Heritage University names new director of Student Life and Engagement


Heritage University names a new director of Student Life and Engagement

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is proud to announce the selection of Isaias Guerrero as the university’s new director of Student Life and Engagement. Guerrero, who was already a staff member at Heritage, and who is a graduate of Heritage, moves to Student Life from the TRIO/Student Support Services department following an exhaustive search which determined the best candidate for the role was already close to home.

Isaias Guerrero, director of Student Life and Engagement at Heritage University

As director of Student Life and Engagement, Guerrero will be responsible for providing support services for the campus student community through events and group activities designed to engage students by promoting participation, service and leadership.

Dr. Melissa Hill, vice president for Student Affairs at Heritage, is thrilled with the committee’s selection of Guerrero. “Isaias brings a wealth of knowledge to the Student Life department, not only with his work through TRIO but his firsthand experience as an alumnus,” said Hill. “He’s been there as a student and knows what it takes to engage students and create positive experiences for students during their time at Heritage.”

Guerrero said the mentorship and guidance he received at Heritage University helped him succeed as a first-generation college student. “The guidance I received in navigating college was so important to my success because I had no one to relate to at home,” he said. “Heritage became a sanctuary of learning for me. Every day I stepped onto campus was a new adventure. I was excited to see my friends and challenge myself in the classroom. This was possible through my involvement with various campus activities. I want to provide these same opportunities to other students.”

As a student, Guerrero was selected to participate in the Act Six scholarship and leadership program which prepares students to become community leaders. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the university in 2019 and began working for TRIO at Heritage as a retention specialist that same year. Guerrero started his new role as director of Student Life and Engagement on January 21, 2021. Guerrero is studying for his M.Ed. in Educational Leadership with a focus in Student Affairs.

For more information, contact Davidson Mance, media relations coordinator, at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@Heritage.edu.

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Yakima Valley Partners for Education receive grants to help families impacted by food insecurity


Yakima Valley Partners for Education receives grants to help Lower Valley families struggling with food insecurity

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s collective impact initiative known as Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) has received $34,000 in grants to help Lower Yakima Valley families struggling with food insecurity due to the ongoing pandemic.

Eva Lujan of Latino Community Fund, Forbes Mercy of Washington Broadband and Micaela Razo, also of Latino Community Fund, hold check donations.

YVPE received a $15,000 grant from Save the Children to purchase grocery gift cards for families struggling with food insecurity, and this grant was matched by Latino Community Fund at $15,000. YVPE also partnered with Fiesta Foods which provided $3,000 and grocery cards, with Washington Broadband’s Forbes Mercy also contributing $1,000. These grants allowed YVPE to provide more than 600 grocery gift cards for families in need.

Bryan Ketcham, director of Catholic Charities Housing Services in Yakima, says nearly 90 families living in their housing sites in Wapato and Sunnyside are able to feed their loved ones because of YVPE’s efforts. “During this time of the year and with the current pandemic we have seen a significant increase in the level of need amongst our residents,” said Ketcham. “Paying for their rent, utilities and access to food and other emergency services have been among the highest of priorities and needs that our staff has been helping our residents to access. We are grateful for YVPE’s generosity.”

Luis Alberto Moreno, of Fiesta Foods, Eva Lujan and Micaela Razo of Latino Community Fund, and Alexis Magallon, also of Fiesta Foods, hold grocery gift cards.

Micaela Razo, program director at Latino Community Fund says she is humbled to work within the community to be a voice and resource to the most in need during the pandemic. “We continue to hear the need and work effectively to network with multiple organizations, school districts and businesses to bring relief to the families in need,” said Razo, “Our goal is to make sure we can be a beacon of light in time of darkness to our community. Together we can do more for each other.”

Distribution of the grocery gift cards made possible through these grants began last month in time to help families during the holidays, and will wrap up later this month. For more information, contact Suzy Diaz, Heritage University Collective Impact director at diaz_s@heritage.edu or (509) 480-9354.



Class Notes


Francisco Guerrero (B.A., Business Administration) received the Outstanding Leadership Award from HAPO Community Credit Union. He is the Finance Center Manager at the Sunnyside branch, a position he has held since 2007. Additionally, he was elected mayor of the City of Sunnyside in 2019 and assumed the role in January 2020.



Norma Ortiz (B.A., Business Administration) joined Catholic Family Charities as a Human Resources Recruitment Assistant.


Alyson Mehrer (B.A., Criminal Justice) enrolled in the University of Idaho College of Law and began her studies there in September.

Anitramarina Reyna (B.S.N., Nursing) joined the Cle Elem- Roslyn School District in September and serves as the district’s nurse.

Noemi Sanchez (B.A., History) joined the Washington Immigrate Solidarity Network in Seattle, where she is a fellow working with community members to build a plan to implement the 2019 Keep Washington Working Act enacted by the State Legislature. The act addresses Washington’s economy and immigrants’ role in the workplace.


Submit Your Class Notes

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Send us your submission for Class Notes. It’s easy. Just visit heritage.edu/alumni, complete the submission form and upload your picture. Be sure to include a valid email address so we can contact you if we have any questions.

Leaders for the Good of the Nation

Every year, Heritage University kicks off its celebration of Native American Heritage Month with a flag-raising and honoring ceremony recognizing four Native American elders.  This year global circumstances forced us to celebrate differently. While we were unable to come together for the gatherings, we celebrated nonetheless with virtual lectures and the selection and public promotion of the four elders whose lifetime contributions to their community made and continue to make a significant impact in the lives of others. This year, we recognize:

“PUNIA” KIP RICHARD RAMSEY, SR. is an entrepreneur, a staunch advocate for treaty rights,
and a historian. Over his lifetime, he has built a cattle ranch and feedlot, a logging company, two gas stations and restaurants, and a tribal fuel distributorship. His businesses add to the economic vitality of the communities in which they sit and employ many Yakama tribal members and others in the community. When the State of Washington infringed upon his rights to move his products freely on state roads to bring them to market, he refused to back down. Twice, he took his battle to protect treaty rights all the way to the Supreme Court. Twice he won, reaffirming the Yakama Nation’s status as a sovereign nation. Above all, Kip is dedicated to serving the people of his community. He sits on numerous boards of directors, including the Heritage University board, for the last 35 years. Punia is an advocate for education and a protector of cultural treasures.

