Lee Stuart ’71: Organizing for a Just and Compassionate Community

Jared Scott Tesler
Lee Stuart ’71 first fell in love with nature at the tender age of eight, when she and her mother, Jacqueline Molthan Stuart ’43, were exploring the Appalachian Mountains, where they ultimately stumbled upon a curious discovery: fossils of Devonian coral reefs. Stuart’s interest in social activism began around the same time, while accompanying her mother on trips to support mining families who were being evicted from company housing following the work-related deaths of their husbands and fathers.

“From my mother,” Stuart says, “I first learned how to stand up and speak up when I saw things that weren’t right, and then to do everything I could to set things straight.”

After graduating from The Shipley School, where she developed the “underpinnings of how to learn anything,” Stuart pursued her childhood passion for science, earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Prescott College, a master’s degree in biology from San Diego State University, and a doctoral degree in ecology through a joint program between San Diego State University and the University of California, Davis. She then served as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

An advocate and agitator at heart, Stuart shifted her focus toward community organizing and community development, when she and friends created the SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) food assistance program that quickly grew to serving over 350,000 households in 35 cities across the U.S. She quickly transformed herself from a natural ecologist into an urban one. She would spend the next 35 years working for several nonprofit organizations, including SHARE - New York as Founding Executive Director, South Bronx Churches, The Hunger Project, and Duluth LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation).

On April 30, 2021, Stuart will retire from her post as Executive Director of CHUM (formerly known as Churches United in Ministry), where, for the past eight years, she has joined forces with other people of faith to provide basic necessities, foster stable lives, and organize for a just and compassionate community. Each year, the organization’s programs—Stabilization Services, Distributive Services, and Congregational Outreach and Community Organizing—serve more than 8,000 low- and no-income, homeless, hungry, isolated, or otherwise marginalized community members throughout Duluth, Minnesota.

“I’ve really tried to live out ‘Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing’ in just about everything,” Stuart says. “I’ve been in some really challenging environments and situations, and it’s a good guidepost.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that Stuart—a Margaret Bailey Speer Award recipient—was invited back to campus as a Commencement speaker in the late ’90s and was recently credited as a distinguished alumna in A Daring Vision: A History of The Shipley School, 1894–2018, researched and written by former Director of Communications Trina Vaux ’63.

Stuart is particularly proud of her part in building nearly 1,000 new homes during the South Bronx Nehemiah Project, the founding of a new public high school in the Bronx (the Bronx Leadership Academy High School), building strong connections with Duluth’s health care system for improved quality and coordination of care for people experiencing homelessness, and CHUM’s leadership role in St. Louis County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.