Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center’s Mediation Program

Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center’s Mediation Program

Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center’s Mediation Program

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Conflict is perhaps an inevitable element of the human experience, and in this time of unprecedented social and political polarization our daily news includes many examples. 

Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center’s Mediation Program provides a fantastic resource that enables community members to come together in a structured process designed to help resolve conflict.  Whether working with families to create peace in the home through parenting plans, helping neighbors address disputes, supporting businesses or agencies, or most recently, helping landlords and tenants navigate eviction scenarios,

WDRC’s case managers and mediators serve the community with compassion, deep listening skills, and genuine care.  Clients often comment that it is the first time they have told anyone their stories, or that it is the first time they have felt heard without being judged.

Providing conflict coaching, helping clients set goals, opening hearts to others’ perspectives and empowering community members to connect across differences results in an astonishing 80% resolution rate for around 300 cases each year—one conversation at a time. 

For their work strengthening relationships through conflict resolution, this award goes to Gayle LaCroix, Program Manager, her staff of five case managers and the 30 volunteer mediators who work with them.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which WDRC’s Mediation Program is recognized, click here.

Deana Ottum

Deana Ottum

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

There are many different ways that people are called into community building.  For Deana, it was the love and care of her son, who began experiencing mental health issues in middle school.  She took him to family classes (a life changing time, she noted), but he eventually aged out of a lot of the support systems in place at the time. 

Though the University of Washington has one of the best First Episodes programs in the country, they had no presence in the North Sound region, so she had to drive him to Seattle to get help.  Since then, Deana has worked to increase and improve mental health services for her son and others in our community.

Two years ago, she started the Whatcom Serious Mental Illness Coalition to advocate for the equal treatment of those struggling with mental health.  In conjunction with NAMI Whatcom, she has worked to bring together police, sheriffs, EMTs, Health Care Authority representatives, the health department and the Grace Project to find resources and create mental health safety in Whatcom County. 

She has facilitated the family to family program with NAMI Whatcom, and has been a resource for families who have children struggling with mental health. 

Through these efforts, she has created a network for families to have a safe and supportive group of people they can go to for help and self-care. 

This Community Building Award recognizes Deana for her time and efforts to provide much needed services to Whatcom County.

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

Susan Taylor, CRNA

Susan Taylor, CRNA

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Susan is a registered nurse and certified registered nurse anesthetist with nearly 30 years of medical experience.  This is her day job.

As Covid-19 vaccination became available in our community, the systemic bottleneck for quick access to vaccination clinics became clear to Susan.  She met the emerging need with skills and knowledge she possessed and leveraged her professional network to create a solution: mobile vaccination clinics.  And for the last year, this is how she has filled her evenings and weekends in a voluntary role.

Susan used her own resources of knowledge, money and time to become a certified vaccine provider within the state.  She volunteered her professional skills and recruited others to do the same to open additional vaccination sites.  The goal of the clinics was to take the vaccination to people where they are at in community.  “Where they are at” referred not only to geographic location, like more rural areas of Whatcom County, but also to “where they are at” in terms of making the choice to become vaccinated.

In her efforts, she offered to come to businesses, churches and other community spaces by request—making vaccination easily accessible.  She reached out to leaders in diverse communities who held concerns and questions about vaccination and worked to make clinics available in community spaces where people could inquire and make decisions about vaccination for themselves.

In total, Susan and the volunteers she rallied, offered over 80 mobile clinics as a means of decreasing barriers for those who wished to become vaccinated.

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

Renee Swan Waite & Cynthia Wilson

Renee Swan Waite & Cynthia Wilson (Oomagelees)

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Renee and Cynthia of the Lummi Nation deeply understand how to build community one relationship at a time. Their work creating cultural bridges proves this!

Their joint work launched when Renee made a personal connection at “Nerd Camp”—a local reading conference she attended. That chance meeting was followed by an invitation to present at Western Washington University, where she and Cynthia met teachers from the Bellingham School District.

They were, in turn, invited to present to Bellingham teachers, and have now presented numerous workshops to both local and national audiences of teachers and local churches.

The warm generosity of spirit Cynthia and Renee possess shows up in how they share their culture. Whether engaging Kulshan Middle School in ceremony honoring the Lummi tribal member who designed their logo or bringing teachers to the canoe paddle for first-hand experiences, Renee and Cynthia offer opportunity for community members to gain greater understanding of one another. And the work transforms lives—changing the ways teachers think and teach and shifting practices by school districts and churches who now include land acknowledgements in their buildings and meetings. Further, they are now receiving questions on how different groups could engage in reparation activities.

For their invitation to “come across the bridge” and their dedication to expanding cultural understanding, we honor them with this Community Building Award.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Renee and Cynthia are recognized, click here.

Sarah Lane

Sarah Lane

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Sarah may be known for her professional experience with Health Ministries Network or the Family Promise Program. However, this award honors her for spearheading the Art of Aging project, a collection of portrait paintings, done by Sara herself, and audiotaped storytelling through interviews of Whatcom County elders.

The Art of Aging project is connected to the Aging Well Whatcom Initiative, which aims “to make Whatcom County a place with the culture, physical infrastructure, social supports and services for all of us to age well.”

