Find Posts By Topic

HSD Employee Spotlight—Mari Sugiyama

Mari Sugiyama with her husband and two young daughters

What is your role at Seattle Human Services?

I’m currently the Community Safety Investments Manager in the Safe and Thriving Communities (STC) Division. I supervise a team of Sr. Grants and Contracts Specialists and a Sr. Planning and Development Specialist. Together we oversee over $20M in contracts and investments.

What made you want to work in human services?

Looking back, I realize I was raised in the community surrounded by people working in various human services or social service agencies. I didn’t know at the time that my parents’ network of friends and many of my “aunties and uncles” were made up of people they organized with during the 1960s and 1970s who were now serving in various capacities in different agencies. After working in the hotel industry, I went to work at Girl Scouts Western Washington where I managed an outreach program bringing Girl Scouts to low-income schools. After 8 years, I wanted to expand my scope and that’s how I landed at HSD. It felt natural to come to HSD where I was familiar with agencies we fund and I have continued to cross paths with people I know or who worked for/with my parents, too.

How has your job changed in recent years?

I have worked in three different divisions during my time at HSD – LAD, ADS, and now STC. While I began in contracts compliance work, the opportunity to work across the department really broadened my vision and understanding of contracting processes. I also had the opportunity to temporarily back-fill the Funding Policy Advisor position and that, too, gave me a whole new understanding of our investments and how different planning teams work through their processes. Since joining our newest division, STC, shortly after its inception in July 2021, I’ve been able to lean on my past experiences in the department to lead my team through a variety of contract portfolios and bodies of work such as Community Safety Capacity Building, the Seattle Relief Fund, API Resiliency, and Supportive Reentry.

What do you love about your job?

Mari Sugiyama stops for a quick portrait in a parking lot with family and friends

I greatly appreciate the agencies and people we work with.  I feel very rooted and connected to community and I hope they can see my team and me as resources and people committed to helping them continue to do the good work on the ground.  If we are to stay true to our foundation as the Safe and Thriving Communities Division, we can only do this work successfully if we continue to invest in BIPOC communities and remain in partnership with community-based organizations. I hope we can strive to do things a little differently, while incorporating real-time feedback and recommendations from our partners.

How do you contribute to HSD’s overarching goals related to racial equity?

My upbringing and education from my parents, but especially my dad, have really shaped my views on racial equity or the lack thereof.  Knowing about the history of activism in Seattle and how the Asian movement was inspired by local Black power leaders like Aaron Dixon and Eddie Rye, and how our groups worked in solidarity with one another—even maintaining those relationships into present day—has really influenced how I hope to show up in spaces when it comes to racial equity. 

I’ve had the privilege of serving as an Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus co-lead and working with other caucus and Change Team leads in our department as part of the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), which has greatly impacted, influenced, and contributed to my overall experience within HSD. 

What motivates you or keeps you going?

Mari Sugiyama with her father, mother, and sister on a family trip to Hawaii as a child, on a deck at a hotel with palm trees, sand, and ocean seen in the background

My family and community are what continue to motivate me and keep me going. For a lot of people, the City of Seattle as an institution can be daunting or intimidating. I hope to exhibit how you can advocate for and balance a commitment to your core beliefs, while also utilizing the power and privilege you have in these workspaces to speak up for others. Being raised by two community activists, one who worked for the City for nearly 40 years and another who ran a community-based nonprofit for over 30 years, created an interesting dichotomy that still impacts and influences me today.

What’s one piece of advice for HSD newcomers or recent graduates in your field?

One of my favorite quotes is “to know where you’re going, is to know where you’re from.” I would remind people to hold tight to knowing and remembering where you’re from or what your core personal beliefs are; and if that stays consistent, even if you falter, you can always feel confident in your decisions.