SHARON GOUDY “KUMSHAPUM” is a dedicated mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and wife of more than 50 years to Pat Goudy, who is rooted in her Christian faith and traditional religions and commitment to ensuring the sovereignty of the Yakama Nation. Her work building the vitality of Yakama Nation programs and enterprises spans more than 50 years and began while she was earning her college degree. She’s led programs that support tribal members’ economic independence, oversaw the administration of the tribe’s law and justice programs, and currently manages YN Credit Enterprise. She has a heart for youth and elder services. Through her term on Tribal Council, she helped lay the groundwork for the revenue-generating businesses runt hrough Yakama Nation Enterprises. She serves on the Elders Board and college intertribal relations board. Her work ensuring sovereignty and the welfare of indigenous people isn’t limited to the Yakama Nation. She’s spent 21 years serving on the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians, a consortium of 57 tribes, helping to build policies and initiatives that address tribal sovereignty.

SUPTIKAWAI LARENA SOHAPPY, the daughter of Julia and Frank Sohappy, a well-known medicine man, grew up in the Wapato and Priest Rapids Longhouses. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, having attended Haskell Institute. Suptikawai dedicated herself to helping the people of the Yakama Nation. She served as an interpreter for elders seeking financial and housing services with Yakama Nation Housing Authority. While at Yakama Nation Credit, she helped establish the tribal payroll deduction program, which later became the rotating credit program. As coordinator of the Yakama Victims of Crime Assistance Program, she helped crime victims access services to help them heal. Additionally, she served as a Tribal Council member and is currently Vice Chairwoman of the General Council. Suptikawai is one of the elders of the Wapto Kaatnum and an elder at the Priest Rapids Longhouse. Above all, she is dedicated to her large, extended family.

DAVIS “YELLOWASH” WASHINES has dedicated his life to protecting the welfare of the Yakama Nation, the Yakama people and the rights guaranteed to them by the US-Yakama Treaty of 1855. He dedicated more than 35 years to ensure the safety of his community as a Yakama tribal police officer, the chief of police, and the chief of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. He worked on many efforts to improve the safety of tribal members, including the establishment of mandatory seatbelt laws on the Yakama Nation, and bringing national attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He is a dedicated advocate for protecting Yakama treaty rights and was instrumental in restoring the original spelling of the Yakama name as it is recorded in the US-Yakama Treaty of 1855.

Three Letter Word for Success

Blake Slonecker can still picture it: his grandmother at her dining room table, pencil in hand, newspaper and well-worn crossword dictionary before her. She’s working the puzzle in the Eugene Register-Guard.

Blake Slonecker

Blake Slonecker

It’s his first memory of crosswords.

“She did the puzzle every day,” said Slonecker. “I remember picking it up around age 10. I didn’t get very far.”

By adulthood, Slonecker, a history professor and chair of Heritage University’s Humanities Department, had become a practiced and skilled crossword solver.

Then about three years ago, he tried creating one. It was challenging – but Slonecker enjoys mastering challenges.

He’s now written more than 40 advanced crosswords and has had 15 of them published in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

On December 10 of last year, Slonecker got an email letting him know he’d reached the holy grail of aspiring crossword creators everywhere.

He’d just have to be patient to see his words in print.


Twenty years since he first started working them, Slonecker finishes the Sunday New York Times crossword – the section’s most difficult of its seven daily puzzles – in about an hour.

He said it takes him an average of five hours to create one.

It was in scratching out puzzles on restaurant napkins that he started thinking about creating crosswords.

“We’d be out to dinner, and my girls would ask me to make them a crossword,” Slonecker said. “It made me think about the relationship between words, clues, and your audience.”

Pre-pandemic, Slonecker would often use his drive time for that creative process – trying to think of well-known phrases with double meanings around which he could build a puzzle.

Ideas can also come randomly.

“A friend asked if I’d had any good ideas lately for puzzle themes. When I said no, he said, ‘You’ve got writer’s block.’ From that, came an idea for a puzzle with famous writers’ names contained in a block.”

Hidden within many crossword puzzles is the “revealer” – a phrase, like “writer’s block,” that gives the puzzle’s theme.

For his crossword “Mixed Greens,” Slonecker’s “theme entries” were popular types of salad greens with the letters in each of those words mixed up.

Last year, Slonecker used his familiarity with the history of 1960s counterculture to create a puzzle for the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. The revealer was “Woodstock.”

“People obviously thought of the concert, but the trick was that I was using it literally – the two words ‘wood’ and ‘stock.’ I had names of trees hidden in the words of the puzzle.”


It’s that kind of clever thought process that’s been the fuel of crosswords since the first one was created in 1913 by a British journalist.

Until recently, constructors used paper, pencil – and, presumably, plenty of erasers. Today, said Slonecker, everyone utilizes software like Crossfire, which is his preference. The constructor does the deep thinking; the software assists the process.

Once you have your theme, said Slonecker, you work with a 15-by-15-inch square comprised of white blocks. You place keywords, come up with filler words, change white blocks to black blocks

where words begin and end. Constructors work with purchased word lists; Slonecker’s puts 800,000 words at his disposal.

