Danita Washington

Danita Washington

Danita Washington

2021 Legacy Award Recipient

“How you have walked amongst your people tells it all”, explained Danita Washington in an “Art of Aging” interview.  She shares wise words spoken to her by her grandparents.  This Legacy Award honors her for how she has walked amongst her people to build community, to leverage resources for the benefit of children and families, and to uplift culture and the honorable Lummi nation way of life.

Danita Washington, whose native name is “Ce Leeia” is a respected elder for the Lummi nation, a family leader and a lifetime advocate for the health and well-being of families.

In her life’s work, she was a police officer, a youth outreach coordinator, a founding member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, and a key member of Lummi’s community mobilization against drugs, which resulted in the establishment of the Lummi Safe House, the Youth Treatment Center, and the Lummi Youth Academy.

She was the co-producer of two locally produced stage productions by Children of the Setting Sun Productions.

In an October 12 podcast of “Young and Indigenous”, Danita elevates the important role of parenting and messages we can choose to give children.  She says, we have power to remind our children all the time, “you are worthy—since the day you were born.”

Parenting and family are close to Danita’s heart.  She has mothered her siblings from a young age, as the eldest child in a large family of 9 full brothers and sisters and 2 half siblings.  She is a parent to her own grown children and an active part of her grandchildren’s lives. 

Parenting is an important job and safety is critical—not only physical safety, but spiritual safety.  You want to protect the sensitive spirit of the child and consider what they may “brush up against.”  The nature of her walk in community is about protection, caring and understanding what children and families are “brushing up against.”  She hopes for parents to have access to what they need to give children the attention they need and to keep families together.

Danita is described as “the heart and soul of what’s good in our community”, and she remains active in Positive Indian Parenting, supporting Lummi victims of crime, and serving as a board member of Children of the Setting Sun Productions.

Danita implores us to slow down, live with balance and moderation and to take the time to connect with one another, with children—our own and those in our community.  Experience one another, laugh, listen, walk—provide opportunities to the children “with good, loving support” so they can find their way to the lives they deserve.   

It is our honor to recognize Danita with the 2021 Legacy Award.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Danita is recognized, click here.

Anne Deacon

Anne Deacon

2021 Legacy Award Recipient

Anne recently retired after a distinguished career with Whatcom County Health Department as Human Services Manager. One of Anne’s first efforts, once she officially began working with the health department in 2008, was to coordinate the behavioral health sales tax initiative. Her advocacy at the local, regional, and statewide level resulted in millions of dollars coming to the county over the years. Her ability to understand the landscape of complex systems and needs has ensured that resources are coordinated and maximized, making every dollar count.

Prior, she managed the state prison system for offenders with mental illness.  There, Anne observed that those incarcerated with mental health issues tended to stay in jail longer due to prolonged behavioral issues that were not adequately treated. Once at the health department, Anne instituted and led system change that allowed those with mental health issues charged with a crime to be diverted to a special mental health court.  She worked with the Bellingham Municipal and Whatcom County court systems to ensure that both the prosecutor and the public defender were part of the program.

Additionally, Anne managed the Ground Level Response and Coordinated Engagement (GRACE) program, which is a system to get those with needs directed to correct support and treatment organizations.  The program was a massive success; thanks to GRACE, there was a 95% reduction in jail stays by those with identified mental health issues.

Using the National Health Prevention, Intervention, Treatment, Aftercare (PITA) Continuum System, Anne assembled a forum of community leaders and providers to ensure an interconnected continuum of care including housing and associated onsite services, behavioral health, substance abuse care, all seven school districts, and the local jail system.

Anne created a fund and infrastructure program that provides services including case manager support to indigent veterans.  She worked with the housing department to obtain housing vouchers for vets. 

Anne’s efforts changed county code and under her leadership, the health dept won an award for health department of the year.

One of Anne’s proudest and most recent accomplishments is the creation of the crisis stabilization center.  It meets specific medical/health care needs and assists in receiving mental health support without the high costs of medical centers.  The crisis stabilization center maintains a standalone 32 bed treatment unit that provides mental health stabilization and detox stabilization.  Most importantly, the program creates a support plan including a discharge plan and avoids releasing those in need without additional support.

