Reflections as I Step Down as Director Of the Safe Routes Partnership

Deb HubsmithThroughout my entire life I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world. I found my niche in the late 1990s with Safe Routes to School and never looked back.

Good ideas have a way of catching on, which is exactly what happened with Safe Routes. It became my passion and goal to be a leader in creating a strong Safe Routes to School movement throughout the United States that would contribute significantly toward building a healthy future for children and the environment. I’m so pleased that the Safe Routes Partnership, which I founded in 2005, now includes 700 partners and more than 15,000 schools nationwide are benefitting from Safe Routes to School programs.

I had planned to continue leading this organization, but sometimes life provides big surprises.  On October 17, 2013, I received a call from my doctor – it was the type of call no one ever wants to receive. She said, “You have acute leukemia and need to be admitted to the hospital immediately.” I was shocked but there was no time to process; I knew I had to take action to save my life, with the same passion and vigor that I used to build the Safe Routes to School movement. I immediately called my senior staff and Board members with my diagnosis. They were very compassionate and supportive, and reassured me that everything would be OK with the Safe Routes Partnership. They urged me to focus on my health, and I did. 

To stop the cancer I went through four rounds of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and spent nearly six months in hospitals. Thank you so much to everyone who sent cards, support and prayers during that critical time; it helped keep my spirits up and focused on healing. The really good news is that the treatment worked! My recent biopsy showed no trace of leukemia and my blood counts are all in the normal range. I am absolutely thrilled with this progress, but still have more healing to do. My doctors have advised that for the next year or so I should only work part-time and limit my travel.

This was hard news to receive, as I knew it meant that I could not return as the Director of the Safe Routes Partnership, a position that requires extremely high energy, long hours and a lot of travel. Therefore, to do what is best for both my health and the future of the organization, I have decided to step down as our Director.

But while my position is changing, I’m not going away! I’m pleased that I will remain on our Board of Directors and that I will also serve as a strategic advisor to the Safe Routes Partnership starting in 2015, consulting on our policy and strategy nationwide and in California, as well as assisting with onboarding the new Executive Director. I will also be taking on consulting contracts with a few other organizations, while keeping my hours to part-time.

I have full confidence in the staff and board of the Safe Routes Partnership and in our transition plan. I want to express deep gratitude to Risa Wilkerson, Chair of our Board, and Margo Pedroso, our Deputy Director, who bore a huge brunt of work along with the rest of the staff while I have been healing. I look forward to working with the rest of our Board to find a stellar new Executive Director who will help continue the success of our organization.

People often ask me, “What’s your message and how has it changed? ” Before I got sick it was always that each person truly does have a unique power to make a difference in their world. Now that I’ve recovered from cancer, I add that to be most effective, we should infuse our advocacy campaigns with compassion and understanding, while cherishing both our personal and professional relationships.

I’m pleased to be standing together with the Safe Routes Partnership and other kindred souls to build a better future for children and the nation. Thank you for continuing to support the Safe Routes mission. We’ve made wonderful progress as a movement, and have great things ahead. Together, we make a huge difference.

All my best,