Each portrait and story help viewers and listeners see the “finer lines” and unique features that are often missing from our broader social understanding of aging.

Sarah’s role went beyond that of painter. She planned exhibits of these portraits at senior centers across Whatcom County and fostered conversations about what it means to ‘age well.’ These connected local folks in critical and vulnerable conversations that help knit community more tightly together. One goal of this initiative is that our community will have a full and honest understanding of the entire range of the realities of aging.

Thank you, Sarah for being an active planner and participant in this project, and for your remarkable portraits that bring a warmth to the interviewees who participated.

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

NWIC Center for Health Native Connections Program

Northwest Indian College Center for Health
Native Connections Program

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

The Northwest Indian College Center for Health, Native Connections Program conducted research to identify 24 coast-Salish “protective factors” that span across 4 themes: family, individual, spirituality, and community. They use those protective factors as the keystone for their strength-based prevention programs to provide health and wellness options to members of the local community, specifically youth.

These programs include suicide prevention, drug and substance abuse prevention, and events such as the annual “walking with our ancestors” program. Over the years, walking with our ancestors has grown through partnerships with the Lummi Culture Department and Summer Youth Program to include 60 community youth visiting Orcas Island. At this youth gathering event, local native facilitators communicate through storytelling and teaching “schelangen” meaning ‘our way of life’. Additionally, youth and program partners engaged in a cultural history program about clam digging and the history of the water and its provisions as a protective factor.

Through grants, the Center for Health supports many native programs focused on Lummi Nation and provides some support to Swinomish and Upper Skagit nations.

We are honored to recognize the Northwest Indian College Center for Health, Native Connections Program for their strength-based and care-focused efforts.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which the NWIC Center for Health, Native Connections Program is recognized, click here.

Lee Anne Riddle

Lee Anne Riddle

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Lee Anne is receiving a Community Building Award to recognize her efforts to improve education locally and statewide. She has served on the Ferndale School Board for 16 years and on the Board of the Washington State School Directors Association for 6 years.

Lee Anne quickly acknowledged that the accomplishments of the Ferndale School Board requires many hands, hearts and minds—she is grateful for so many others walking with her in the work.

This award recognizes Lee Anne as a driving force in many of the district’s accomplishments, including free full-time kindergarten for all students; district provided school supplies for all K-5 students; and implementation of a broad-based equity team. For several years, she purchased surplus books from the school system to make them available to children and families.

The person who nominated Lee Anne for a Community Building Award shared that, “serving on a school board is a mostly thankless job. Nights away from family, reams of reports to read and study, angry emails and phone calls from constituents. All for no monetary compensation. But serving on a school board is also critically important. That’s why we need to celebrate those, like Lee Anne, who do serve, who believe a commitment to the children and youth of the community, along with a sincere desire to be a voice for fellow citizens, outweighs the sacrifices.”

Thank you for your service, Lee Anne

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

Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center

Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

We know that caring for the youngest members of our community is of the utmost importance, and you’ll see that exemplified in our first recipient tonight, Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center.

Neuroscience and Adverse Childhood Experiences research shows the importance of the first five years of a child’s life in regards to the development of their overall wellbeing. For many families, a critical piece of the puzzle in supporting their young ones is childcare. Access to affordable and quality childcare can be a significant barrier.

Bellingham Childcare and Learning Center is a NAEYC accredited facility that fosters educational growth through loving and nurturing interactions with children. Teachers strive to deeply connect with parents or guardians as they are the child’s first teacher. They provide a tuition assistance program for families that do not qualify for childcare subsidy through other entities. Throughout the pandemic, they have been able to keep small classrooms open with a safe environment, as well as remain staffed with both new and seasoned teachers.

In addition to small classroom ratios and their communication style, what makes The Center distinct, is their flexible and accessible parent education and family engagement program. It provides several ways for parents to connect, support each other and learn together. It offers opportunities for parents to build supportive relationships with one another and to develop skills to better advocate for themselves and their children.

We are proud to honor Bellingham Childcare and Learning Center.

To watch the 24th Annual Ken Gass Community Building Awards in which Bellingham Childcare and Learning Center is recognized, click here.

Meghan Lever

Meghan Lever

2021 Community Building Award Recipient

Meghan, served as Prevention Intervention Specialist at Sehome High School for 4 years. She provided support to teens impacted by substance use and advised a prevention club that elevated student voices and vulnerability around wellbeing issues faced by teens.

With her guidance a club model called peer centered support (PCS) and peer centered outreach (PCO) developed, which in 2021 has been adopted across all Bellingham high schools. The club, “allows students to be as profound and creative as possible” and influence community in school by opening up dialog and demonstrating healthy vulnerability on tough issues like sexual consent, body image, substance use, and suicidal thinking.

Meghan’s role helped students bring their ideas to fruition and navigate systems. With her guidance, students hosted an event where parents could talk to teens thoughtfully on serious issues; students reviewed district health curriculum and created video content to strengthen areas that did not address real concerns of their peers; they convinced admin to change a day’s schedule to ensure all students could attend assemblies on the issue of consent and leveraged the PTA to fund a national speaker for the day. And all teaching staff and student leaders were prepared to offer debrief discussions.

Community Builders are trusted adults who have a way of making our community safer for youth. Thank you, Meghan.

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