“Click on the available squares, and it gives you every word that fits,” Slonecker said.

Though this part may sound rote, Slonecker said it’s a very creative process.

“It’s like, ‘This word is boring – but this word is playful!’

“It’s like being an art museum curator: ‘This piece and this piece will look really cool together!’

“A constructor is really a curator of excellent words.”

When solving a puzzle, Slonecker said, there is an “aha!” moment that comes when the puzzle’s revealer finally makes sense. It’s really satisfying, he said: “Almost like you’ve been let in on an inside joke.”

“When creating a puzzle, there’s the same feeling, but multiplied a few times – like you’re the one letting people in on a really great inside joke.”

A blog called crosswordfiend.com reviews every major daily puzzle published. Slonecker said bloggers reviewing his puzzles have said things like, “great idea – why didn’t I think of that!”

“That’s a major satisfaction: creating a puzzle where the wordplay is so smooth that, once solved, it feels entirely natural and obvious.”


When the New York Times Crossword section sends you a rejection, you know it even before you open the email. Not surprisingly, the subject line is “Crossword.”

Slonecker received about 25 of those since he first began submitting his work, but he knew his work was good enough, so he kept it up.

But that December 10 email last year: It was from the New York Times. Its subject line containedone extra word, whose crossword clue could have been: “A three-letter word for success.”

It was: “Crossword – yes!”

Slonecker remembers smiling big when he saw it. He savored the moment. He opened the email, read it, then went and told his family his news.

“We had a bottle of champagne that night,” he smiles.

His puzzle will run in the New York Times sometime in the next few months.

As a History Ph.D., Slonecker’s been published many times. He said he figures the number of people reading his scholarly work is probably measured in the dozens.

“But seeing that puzzle? Probably in the millions,” he said.

“It’s very fun realizing that many people are engaging with your ideas.”

Dr. Blake Slonecker invites you to try one of his puzzles. “I prepared this puzzle to share with everybody at Heritage on All-University Day in January 2020. At the time, Heritage’s leadership team included Andrew Sund, Mel Hill, Taylor Hall, Kazu Sonoda, and David Wise; Heritage’s founding President, of course, is Sister Kathleen Ross. And a reminder: clues that require wordplay in order to solve, end with a ?. Good luck!”

To download a printable copy of the crossword puzzle, click here: Blake Slonecker Crossword Puzzle.

Visit heritage.edu/puzzle to see how well you did solving the puzzle.



A Legacy of Caring Begets a Legacy of Care

In the 1970s, when Nathan and Elaine Ballou moved to Richland, Washington, the land surrounding their new home was little more than a hillside of rocks, dirt and weeds. Where many would have seen a patch of impossibility, the Ballous saw potential. The couple went to work carving out the land, planting evergreens, and building a multi-layered landscape completed with pathways and ponds, a trickling stream, even a waterfall that cascades down to a lower patio. To sit in their garden today, it’s hard to imagine the grounds being anything other than the tranquil retreat that is so perfectly situated that it feels like Mother Nature unapologetically placed her best woodland landscape in the heart of the shrub-steppe.

Scholarship recipient Karen Mendoza-Arellano (B.S.N., 2019) is a nurse at Prestige Care and Rehabilitation in Sunnyside, Washington.

The Ballous’ gardens are a testament to what can happen when opportunity meets passion and passion ignites inspiration in which motivates hard work. Some would say that the couple built a legacy over their lifetime. That is true. However, their legacy isn’t only in the shrubs and stones that shape their beautiful landscape. It is also in the lives they touch and will continue to touch long after the trees they planted stop growing.

Twelve years ago, the Ballous established the Elaine and Nathan Ballou Scholarship in Nursing and Health Sciences and later made provisions in their estate plans to ensure the fund will continue at Heritage in perpetuity. Their generosity makes it possible for students to pursue their dreams of higher education and the opportunities that come from earning their degrees.

Happenstance lead the Ballous to Heritage. Elaine was on lunch break walking around Richland one afternoon when she saw a sign for Heritage College. Intrigued, she went into the building to learn more. She spoke to the staff in the outreach office for the Tri-Cities regional site and took home a brochure to show to her husband.

Senior, nursing major and scholarship recipient Samuel Cuevas (left) will graduate in spring 2021.

Nathan, then a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, was from a large mid-west family of humble means. He earned his bachelor’s degree through the help of scholarships, and the attention of a particular professor whom he befriended during his undergraduate studies helped him be successful and spurred him on to continue his education until he earned a Ph.D.

“Nate always wanted to establish a scholarship at his alma mater in honor of his professor,” said Elaine. “When I showed him the brochure for Heritage, he said it sounded like something that we should get more information about. We drove up to campus and met Sr. Kathleen and some of the students. The young people we met were all so committed to their education, the staff were incredibly dedicated to the students, and the quality of the education was fantastic.”

Scholarship recipient Alejandra Arteaga, B.S.N., 2019 (right) is a nurse at Toppenish Hospital. Her fellow alum Shelby Clark (B.S.N., 2019) is a doctoral candidate in the nursing program at the University of Washington.

“Nate (who passed away in 2016) loved to learn. He learned from everybody. He could sense that same spirit in the students we met at Heritage. These are students who really value their education,” said Elaine. “No student should be deprived of their opportunity to learn if they want to learn.”

Sitting on her patio under the warm fall sunshine, Elaine is humble as she talks about her and Nathan’s relationship with Heritage and its students.

“It’s not about the financial,” she said. “It’s about doing what we can to support what we value, what we care about.”

Scholarship recipient Erika Scheel is a senior in the nursing program and will graduate in May.

