Celebrating five years with Ann Ngo: ‘I’m proud of what we’ve built in such a short amount of time’

Celebrating five years with Ann Ngo: ‘I’m proud of what we’ve built in such a short amount of time’

Five people jumping in front of a small building in the shape of a teapot.

(From left) Our former colleague Muthu Muthiah, Ann, Finance Director Carmen Loh, Community Engagement Manager Rosa Gimson, and Executive Vice President Cory Sbarbaro strike a mid-air pose during a stop in Zillah on their way to Bingen for our October 2019 staff retreat. Adds Ann: “Each carpool was in competition with each other to stop at interesting spots along the way and we needed to provide photo evidence at each location.”

“From day one, GHF has been all about relationships and community and making sure those are at the forefront of what we do,” says Ann Ngo, technology and operations manager and one of the foundation’s first employees. After five years at GHF, Ann says that, despite all the ways the foundation has grown and changed, deep connection and collaboration remain central both to her role and to the organization at large.

On a personal level, Ann’s life has also changed dramatically since she started at GHF, but two things remain the same: her feisty pup Boba (“Still living his best life!”) and her love of good food and cooking. The biggest change came in 2020, when Ann became a mother to her new daughter Hannah the day before COVID-19 shutdowns took effect in Washington. “It’s been such a journey, but it has been great to spend so much time together. She has taught me so many life lessons.”

A baby, her mom, and her mom’s mom sit on a bench at a waterfront.

Ann (middle), with her daughter and mom during a visit to the Ruston waterfront this year.

Two of those lessons have been to be present and enjoy the little things. “She’s taught me to be in every moment. Well, really, she demands it as a toddler,” Ann laughs. “But on a deeper level, she makes me want to ground my life in one of GHF’s values, which is the Seven Generation Principle. Motherhood has made me want to explore my mom’s life, my grandma’s life, my grandma’s mom’s life—their history, trauma, and triumphs as refugees and immigrants from Vietnam. My mom always envisioned a better life for us, and I think about the same thing. I’m so committed to creating a world where Hannah can just be who she is.”

Looking back, Ann remembers the early, “start-up” days of the foundation as being exciting (occasionally a little scary). She began as an administrative and operations coordinator, which meant working closely with the few other employees to establish processes and develop systems while creating the space to learn from and be responsive to community members. “I’m proud of what we’ve built in such a short amount of time and so grateful for my teammates. It really is all about the people here.”

In her current role, Ann continues to wear many hats and embraces the variety of projects she works on. She loves creative problem solving and dreaming up better and more efficient uses of technology to support her teammates and the foundation. “Every single day, I continue to learn that I’m going to continue to learn.” Ann says that the differences that come with each day have been instrumental in expanding her comfort zone and providing opportunities for personal growth.

Two women sitting next to each other inside a bus.

Ann (left) with Portfolio Director LiLi Liu on a bus ride to Seattle’s International District for lunch in early 2020.

The other major benefits to come from Ann’s time at the foundation have been a sharpening of her worldview and the affirmation that—while her lived experiences are her own—she’s not alone in some of the systemic inequities she’s faced as a Vietnamese American woman. “What GHF has done is ground me in the experiences of our communities, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters. I just want to be safe in my space. I want to be me. I want to live my life. These are shared aspirations when you listen to people’s stories. We’re all connected in that way, and that’s the premise of our work. How do we get there together?”

When asked her advice for people just beginning their professional careers, Ann is quick to acknowledge that she’s still figuring it out and learning to practice her own good guidance. One thing she knows for sure: “Be present with people. Be real with people. Be good to people. And listen, really listen, when people tell you their story. There is so much to learn from the experiences of others.”