In December 2020 Kelly Olson was hired as the full time Policy Manager for the Civil Survival Project at the Public Defender Association. Kelly started part time with Civil Survival as the Thurston County Game Changer leader in October 2018 and continues to lead the Thurston County Game Changer group. After leaving prison in 2007, Kelly used education and volunteering in her community to help rebuild her life. She graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in communications and public policy. She graduated from the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy in 2013 with an Executive Master’s in Public Administration. Prior to joining the Civil Survival Project full time, Kelly was working for the state at the Washington Student Achievement Council, where she worked as a state regulator in postsecondary degree authorization.
Although Kelly achieved academic success and became a leader in her community through her volunteer work, some paid positions with nonprofit organizations, and interning at the Washington State Senate, she struggled to find a living wage job due to the collateral consequences of being formerly incarcerated. After a decade of struggling to survive in a society that consistently told her she wasn’t welcome, she realized it was time to advocate for herself, and all the others trying to rebuild their lives after incarceration. She has found her voice and is using her story to advocate for systemic change for all justice involved individuals.
Kelly has been appointed by the Thurston County Commissioners to the Thurston County Law & Justice Council, serves on the advisory council for the Husky Post – Prison Pathways (HP3) at the University of Washington Tacoma, and What’s Next Washington’s Employment Advisory Council. Kelly has also been involved with national organizations like Unlock Higher Ed, the Advancement Project, and the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduate Network.