The conversation shifts back to her garden and the decades of love and care she and her husband dedicated to nurturing every flower, shrub and tree. In many ways, it is a physical representation of what they are doing at Heritage, but with far greater reach than their own back yard. Through their support, they are nurturing generations of students. They are giving them the chance to show the world what great things can happen when opportunity meets their passions and ignites their inspiration, which leads them to work hard and, thus, change their lives and the lives of their families. This is the Ballous’ true legacy.

Delivering Ready Educators

A worldwide pandemic may change the way education is delivered on a day-to-day basis. But one thing never changes: The optimum educational experience features students being taught by well- prepared, qualified teachers to whom those students can relate.

For young students of color in the Yakima Valley – mainly Latinx and Native American children – that often means teachers who look like them and share similar cultures.

For the educators, it means having the ability to easily access the education they need – for undergraduate degrees, teaching certifications, and advanced degrees.

Heritage University delivers on all fronts.

Founded initially as a teacher’s college, Heritage has awarded nearly 8,000 Education bachelor’s and master’s degrees in its 38 years. Today, Heritage alumni work throughout the Yakima Valley as teachers, principals and administrators, employed by elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and school districts – all with multi-cultural student bodies. As a group, the educators are themselves a multi-cultural population – more than half of them Latinx and about ten percent Native American.

Because their roots are here, the great majority of Heritage- produced educators stay in the area – and some return to earn advanced degrees that propel them to administrative positions.

“We know that receiving a quality education is key to a good life,” said Kari Terjeson, chair of Heritage’s Department of Teacher Education. “Heritage students get that here and then go out and deliver the same thing to the students they teach. It’s good for the educators we produce, for students, for families. It’s good for our communities.”

Heritage’s focus on graduating students that return to their communities to serve, has a result that’s needed now more than ever. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a national research organization focusing on education policy, teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, with improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college.

Nationwide, the gap between the percentage of Latinx teachers and Latinx students is larger than for any other racial or ethnic group.

But here in the Yakima Valley, that teacher-to-student ratio is much more balanced: Heritage is the largest producer of teachers in Central Washington and the largest producer of teachers of color in all of Washington state.


Washington has nine Educational Service Districts, or ESDs – each representing a certain number of counties and school districts. Kevin Chase (M.Ed., Educational Administration, ’93) is superintendent of ESD 105. Assuch, he is acutely aware of the impact Heritage graduates make in the districts and schools within the district area.

ESD 105 supports 25 public school districts and more than 20 private and tribal schools in South Central Washington. It coordinates cooperative programs that ultimately affect the learning of more than 66,000 students in the four counties it serves – Kittitas and Yakima, as well as portions of Klickitat and Grant.

Directing an ESD is a lot like running a business or a small company.

Kevin Chase

Kevin Chase, Superintendent of ESD 105

“My job is like a concierge for superintendents,” said Chase. “It’s fiscal support for districts when they need help. It’s professional development for staff. It’s all the student support that districts need to provide.”

Hiring and staff retention are not among the issues typically keeping him up at night. That’s because when you hire people who are from the area, they almost always stay in the area, said Chase.

“In both the Latinx and Native American communities, extended family is a big part of the culture. Social circles are very important.”

That means excellent teacher retention, in particular of teachers of color, and that’s good for students.

“It’s a really important component in academic achievement but also in the likelihood of students going on to post-secondary education,” said Chase. “Having people as role models is very important. It gives an ability for students to see themselves in positions they may not otherwise think about.”


Since he started teaching more than 30 years ago, Heritage alumnus Doug Burge has seen an increase in his area’s Latinx population – from about 30 percent to now more than 50 percent. Today, Burge is superintendent of the Zillah School District, about a fifteen- minute drive from Heritage’s Toppenish campus.

Doug Burge

Doug Burges is the superintendent of the Zillah School District, which is comprised of a high school, middle school, intermediate school and an elementary school.

Burge said bilingual teachers who are ready to teach on day one meet a critical need.

“Heritage supplies a diverse group of teachers who’ve gained good experience in local schools as part of their education,” said Burge. “They’re ready to go as soon as they enter the classroom. I can count on the fact that they’re going to do an excellent job.”

Burge recalls that when he was an elementary principal, there were many applicants for open teaching positions. Today, there are fewer candidates, yet Heritage continues to be a source of those candidates. Supply and demand in the teaching “industry” is an up-and-down thing, said Burge.

Burge said the Zillah School District has made good inroads into making staff more representative of their schools’ student bodies, where about 15 percent of students are Spanish monolingual.


Russ Hill

Russ Hill, assistant superintendent of East Valley School District in Yakima, Washington.

As Assistant Superintendent of the East Valley School District with five schools and 3,200 students in his purview, Heritage Alumnus Russ Hill has had the opportunity to help initiate language-related programs that are beneficial to students.

That’s critical in a district where the numbers of monolingual and English Language Learners, commonly called “ELL” – those who do not learn English as their primary language – is about 40 percent.

“Many of our families speak only Spanish,” said Hill. “Having a significant monolingual population makes it crucial to also have a significant bilingual teaching staff.”

East Valley schools have dual- language programs in which students spend half their day receiving instruction in English and the other half in Spanish. Schools have both English and Spanish text in their libraries. They seek and embrace curricula that reflects the makeup of their communities – both Latinx and Native American representation. The district hosts dual-language nights for families that encourage involvement and produce engagement.

“There’s a lot of deliberate inclusion of Hispanic culture and Native American culture,” said Hill.


For educators who want to lead beyond the classroom, Heritage offers the opportunity to earn an advanced degree while continuing to work.

Maria Batarao had her bachelor’s degree in communication and was studying for a master’s degree in professional development at Heritage when she realized what she wanted to do with her life.

Maria Batarao

Maria Batarao, Simcoe Elementary School Principal in Wapato, Washington.

