An In-depth Conversation with Adriene Rockwell, AFW Grant Writer
1) So, what is your actual AFW “official” title?
I am one of three grant writers on the team, along with Kathleen Masser and Kim Okamura.
2) And when did you come on board to AFW?
Oh my goodness, good question. It must be 2011, because that’s how far my grant proposals go back.
3) How did you come to hear about us?
Well, that’s a very serendipitous story!
I served on a non-profit board in my hometown of Benicia, and one of my colleagues knew Jim Weaver and recommended we hire him as a consultant to help us through a strategic plan. Jim, as you know, is the former Executive Director for AFW and had gone on to be a non-profit management consultant. Jim and I worked closely on that project, and he was always very proud of the work of Angel Flight West, so I learned a lot about the organization that way.
Simultaneously, Kathleen Masser had a mutual friend with my husband on Facebook and they got to talking about how I was a grant writer. She reached out to me because she needed some grant writing assistance, completely separate from my connection with Jim Weaver. She had no idea we knew each other. Having learned so much about AFW through Jim, of course I jumped on the opportunity. Luckily, Jim gave me a good recommendation and the rest is history. Kathleen and I often marvel at how it was meant to be. I’m forever grateful.
4) Can you tell us a little about your background as a grant writer?
Oh boy, that’s a long story because it’s been 28 years since I wrote my first grant proposal. But in summary, I earned a degree in Journalism at Sacramento State University, and after I graduated, I moved to Spain for a year to teach English as Second Language (ESL). When I returned to California, I took a job at a weekly newspaper and also started volunteering to teach ESL to immigrants and refugees at a non-profit called Canal Alliance in San Rafael. The organization offered me a job as a grant writer, and also offered to train me and pay me more than I was earning as a journalist — so it was easy to accept the job. Plus, it was so rewarding to do work that made such a difference in people’s lives.
Soon I was involved in all kinds of development projects, and eventually ended up working at the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium, an organization that developed policy and resources for a group of health clinics, as well as a street outreach van that provided medical care for the homeless. This was meaningful but heart-wrenching work, and I found myself getting emotionally depleted.
Eventually I made a transition into the arts and worked in development at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. After a few years, I moved on to become the Development Director at a contemporary art museum and nature preserve in Napa called di Rosa Preserve.
My husband and I got married at di Rosa, which was wonderful. But when my son was born in 2006, there were complications and we almost lost him. It shook me up, and I decided I wanted to be home with him. So, that’s when I went back to grant writing, where I could do my research and writing at all hours of the night when my son was sleeping. I can’t believe it, but my son is 13 years old now!
5) Have you had the opportunity to experience flying on an actual AFW mission, yet?
I was a mission assistant one summer for a burn camp flight, and it changed my life. We flew two children with visible burns, and I will never forget the change in their spirits when we arrived at the hangar where their peers were waiting together for the camp counselors. Their faces lit up and they immediately started playing together as if they were long lost siblings with a lifetime bond of shared experience. It was beautiful to see.
I’ve also flown a few times with AFW pilots to wing retreats and fly-ins and I’m always impressed with how kind and calming they are for passengers like me who get nervous up there. They take safety seriously and are so good at spreading the joy of aviation. I’m always kind of sad when it’s time to land.
As a grant writer, I’ve had the opportunity to talk by phone with many passengers over the years too. I often come away from those conversations with a deep respect for those families who are dealing with unbearable illnesses, or circumstances – and their resilience, grace and humor. Never have I talked to a passenger who is complaining. They are always so grateful to AFW and their care providers. These conversations have changed my perspective forever.
6) Do you have any closing thoughts about working with AFW that you’d like to share?
Having worked with several non-profits in my career, AFW is one the best-run organizations I know. I am always in absolute awe when attending the annual Wing Leader Retreat and meeting AFW staff and volunteers. The people who are drawn to this organization are all outstanding human beings. It’s a joy to work in a trusting organizational culture where staff members are connected like family, and thriving in their work. Volunteers, including board members and pilots, are often people who run major corporations and other successful businesses, and who are all pouring their hearts and smarts into serving the mission of the Angel Flight West in order to save or improve more lives.
It makes me want to keep getting better at my job!