Anne is a true pillar of the community and is recognized and honored by her peers and contemporaries.  More importantly, the gratitude of countless community members in need that have been helped by her efforts cannot be truly quantified.  It is our honor to recognize Anne with the Legacy Award.

Thank you for your years of service. We wish you well into your retirement!

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Anne is recognized, click here.

Connected! Young Influencers: Jazmin Carpenter, Wil Henkel, Kiera Hillaire, and Oliver Trulock

Connected! Young Influencers:
Jazmin Carpenter, Wil Henkel, Kiera Hillaire, and Oliver Trulock

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Our final recipients of the evening are all young adults, whose efforts across two years inspired and taught a nation, as well as our organization about the importance of youth engagement in peer focused mental well-being efforts.

Each of these individuals has their own journey of pain and triumph that united them as champions for youth mental wellbeing.

Kiera’s passion focused on bullying and cyberbullying. Her work is used with the Lummi Behavioral Health Programs, and she has presented a seminar on the issue.

As high schoolers, Oliver and Wil initiated the peer centered support (PCS) and peer centered outreach (PCO) model, which in 2021 has been adopted across all Bellingham high schools; and activated change in the school community.

Jazmin, knowing the impact of losing a loved one to death by suicide, is one of the longest-standing volunteers with the MAD HOPE youth suicide and mental wellbeing program.

Bringing their stories and strengths, they united in the Connected! Project, a nation-wide effort hosted by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the nation’s premier mental health and substance use recovery association. The larger aim was to explore and learn how youth engagement can positively make change to address and destigmatize mental health.  As “young influencers” they represented diverse efforts happening in Whatcom County and emerged new strategies to promote youth engagement in peer mental well-being.

The team developed the local trusted adult campaign, which included a youth art contest, trusted adult e-card campaign, youth-led trusted adult workshops, social media outreach and a bus ad campaign to promote the role of trusted adults in the lives of youth.

The team strategized about the importance of creative outlets such as art, music, and poetry for youth to metabolize their pressure, stress and big emotions. 

The concept of a zine was developed and brought to fruition by other youth recruited to engage in the broader effort.  While Covid-19 thwarted big plans—concerts, gaming tournaments, etc., but instead “let’s chalk about it” art efforts and outreach through neighborhood “little libraries” emerged.

As Covid forced an online format shift, the young influencers improved the MAD HOPE youth suicide prevention curriculum. This focused on increasing inclusion of cultures for populations with higher health disparity regarding suicidal thinking and action. 

The overall experience was rare, but if expanded and sustained, the model to grow youth engagement, increase youth leadership and save lives is boundless.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Oliver, Kiera, Jazmin and Wil are recognized, click here.

Lisa McOmber

Lisa McOmber

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Having moved to eastern Whatcom County 3 years ago, when Lisa heard of opportunities to build community through connection and provide sustainable healthy change, she was all in.

The Foothills Community Alliance (FCA) formerly known as the Mount Baker Foundation Partnership, was seeking strong, new leadership. She filled the shoes passionately and brought the group together with clear direction and renewed energy. Her involvement solidified the work, brought several community-building champions to the table, and resulted in the FCA becoming ready to serve needs of local community. She has remained consistent, noticed assets and gaps in other community efforts and stepped in to recruit, lead and facilitate for everyone’s good. She has been instrumental in laying foundation for positive community change for generations.

Lisa also leaned in to help the local neighborhood safety and block watch type group reimagine themselves as an effort that could balance hope with very real concerns. The group centers its efforts by elevating community strengths and finding collaborative solutions.  Lisa has brought together folks of diverse viewpoints to make progress on community goals aligned with social determinants of health including increased safety, garbage removal, and beautification.

During the past year and a half of pandemic, she, along with others, kept this work rolling forward collaborating with many community organizations and neighbors. These were no small tasks during uncertain times.

Lisa’s kind hand at the tiller of community efforts has made all the difference. Thank you, Lisa!

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Lisa is recognized, click here.

Lhaq’temish Foundation

Lhaq’temish Foundation

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

The Lhaq’temish Foundation developed Xwlemi’ Resilience, an integrated community health strategy, designed as a Lummi community level response to Covid-19. They collaborated to provide the Lummi community with high quality services, safe social connections, inter-agency referrals, and healthy engagement activities throughout the pandemic. Through the Xwlemi’ Resilience collaborative, Lhaq’temish Foundation leveraged resources to increase community planning, increase access to services for children and families, and increase the overall connection among community members at the local level.