“I was part of a volunteer program with AmeriCorps Reading Corp. I had been inspired by my parents who were AmeriCorp teachers,” said Batarao. “I realized working with children was my world.”

She taught for 10 years, then applied for the principal’s position at Simcoe Elementary School in Wapato. She’s been in the role for three years.

Said Batarao: “I learned from my parents to dream big, work hard, and give back to your community. Heritage helped me do that.”

The Dreamers The Doers The Risk Takers

Small businesses are anything but small. They are the bread and butter of the national economy, employing nearly 60 million people and generating 44 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the Small Business Administration,

there are 30.7 million small businesses in American today. In fact, big businesses, those employing more than 500 workers, account for only .01% of the business landscape. In rural communities, like the Yakima Valley, they are virtually nonexistent, making small businesses that much more critical for the vitality of the community.

Behind every one of these small giants is the story of entrepreneurs who had an idea and took a leap of faith, confident that they could turn that idea into a profitable venture. It is not a move for the timid. Starting, running and growing a business takes faith, grit and a whole lot of hard work. Still, for these Heritage University alums, the entrepreneurial call was too strong to ignore. Meet Javier Morin, Yerenia Espindola-Mendoza and Allie Haro.


Javier Morin’s entrepreneurial spirit was evident long before he graduated from Heritage in 2016. He came to Heritage as one of the first Act Six Initiative Scholars—a leadership program that provides full-ride scholarships to students in rural communities. True to the intent of the program, Morin’s presence was felt throughout the campus. Among his many involvements, he served on the Student Government Association, twice as the public relations officer and as the president; was a member of the university’s fraternity; a member of the nationally-ranked Enactus team; and a student staff member of the Heritage marketing department.

Javier Morin

The king of clean, Javier Morin (center) and fellow alum Marcus Morales (not pictured), built The Cleaning Brothers from an idea to a thriving business with 20 employees and contracts in three states in just three years.

“If there was some new and exciting, student- driven project going on, Javier was usually right there in the middle of it,” said David Wise, vice president for Marketing, Communications and Advancement. “His drive and enthusiasm was contagious.”

After graduating, Morin’s career path went down a typical route; he took a management trainee position with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. However, for Morin, it was less of a job and more like an extended internship with benefits.

“I did everything I could to learn all I could while I was at Enterprise,” said Morin. “It taught me a lot about the day to day operations of businesses and customer service.”

A little over a year after graduation, Morin partnered with fellow Heritage Eagle and Act Six Scholar, Marcus Morales to open a commercial cleaning business, The Cleaning Brothers. The idea to launch the business came after several conversations with Morin’s father, who works in facilities management for a healthcare company in Yakima. He was frustrated at the lack of quality commercial cleaning companies in the area.

“I saw there was a need, and I knew I could bring a level of professionalism to the industry that prospective clients would respond to,” he said. “Pretty quickly, I fell in love with the struggle and challenges of building a business. Nothing grows overnight, it took six months for us to get our first client, but success is all about being resilient and not quitting.”

It took time, but growth did come. One client grew to two, three, four, and more. Morin and Morales hustled. In just three short years, they’ve built a company with 20 employees and clients in three states. They even brought in another Heritage Eagle into their fold, partnering with Zia Lohrasbi as they expanded into the St. Louis, Missouri market.

“Our goal is to grow at a steady rate, to take on what we can handle so we can provide our clients with the best possible service,” he said.

For many, this would be the end of the story: a successful business with all signs pointing to a strong future ahead. However, Morin likes to explore different business ventures. A little over a year ago, he partnered with two filmmakers and started 3Mil Media, a commercial video production company that is just starting to get off the ground. And, even his side hustle has a side hustle. He’s in talks with another group of entrepreneurs to launch a third company.

“It’s all about being a risk-taker,” he said. “Being an entrepreneur comes with a lot of challenges. It’s lots of phone calls and responding to things that come up. Building strong partners, being persistent, having a plan and staying focused on our goals, that is the secret of success.”


When Yerenia Espindola-Mendoza enrolled at Heritage University, she never imagined that she would be a successful businesswoman helping individuals and business owners build long-term financial plans. Her desire was going into teaching. However, a conversation with her mentor led her to explore the world of business.

“I’ve always wanted to teach and help people to make a difference in their life. I thought that teaching was the way to do that,” she said. “But when I was talking to one of my mentors at the university, she said, ‘you should go into business.’ Her words changed my thinking, and I declared my business major.”

Yerenia Espindola-Mendoza

Yerenia Espindola-Mendoza leveraged her college internships into a career helping others plan for their futures.

Espindola-Mendoza, a non-traditional student several years older than the others in her cohort, knew she had found the right fit in her major but wasn’t sure what she would do with it once she graduated. That is until a guest speaker showed up to one of her business classes. He was a partner from New York Life, who was there to talk about their internship program. She was the only one who raised her hand when he asked the class who was interested in learning more.

“It was like God spoke to me and said, ‘Take the internship; this is your future career! It’s your path; you will be helping people.'”

That summer, she started her journey with the company, primarily selling life insurance. The company had a national internship contest, and she was named the national winner! The following year, she participated in the
internship competition, again receiving the same honor. As a result, for two years in a row, Espindola-Mendoza was taken to the headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, which was a fantastic experience. After two years of the internship, she decided to turn her experiences into a full-time position as an agent for New York Life.

“Everything started with that internship,” she said. “I saw the need in my community and the lack of education surrounding retirement and financial planning. The lack of information about risk management, life insurance, building a retirement plan, pretty much a lack of understanding about the concept of personal, business, and estate planning. I knew I could help people with this and that by impacting the financial wellbeing of one family or one business, I could impact the entire community.”

