade, writing a book just didn’t seem like the right way to tackle the subject, she says. She plans to build a website that would allow her to add audio, text, and photographs at will. The grant will enable her to take a year off of work at the Washington Post to conduct interviews and get the digital platform established.
Having just completed a short documentary (Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight) about their mothers with two friends—both daughters of Japanese war brides—Tolbert says she already has people lined up to interview. In fact, the Kickstarter campaign for the film included so many comments from donors who knew a Japanese war bride that it gave her good contacts for her new project.
“That was really a turning point for me,” she says. “I have lots of names of people and somehow the word got out. I don’t think it’s going to be difficult finding people to talk to.”
Forsyth has labored long for one of her loves—the Harold Hunter Foundation, a nonprofit, community-based organization in New York City with the mission of helping at-risk youth in the skateboarding community. Named after her childhood friend who died in 2006, the charity was established in 2007 with Forsyth—an adjunct assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice—as its unpaid executive director.
The Time-Out Grant will make it possible for Forsyth to take a leave of absence from teaching to concentrate on the nonprofit that offers summer camp scholarships, and a network of support, resources, and advocacy for New York City skateboarders, the majority of whom come from low-income neighborhoods and often deal with various other issues, including ADHD and dyslexia.
“It felt like I was never able to focus 100 percent and the organization really needed it,” Forsyth says.
In the past few years, the foundation has expanded its programming to include working with young children in the Brownsville, Brooklyn, housing projects; helping organize amateur skateboarding events; and running a digital media training program for skateboarders that provides career skills.
The programming is divided into two broad categories: Programs that provides access to skateboarding to at-risk populations as an alternative to violence, gang participation, and a sedentary lifestyle; and programs that provides support, resources, and opportunities for experiential education to those committed to skateboarding, helping them achieve educational, occupational, and personal success.
The goal in the next few years is to help more young children by getting them involved in skateboarding, expand the digital media program, and help train interns to work on running various foundation programs, she says. A developmental consultant is working with them to help with strategic development, Forsyth says.
“Really, it’s about making sure we have the infrastructure and the finances to grow,” she says.
—Kathryn Tolbert ’74 photo by Marvin Joseph-The Washington Post.