 Xwlemi’ Resilience is responding to the overall public health crisis in response to the coronavirus. In order to restore balance to the Lummi community, they are approaching health and well-being as a transformational process that addresses the whole person. Xwlemi’ Resilience has one priority goal – to increase protection for the health and quality of life for the Lummi people. This is being done by increasing the coordination of services at a centralized and consistent location and increasing the coordination of services between partner organizations and Lummi tribal program services.

The Lummi people are resilient, and have worked since time immemorial to preserve, promote and protect their schelangen (way of life). Elders and cultural experts teach the people to know their food, land, water, and medicinal plants. Learning who one’s people are and where they come from is invaluable because it places cultural values and principals and their strengths and resiliency factors, into context and passes knowledge down to the next generations.

We are honored to recognize the Lhaq’temish Foundation for being at the center of wellness for the Lummi people.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Lhaq’temish Foundation is recognized, click here.

Ricardo Sanchez

Ricardo Sanchez

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Ricardo Sanchez es una persona tan honorable que siempre está disponible a ayudar. Él ha sido parte de nuestra comunidad latina en Whatcom County por muchos años. Sus hijos han atendido las escuelas de Bellingham, y él sabe la gran necesidad que existe en nuestra comunidad de fortalecer las relaciones entre familias, la escuela, y los vecindarios. Ha dedicado un número incontable de horas hacer lo necesario para que los estudiantes y las familias se sientan que en verdad son parte de esta comunidad. Ricardo sabe, y entiende que la presencia y la ayuda que él puede ofrecer en las escuelas y con las familias es fundamental para el desarrollo de este.

En su opinión, el granito de arena que el aporta día a día, impacta positivamente a los estudiantes y sus familias. Todo lo que el quiere, es que las familias sepan que no están solos, y siempre hay alguien aquí dispuesto para apoyarles. Que todo es posible, y que lo único que se necesita es la voluntad para ayudar y hacer los sueños y posibilidades realidad.

Ricardo sabe que lo esencial para alcanzar las metas de esta comunidad es alzar la voz y hablar por los que no pueden hacerlo, por esto es que el incansablemente participa en comités, haciendo trabajo voluntario, o lo que se necesite para apoyar a la comunidad latina.

Él sabe y entiende la gran necesidad que las familias de habla hispana tienen, y el quiere brindarles la seguridad de que aquí siempre hay alguien dispuesto a ayudarles. Estamos felices de darle un premio al desarrollo de la comunidad a Ricardo.

Ricardo Sanchez is an honorable person, who is always available to help Spanish speaking and Latino culture families interact with schools and community. He has been a part of our Latino community in Whatcom County for many years. His children attended Bellingham schools, and he knows the great need in our community to strengthen relationships between families, schools, and neighborhoods. He has dedicated countless hours to doing what it takes to help students and families feel welcome and truly be a part of this community. Ricardo knows and understands that the presence and help that he can offer in schools and with families is essential for the development of future relationship and connection.

In his opinion, the “grain of sand” that he contributes every day, positively impacts students and their families. All he wants is for families to know that they are not alone, and there is always someone here ready to support them. That anything is possible, and that all it takes is the will to help and make dreams and possibilities come true.

Ricardo knows that to achieve the goals of this community, it is essential to speak out and speak for those who cannot, that is why he tirelessly participates in committees, doing volunteer work, or whatever is needed to support the Latino community.

He knows and understands the great need that Spanish-speaking families have, and he wants to give them the assurance that there is always someone here willing to help them. We are happy to give Ricardo a Community Building Award.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Ricardo is recognized, click here.

Lummi Language and Schelangen Department

Lummi Language and Schelangen Department

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

The Lummi Language and Schelangen Department has, at the request of the Lummi Nation and the broader community, developed the land acknowledgement resolution which was passed by tribal council on June 15, 2021. This land acknowledgement is the basis of the one presented in the event program. Land acknowledgments are intended to be a powerful way to respect and honor indigenous peoples and is one way to resist erasure of indigenous histories, honoring and inviting the truth, while also supporting overall increased connection among community members.