After three years in the industry, she became a broker to offer more services. Espindola-Mendoza expanded her service options menu at the three- year mark. She understood that it was essential to have a broad, holistic financial plan to help clients achieve their financial goals. Now she offers life insurance, retirement planning, and long-term care insurance. She sought out training on social security and Medicare supplement plans.

“Every individual’s situation is different,” she said. “I have to be knowledgeable in a wide array of services and products to help my clients find what best suits their needs.”

While her business began focusing on individuals, it has grown to serve the needs of business owners.

“Business owners have a whole host of needs that differ from the individual,” she said. “They need help with personal planning, business planning, and estate planning. Helping them in today’s business world. Her goal is to help implement different strategies based on business owners’ needs. Most common needs are to attract, retain, reward and significantly retain upper-level management employees. Personal and employee retirement plans, provide asset protection, and transfer of wealth in the most tax-efficient ways during succession planning.”

Knowing that her business clients’ needs were much more complex, requiring more specialized services than she could offer, Espindola-Mendoza built a partnership with accountants and attorneys in the area. She also partners with Hall Financial, which has helped businesses for more than 40 years in the area. ” The consortium of business professionals can provide wrap-around of complex business planning and estate planning services.

“My goal is to be the first person people think about when they are looking for financial services. I want them to look at me because of my knowledge, level of care, and exceptional customer service and superior company advanced planning services (attorneys, CPA’s and CFP’s) that assist in planning.

Always putting my client’s needs first. That’s my dream.” She said. “I’m going to continue to keep expanding my services, which means more training and getting more licenses so that I can be of greater service to my clients.”


Allie Haro wasn’t thinking about her future business when she choose the food industry to research for her business ethics course her junior year. A self-described “foodie,” she was simply looking at a subject area she enjoyed.

“I’ve always loved eating,” she laughed.

Allie Haro

A love of good, healthy food and an idea sparked while doing research during her junior year at Heritage led Allie Haro to open Local Beet.

The more she dug into the industry, learning about where foods came from, how they are processed, and not only how peoples’ health are impacted by their food, but how the environment is impacted by their choices as well, the more disenchanted she became.

“I dove in head first and became a vegan,” she said. “While I wasn’t yet thinking about starting a food service company at the time, I think of this as the moment when the spark of an idea was born.”

That idea grew into Local Beet, a plant-based food preparation business providing delicious and nutritious meals to customers in the Yakima Valley. Operating somewhere between a restaurant and a meal subscription service, Local Beet customers order their favorites from a weekly menu. Haro prepares and packages their order into reusable containers, which they pick up from their storefront and take home to reheat and enjoy. Haro opened

her business in July 2019, the culmination of years of saving enough capital to launch her dream, of finding associates whose businesses could work well in collaboration with hers, and searching for the perfect building to house everything she and her colleagues needed.

“I feel like the relationship that I have with business associates are critical to making Local Beet work,” said Haro. “I started my businesses without taking out any loans. Everything came from my savings. Collaborating with Elaina Moon, owner of Healthy Eats Nutrition Service, allowed us to split expenses so we could get the facility and the equipment we needed. And we are able to do cross-promotions that support each other.”

She points to an effort the two undertook shortly after the pandemic shutdown.

“I was really worried about our customers,” said Haro. “I was worried about their health. In times of high stress we often turn to unhealthy habits, like eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, to cope. Elaina and I, and our friend who is a yoga instructor, started Fitt Challenge. We provided health coaching, virtual workouts and yoga and I was the guru of meal preparation. For my part, our challenge members would get five plant-based, pre-prepared meal kits a week as part of their plan. It was so popular that I started offering the weekly meal subscription to my regular customers.”

Allie food

Haro wants people to know that healthy doesn’t mean boring. Her plant-based meals bring eye-popping color and full flavors to the table.

The challenge of starting a food service business in the first place, then building it into a strong, profitable venture during a global pandemic, isn’t lost on Haro. However, she is undaunted by the risk.

“I’m not afraid of failure,” she said. “The way I see it, failure is nothing more than redirecting you to something else. I feel like I am where I need to be right now and I am giving it my all to make this a success. I have my short and long-term goals and a plan to get there. Where there are challenges that come up, whether from COVID or something else, I look for opportunities in these challenges to move me and Local Beet forward.”

Heritage Grads Here to Serve

Social work is one of Heritage’s most popular majors, with 146 students currently enrolled in the program. The bulk of these students remain in their hometowns after graduation, where they tackle some of their communities’ most pressing issues: homelessness, healthcare, children and family services, mental health and criminal justice, to name a few. Heritage social workers are found in virtually every specialization and in a wide array of agencies throughout Washington state. Here are a few of their stories.


Olga Zuniga

Olga Zuniga’s social work career led her back to the elementary school where she was once a student.

Olga Zuniga took on the role of caregiver when she was still a child. Her parents were migrant farm workers and they needed her to care for her siblings.

As an adult, after her youngest son’s premature birth, it was she who needed help. His medically fragile condition necessitated she live near the hospital for three months.

There, she met a woman who would be her lifeline: Anna, a hospital social worker who helped her with temporary housing, meals, and child care for her other children.

Three years later, her son was thriving, and she was ready to return to work.

“That’s when I thought about my experience and what a difference a social worker made for me,” she said. “I realized that was my calling.”

Many who decide to go into social work do so out of a strong desire to give back, said Corey Hodge, chair of the Social Work Program at Heritage.

“Everyone who chooses to pursue a degree in social work is there for a reason,” said Hodge. “Many have had someone in their lives who believed in them and helped them, and they want to give back.”

Heritage’s social work program has graduated more than 500, and Hodge said almost all have remained in the Yakima Valley. They work for the state and for non-profit organizations. They work in rehab centers and health care, for victims of domestic violence and substance abuse.

