By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, co-leader of the nonprofit Together We Bake, announced her run for Alexandria City Council at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s meeting on March 5.
In addition to Together We Bake and the ADC, Bennett-Parker is involved with the Community Criminal Justice Board, the boards of Agenda: Alexandria, the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture and the Alexandria Regional Council for the United Way. She also formerly served on the Commission on Employment, was named one of Alexandria’s 40 under 40 in 2017, and co-leads the Alexandria Women’s Round Table.
Bennett-Parker said she decided to run for council in February in order to take the work she does with Together We Bake to a higher level, to “make sure that all Alexandrians can succeed and make a great life for their families.”
Together We Bake is a job training and personal development program for vulnerable women in the community who are either coming out of the criminal justice system, homeless, recent immigrants or facing long-term unemployment. Since its onset in 2012, the program has graduated 126 participants after providing them with tools essential to success.
Bennett-Parker joined the Together We Bake team about three years ago. At the time, she was running a small business called Fruitcycle that repurposed produce that would otherwise go to waste into healthy snacks. When she realized she had a lot of the same goals as Together We Bake, she reached out to the leaders about collaborating.
“She came to us and said, ‘I’m hiring women from Together We Bake. I want to help women who are in a disadvantaged position. Maybe we can work together,’” Co-founder Stephanie Wright said. “It was this great synergy of bringing her products and her experience to Together We Bake.”
Bennett-Parker said her drive to help others and bring about change in the community came from her mother.
“My mom always told me, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” she said. “[This] is something that I’ve applied to every aspect of my life, starting Fruitcycle, [joining] Together We Bake, just wanting to be involved in the community and give back and help make it a better place.”
Bennett-Parker was born in Alexandria to two U.S. Naval officers. While she moved around during her childhood for her parents’ careers, she said Alexandria is where she and her husband decided to start their young family.
If elected to council, Bennett-Parker said one of the first topics she hopes to find a long-term solution to is affordable housing.
“I want to make sure Alexandria remains an inclusive place for all,” she said. “For me that includes affordable housing, not just for lower income individuals, but for young families just starting out and senior citizens who have lived here for years.”
She said she would embrace the principles of smart growth and expand the vitality of King Street and Del Ray to the West End. In addition, she plans to fight for environmental sustainability, a strong public schools system and transparency and accessibility on city council.
“Anything she does, she really thinks it through,” Wright said. “She’s very open minded and a great listener. That’s what I think for being on council she’ll be so great, because she will really listen and she won’t make any rash judgments or decisions.”
Florence King, who has worked with Bennett-Parker on several boards and commissions, also praised her ability to listen and analyze.
“What’s the saying, talk softly but carry a big stick?” King said. “She is sort of like that. … If there’s something she questions, she voices her concern, and a lot of times it’s something that’s outside of the box that maybe we didn’t think of. I think that’s a good attribute in a leadership type.”
Last fall, Bennett-Parker brought her concerns before city council regarding the Old Town Farmer’s Market vendor selection process. Together We Bake struggled to get a permanent spot because of different baked good vendors’ seniority and other regulations. She said the result of her fight was a possible extension of the market, what she called a temporary fix.
“Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that it should always continue to be done that way,” Bennett-Parker said. “We need to look at innovative solutions and ideas for our city for what’s best moving forward, and I think that applies to the farmers market and other areas as well.”
King applauded Bennett-Parker’s presence in the community and her determination to give a voice to the voiceless, especially through her nonprofit and small business.
“A lot of the lenses that I take to looking at issues is through the experiences of the women I serve,” Bennett-Parker said. “A lot of the women going through our program haven’t necessarily had someone believe in them before, so instilling that idea that they’re amazing women and strong is a really important part of the program.”
Stephanie Beyer Kirby, co-leader of the Alexandria Women’s Round Table, also said Bennett-Parker’s nonprofit and small business experience would be beneficial on council.
“Who would have thought to go out and find the bruised apples and turn it into a business, let alone an opportunity for a lot of people who are not employable?” Kirby said. “I think that kind of creativity, that along with the fact that she’s just brilliant, will really give her a leg up in terms of being able to attack very complex problems.”
Bennett-Parker graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University with a degree in history, traveled to Singapore on a Fulbright fellowship to address public policy and history and earned a masters degree in anthropology from the University of London. Before founding Fruitcycle, she worked with the National Governors Association.
Bennett-Parker will host a meet and greet on April 15 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the North Ridge neighborhood. The address will be provided upon RSVP at www.bit.ly/MeetEBP415.
She joins fellow first-time Democratic council candidates Dak Hardwick, Amy Jackson, Mo Seifeldein, Robert Ray, Canek Aguirre and Matt Feely and Republi – can candidate Kevin Dunne. Incumbent Democrats Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg, John Chapman and Willie Bailey are seeking reelection. The Democratic primary will take place June 12.