One nonprofit is trying to get parents more civically engaged through babysitting

Rachel Sowray, left, and Paige Hook, right. (Courtesy/Paige Hook)

Paige Hook wanted to get involved in campaign managing two years ago but faced one major obstacle.

She had three children under the age of six and couldn’t bring them door-to-door for three hours at a time.

Then a friend told her about Politisit, a nonprofit organization that reimburses parents for childcare costs when they attend civic engagement meetings and activities.

“I was like, ‘you’re joking,’” she said. “I tried it. It was so easy.”

Hook is no longer eligible for the childcare services, because she successfully ran for Stayton City Council and is now running for House District 17, which covers portions of Linn and Marion Counties. Elected officials can’t use the service.

While childcare is still an obstacle for Hook, she said Politisit gave her the ability to get involved initially.

“I wouldn’t have had the experience that I needed to break that barrier down of working on campaigns, of having that time to volunteer,” she said.

Now the single mom said she carries Politisit cards everywhere she goes. She’s hoping to get childcare provided at the Stayton City Council meetings, so more parents can get involved too.

Politisit was started by Rachel Sowray in 2017, after she was struck by people standing in lines for hours to vote in the presidential election.

She realized there was no way she could stand in line with her toddler and wanted to figure out a way to address the barriers parents of young children face when they want to get involved. 

After the program launched in April, she said it started supporting parents within weeks. One of the first requesters was Jackie Leung, who later successfully ran for Salem City Council.

Parents can fill out applications and event request forms on the Politisit website.

Then, they set up their own childcare, send proof they attended a meeting and Politisit will send a PayPal payment or check. Clients are limited to $200 or 15 hours per month, whichever comes first.

The nonprofit is nonpartisan and is funded through individual donors.

Sowray, a federal prosecutor in Portland, pointed to the Iowa caucuses as an example of where childcare is an obstacle to voting. She referenced a column titled: “How do you caucus with a baby?,” which lays out the difficulties faced by parents in Iowa wanting to caucus.

“Maybe your child can’t be in a location like that. Or just quite simply in my experience if I have my child at some sort of event, 60% of my focus is on him really,” she said. “I’m not even as engaged as I want to be if I have to care for him at that same time.”

Sowray said most of her clients are women, but the first man signed up two months ago. A lot of them write her blurbs about what happened at the various events they attend.

“It’s been cool watching how other people are getting engaged,” she said.

Now, Sowray said she’s working with organizations and cities who want to provide childcare at their meetings.

Politisit has 56 individual clients and works with 9 organizations providing childcare at meetings, totaling 500 hours of civic engagement, Sowray said. 

On Friday, Feb. 14 she launched a program that will offer childcare reimbursement to parents who want to go to the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22. She’s hoping to be able to expand the program across the United States.

“Every time I hear from somebody in another state asking when we’re going to be there, I get a little bit sad because I’m not expanding fast enough to meet the need,” Sowray said.

Hook had advice for moms wanting to get engaged with local issues.

“I would encourage women to do it anyway. Run anyway. Get involved anyway,” she said. “There’s so many of us who have been there, so many of us who want to see more parents.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.