The work done by these Heritage University alumni and hundreds of others has effects throughout the region.

For Zuniga, that calling she felt brought her back to her roots. She’s a school social worker, and the building she works out of used to be her elementary school. She is seeing a lot of insecurity around food and housing among her students.

“We have students who may not have breakfast or dinner and students whose families are homeless.”

Sometimes traumatic experiences are deeply embedded in children’s lives. That’s when a social worker taps more comprehensive service providers.

She works regularly with food banks, financial assistance programs, housing assistance programs, mental health providers, medical providers and crisis intervention programs. She calls them “lifelines” for the students she serves.

“Our job is never done. But we make progress, one student and one family at a time.”


Salomon Carrasco has counseled a lot of people in distress. Sometimes it’s the result of mental illness, sometimes drug use or alcohol abuse. He’s worked at treatment centers and at the Pasco County Jail.

It’s helped make him effective in his current role. Carrasco spends each workday riding with Pasco police officers as a Designated Crisis Responder, in a cooperative effort between his employer – Lourdes Crisis Services – and the Pasco Police Department.

The program’s goal is to identify repeat offenders, de-escalate crises, get people off the streets, and get them help.

Washington’s Tri-Cities area has three DCRs in total – one in each of its three cities of Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick. This “Mobile Outreach Team” works with all nine law enforcement agencies in Benton and Franklin counties.

Every weekday following the daily shift briefing, Carrasco hops in a patrol car with whichever officer he’s assigned to shadow. Whenever a mental health or behavioral health-related call comes in, the officer turns the vehicle toward the problem.

Once on the scene, Carrasco talks with family members and assesses the client. His goals are to establish safety, offer resources, and run through a plan should concerns arise.

If the client needs treatment, Carrasco calls ahead to Lourdes. Once there, the client receives care immediately, which wasn’t previously the case.

Sometimes situations are more acute – and possibly threatening. Then, police officers, who are trained to make initial contact, secure the area around the client, and engage Carrasco’s expertise.

“I look up their history, and I evaluate the individual: Are they of potential harm to themselves or others? Are they making threats? Do they understand what they’re doing? I can counsel them and de-escalate the situation.”

The client can talk to the police officer or to him, Carrasco said. “Some people are afraid I’m going to put them in a psych ward. But some see me as a counselor, and I am.”

Back at precinct headquarters, another critical part of Carrasco’s work is participating in training law enforcement on the psychology and process of de- escalation.

Salomon Carrasco

Salomon Carrasco goes out on calls with the Pasco Police Department to provide mental or behavioral health assessments.

“We talk about introducing yourself and tell them you’re there to help them. You listen, keep good eye contact, stay calm, express empathy, acknowledge their concerns, and just allow the person to vent without interrupting.”

The joint effort has helped Pasco meet its goal of decreasing incarceration at a time when mental health issues have increased. Pasco police refer an average of 50 clients to the Mobile Outreach Team every month.

“It’s working,” said Carrasco. “We’re seeing people who need help getting connected with resources having fewer interactions with police, and sometimes eliminating those interactions entirely.”

Lourdes has funding to continue to provide the service through 2020. Carrasco said Pasco city commissioners are talking about how to get funding if Lourdes doesn’t get re-funded in 2021.

“Because it’s making a difference,” said Carrasco.


In her youth, Cynthia Jones made what she calls a series of poor choices, including dropping out of high school and abusing alcohol.

But at age 17, while living in Seattle, Jones saw an ad for a community college. She took the bus there, met with an advisor, and told her she wanted to enroll though she had no income.

Cynthia Decoteau

Cynthia Jones helps Yakama women, teens and children break the cycle of the adverse effects of generational trauma.

The advisor gave her a business card. On it was the name and phone number of a social worker who had funding for Jones for everything from bus tickets to tuition and childcare.

“She was my salvation,” said Jones. “I knew right there I wanted to do something like what she did.”

For those who decide to go into social work, it’s often about giving back in appreciation of what others did for you.

Jones credits many with helping keep her on her path, including fellow students and faculty at Heritage where, in addition to her full-time job, she now teaches as an adjunct professor.

“When my youngest was born prematurely, my classmates took notes for me and would check on me, and my instructors would always say, ‘Don’t let not having childcare keep you from coming to class.'”

Heritage instructor Gregorio Ochoa was one of those people Jones met who made it his business to help other people. She calls him an “old-school” social worker.

“He’s the male version of Mother Theresa,” said Jones. “He went to the people, and he spent time with them. I wanted to be like him.”

After graduating from Heritage, Jones went to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Yakama Nation. She did job skills training and helped her clients find jobs, at the same time she also pursued a master’s degree.

In 2017, she was offered a position with Yakama Nation Behavioral Health as a behavioral health therapist. She provides one-on-one mental health counseling to women, teens and children experiencing trauma, depression and anxiety.

She said an essential part of her work is helping clients understand that the losses their people have endured affect their lives today.

“Children were taken away, women were sterilized, we couldn’t speak our language, and we continue
to bear the legacy of this. We’re in a time of healing now, but we can’t help ourselves until we understand this societal trauma.

“After that, we start to work on the personal trauma,” said Jones. “You need to be with the person and their story. You need to hear it, really hear it – and you also have to help them see the good they have been able to do. I ask people, ‘What are your strengths? How is that you’re still here?’ And I tell them the blood flowing through our veins is that of the resiliency of our ancestors, and that we honor them by doing good. I work to communicate a sense of strength and pride that can build hope.”

Jones often incorporates Native spiritual practices into therapy. “We start with prayer, with a moment of silence, lighting sweetgrass or sage or a candle.”

She said it’s important for people in social work professions to make sure they’re OK, too. She releases her day by spending time in her garden – what she calls her “place of healing.”

