Building a Husky Community for the Long Run

AlexisAlexis Babcock reflects on 20 years of UW volunteer service in Washington D.C.

Alexis Babcock, ’97, has had purple and gold in her veins for as long as she can remember. Both her parents attended UW, so she’s been cheering for the Huskies since childhood. It was no surprise that when her post-UW life took her to Washington, D.C., Alexis was ready to spread Purple Pride in the Beltway.

Starting a Purple Wave

“When I first arrived in D.C. there wasn’t much activity in the Husky community. I was missing Seattle, so I hatched this crazy plan to reinvigorate things here.” Knowing she’d need some help, Alexis reached out to fellow alumni from her ASUW days. Best friend and former DC Dawg John Linder, ’98, fondly remembers their scrappy start. “Alexis ‘voluntold’ me to get involved […] she has the tremendous ability to get people involved without feeling pushed into something.”  One in-person visit the UW Alumni Association during a trip back home to Seattle, a postcard to D.C.-area alumni, and an electronic listserv later, they were on their way.

When the UWAA approached Alexis about reviving a summer BBQ, she was game for the challenge. “We didn’t have a location, though. I remember emailing this list of alumni asking if anybody had a house we could host this thing at?” Two decades later, she and her fellow volunteers have no trouble drawing triple digit attendance. As chair of the event for 20 years now, Alexis is quick to say, “It’s a great team effort for our volunteer board and our hosts. We’re lucky to have it down to a science.”

“A successful chapter is one who is always willing to try new things”

Just as the BBQ evolved over time, so has the DC Dawgs definition of success. Having a 100+ guest list for their marquis events is an obvious win, but Alexis has found that it’s quality over quantity. “Sometimes people look at it by the numbers, and find themselves saying ‘Well not many people came out. It’s a failure.’ But I think you can have an incredibly successful event that only five people come to. If it’s meaningful and they seemed happy, good job!” She also advises to play nice with the enemy from time to time. For the past 17 years, the DC Dawgs have co-hosted an Apple Cup viewing party with the DC Cougs alumni group and the Washington State Society. “Teaming up with conference rivals shouldn’t be so taboo,” Alexis muses. “The thing is we’re all in a similar boat. Our schools are on the other side of the country. You can find the commonalities in that.”

Even with myriad events to choose from and plenty of resources, Alexis and the board face the challenge of living in a notoriously transient city. She and the board look to long-time friend and Associate Vice President of UW Student Life, Lincoln Johnson, to connect them with newcomers. “I often times have a student who moves to D.C. to begin a new job or internship, and whenever I ask for alumni to reach out to those students, Alexis is one of the first,” Johnson says. Alexis observes that “as transient as D.C. is, people often really look for or want something to make them feel connected. Which is exactly why I started the chapter.”

“[Alexis] genuinely wants to Husky nation to succeed, and has the skills and drive to make it happen”

Despite her insistence that it has taken a village to get the D.C. community to its current state, Alexis’ peers credit her with driving the momentum day in and day out. Long-time salmon BBQ host Joe Ryan, ’64, says Alexis demonstrates “an obvious devotion to Washington and a continuous willingness to provide time, treasure, and talent to encourage others who have caught Potomac Fever.” Former DC Dawgs board member Rick Melrose, ’99, believes her dedication and UW pride is what makes Alexis a great leader. “She’s got a great ability and determination to get things done in order to energize the community of UW alumni.” Since their introduction in 2006, current DC Dawg community chair, Sean Barrett, ’93, has believed what sets Alexis apart is that she “genuinely wants to Husky nation to succeed, and has the skills and drive to make it happen.” He credits her long history in the community as “key in taking the chapter to new levels.”

Forever Purple and Gold

Alexis sees a bright future for the DC Dawgs. She credits this confidence to one crucial component: having a board of volunteers. “Establishing the board was the best thing we ever could have done. I’d advise any Husky community to get to a team structure as soon as it’s feasible. Don’t let it all fall to any one person and you’ll have a strong, stable, and sustainable community.” Even with this safeguard, there can be burnout. That’s why Alexis would advise any Husky community member to “plan something you’d want to do anyway.” She goes on to say, “A successful chapter is one who is always willing to try new things. Afterwards, you look back and figure out if it worked; if not, you try something else!”

Two decades of hard work can certainly take a toll. Alexis meditates on what keeps her inspired to stay involved. Simply put, “At the heart of [my dedication] is my love for the University of Washington and its mission.” She feels that providing a source of connection and community for Huskies who find themselves away from home is one meaningful way to contribute to an institution that gave her so much. “I want the alumni chapter to be successful and stay that way. If I had to move away tomorrow, I’d know it would be in good hands.”