The Lummi language is called Xwlemi’ Chosen. As part of colonialization of the lands inhabited by Native Americans, native languages were forbidden to be spoken.  Much of native learning is done in the oral tradition—wisdom and knowledge passed from generation to generation through spoken word–much language and culture was at risk of being lost.

The Lummi Language and Schelangen Department is essential to the Lummi Nation in its effort to reclaim and restore language and culture for the wellbeing of its people for generations to come.

The department is at the center of development and implementation of Xwlemi’ Chosen resources that help teach and share the traditional language of the Lummi people and promote indigenized educational opportunities for the greater community. The language department has served over 300 K through 12 students enrolled in Whatcom County to learn Lummi culture and language.

Their leadership continues to expand reach and engagement within our region while strengthening relationships and uplifting pride and confidence in being the Lhaq’temish, the Lummi people.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Lummi Language and Schelangen Department is recognized, click here.

Margaret Gibson

Margaret Gibson

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Skate parks can be places that many adults pass without giving much thought to, much less engaging with the skaters and other youth who frequent them. But not our next awardee. Margaret Gibson not only engaged with the skate park crowd but set out to gain their trust by fulfilling their physical and emotional needs through familiarity and relationship continuity.

Early in the COVID pandemic, Blaine schools were meeting in-person for half days. While walking her dog, Margaret noticed that a number of students went directly from school to the skate park to hang out . As she spoke with the kids, many of whom she knew from her 23 years as a K to 12 school nurse in the Blaine district, they indicated that they were hungry since lunch was not served when school was a half day.

And so, Margaret began a regular routine. A few times each week she picks up food and drinks donated from the Blaine Food Bank and drives to the skate park with her newfoundland dog, Willow, where she is greeted enthusiastically with hugs and curiosity about what treasures she has brought for the skaters that day.

While she encourages them to eat, she inquiries about who they are and what and how they are doing. Margaret listens to their stories with genuine care about their well-being, celebrating who they are and encouraging them. She creates a space for youth at the skate park to know that there are trusted adults in the community, like her, that really listen and see them.

Thank you, Margaret, for your concern and care for the youth of Blaine.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Margaret is recognized, click here.

Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center

Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

What do you get when you combine two passionate women, a team of 6 carefully trained and award-winning horses, and 20 volunteers per week in a stunning 5-acre Whatcom County farm setting?  

You get our next award winner – the Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center.  This local nonprofit organization is directed by Julia Bozzo, with assistance from Hilary Groh. Together, they provide adaptive recreation services for 31 clients each week, who learn a lot from the horses about physical movement, communication, and emotional regulation, all the while building confidence from being in control of a powerful animal.

The riding staff focuses on what clients can do, and builds from there, which they say often results in a shift of perspectives for all involved.  Consider how different it feels for a girl who is typically in a wheelchair, when others look up at her and she gazes down on them—a literal change that can result in a cascade of positive effects.  Or contemplate the life-changing outcome for a young boy who started as a client 20 years ago and is now serving as a volunteer who teaches other volunteers how to do their jobs better! 

For this inspiring work that brings so many community members from different backgrounds together, I am pleased to present a 2021 Community Building Award to the Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center is recognized, click here.

Generations Forward Family Council

Generations Forward Family Council

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Generations Forward Family Council’s vision is to create a community where every family can truly thrive.  They feel that their goal will be reached when families of color are welcomed and supported, tribal sovereignty is respected and protected, single parents and non-traditional families have the resources they need, and all children have safe housing, appropriate childcare, healthcare, and accessible education.  They have focused on presenting platforms and forums to connect community members and allow them to have their voices heard. 

The Family Council is comprised of champions. Each family champion does their own distinct work within the organization connected to their personal passions.  Champions may create family support networks, facilitate family councils, lead anti-racist community calls, and offer community gatherings and resource sharing opportunities.

Additionally, some family council champions also serve as subject matter experts, act as points of contact for working with government organizations, and/or serve on the Child and Wellbeing Task Force.  They also unite the community through “Community Spotlight”, short podcasts that interview a member of the community to share quick and useful information for Whatcom County parents of young children, ages 0-7.

Using a program called “Unhappy Hour”, former family champion, now alumni member, Monica Kohler, has gathered family council members to voice their opinions on issues such as childcare.  These Unhappy Hour sessions are recorded and shared in an opportunity to reach people in an authentic way.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Generations Forward Family Council is recognized, click here.