“Before we can help others, we have to heal, and that can be a long process.”

Jones recalls visiting a homeless encampment on the Yakama reservation years ago. She saw someone she ran away with when they were teens.

“I remember thinking, ‘That could have been me.'”

Other people from the past show up from time to time, too — people whose lives she helped make better. To this day, she said, people stop into her office at Vocational Rehabilitation looking for her. They want to tell her how they’re doing, that they’re still at the job she helped them get or they’re still drug-free. They want to thank her.

“I think about how it’s one thing after another that leads to where you end up. The difference for me was that I was I’ve had people who care.

“I’ve been able to heal. And healed people heal people.”


Leo López loves remembering the way his dad met people.

“He’d always say, ‘Mucho gusto. Lionel López – aquí para servirte.’ It meant, ‘Happy to meet you. I’m here to serve,’ “It’s how he lived his entire life,” said López.

López learned early on the impact one caring person could have on many people.

Growing up in a close-knit family, López started working in the fields and orchards at age four. Migrant students’ education included “migrant school” – several hours every day after the other students went home – to make up for the time they had been out working.

It was extra time and attention that ensured he had a quality education.

After high school, López knew he wanted a job working with children. He enrolled at Heritage, deciding to pursue a degree in social work. Washington state didn’t have school social workers in 1990, so López went into juvenile rehabilitation, working with adjudicated youth ages 12 to 21.

Leo López

Leo López’s career helping children took him from Washington state to Washington, DC and back again.

It was an eye-opener, more a criminal system than rehabilitation, he said. He learned that systems sometimes don’t serve the people in them very well.

He got his master’s degree and, in 1999, got a job with Head Start’s Migrant/ Seasonal program in their Washington D.C. headquarters. Head Start is a national organization that promotes the school readiness of preschool-aged children from low-income families.

It was in this role that López began to be able to impact more far-reaching improvements in systems affecting children.

“It was all about engaging families and encouraging them to work at what they want for their children – specifically a good educational foundation and keeping them in school,” said López. “This program made sure that wherever a family migrated to, children wouldn’t lose the credits they’d earned toward the grade placement they were at.”

Working with an organization he knew made a difference in children’s lives – children with a background just like his – López felt life had come full circle.

López wasn’t looking to leave Head Start in 2007 when he got a call from friends about a job that seemed tailor-made for him. It was in Yakima – a short commute from his home base of Sunnyside – and, once again, he’d be doing meaningful child- centric work.

Today, López is director of Casey Family Programs’ Yakima office, a national organization whose focus is to reduce the number of children in foster care in the U.S.

Working closely with Washington’s Department of Children, Youth and Family, López and his staff of 17 – mostly master’s-level social workers – are responsible for Casey’s work throughout the state of Washington.

He said some of his most rewarding work is with the Yakama Nation’s Nak-Nu-We-Sha foster program. He admires the way it weaves Yakama culture into its practice with the individual children and families it serves. Understanding a community is something he said is key to any social service program’s success.

There’s high-level interaction in the job as well. López works closely with consultants and lawmakers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. He guides partnerships with multiple states and jurisdictions on research that affects public policy.

He’s even developed training for the Mexican Consulate and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) that helps reunify children with their families in Mexico and parts of the United States.

López said he sees every day the ways positive change can happen on the micro and macro levels.

“I do think it begins with that one person who believes they can make a difference. For me, it started with what I saw every day at home – though I don’t feel I’m even close to what my dad did every single day. But I keep trying.”

Heritage University and Behavior & Law Corp. sign collaboration agreement to deliver behavioral sciences training courses in the United States

Heritage University and Behavior & Law Corp. sign collaboration agreement to deliver behavioral sciences training courses in the United States


Heritage University and Behavior & Law Corp., one of the leading online training companies in Europe and Latin America, have signed a collaboration agreement to expand Behavior & Law training courses in the United States.

Heritage, an accredited, private, nonprofit university, located in Toppenish, Washington, was founded in 1982 to improve societal progress through education; empowering a multi-cultural and inclusive student body to overcome the social, cultural, economic, and geographic barriers that limit access to higher education.  Located on the homelands of Yakama Nation, the University embraces transformational student-centered education that cultivates leadership and a commitment to the promotion of a more just society.  Heritage offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and boasts more than 10,000 alumni.

Behavior & Law Corp. was created in 2010 as an entity specializing in the training, scientific research, and dissemination of Behavioral and Forensic Sciences. It offers six master’s programs, five university expert courses, and fourteen university advanced courses, with more than 1,000 students enrolled each year, worldwide.  Behavior & Law utilizes participative and innovative teaching methodology to ensure student learning in a virtual setting.

With headquarters in Clearwater, Florida (USA) and Madrid (Spain), Behavior & Law collaborates with various public and private entities around the world, including universities and different state security forces to develop the most up-to-date curricula and effective teaching methods. They are experts in Behavioral Science Training (Profiling and Forensic Science, Negotiation, Non-Verbal Communication, and Behavioral Economics) and its application. Their goal is to train qualified professionals that lead to improved working conditions and overall job satisfaction in their professional environments.

Behavior & Law, like Heritage, has a marked social justice mission, dedicated to a more just and safe society.  Their work is guided by three main pillars: scientific research, training, and dissemination of behavioral sciences.

Heritage and Behavior & Law are beginning their collaboration to provide training in behavioral sciences. They are currently working on the implementation of online training programs that will be offered in both Spanish and English in the United States through the Heritage Workforce Development unit.

For more information, please contact David Wise at (414) 788-0686 or wise_d@heritage.edu or Silvestre Cabezas, Marketing and Communication Manager at  (786) 533-3069 or cabezas@behaviorandlaw.com

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