Mabton School District receives $5,000 grant from Yakima Valley Partners for Education to help students impacted by Covid-19

Mabton School District receives $5,000 grant from Yakima Valley Partners for Education to help students impacted by Covid-19

Toppenish, Wash. – The Mabton School District has received a $5,000 grant from Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) to help 850 students impacted by the coronavirus. The district will use the money for school supply kits that will be distributed to students through its school meal distribution program which delivers more than 6,000 meals to kids at 73 locations across the district.

Dr. Joey Castilleja, the superintendent of the Mabton School District said his district was hard hit by school closures due to the virus. “Without a lot of notice, we were all suddenly expected to attend and teach school online. Families were just not ready for such an endeavor. Things as simple as scissors and glue sticks are basic school supplies that kids now need at home. These supplies mean a lot to our kids,” said Castilleja. “By providing students with the tools they need to complete their school assignments, they have one less barrier to overcome due to Covid-19.”

Save the Children secured $2,500 and obtained a matching grant from First Book, a non-profit based in Washington D.C. for a total of $5,000 for the kits. Save the Children is one of the more than a dozen partners of YVPE, a coalition formed by Heritage University to address the challenges of educational attainment faced by communities in Yakima County across the cradle-to-career continuum. This collaborative approach is known as Collective Impact and is already showing promise in the lower Yakima Valley.

Save the Children, which operates in more than 200 rural communities across 13 states, joined YVPE through its partnership with the Grandview School District. In Grandview, Save the Children offers its “Early Steps to School Success” home-visiting program to children ages three years old and younger and their parents. Save the Children, a national leader in early childhood education, has leveraged its resources in support of children and families throughout the lower Yakima Valley.

For more information, contact Suzy Diaz, Heritage University – Collective Impact Director at or (509) 480-9354.

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First-ever virtual “Bounty of the Valley” Scholarship Dinner raises more than $817,000 for student scholarships

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s 34th annual “Bounty of the Valley” Scholarship Dinner, which was held virtually this past Saturday evening, brought in $734,755 during the event. Gifts coming in over the four days following the program have resulted in an additional $83,750, for a total of more than $817,000 as of Wednesday. The gifts will be given directly to students as scholarships this coming year.

The premier fundraiser for student scholarships at Heritage University, normally held at the Heritage campus in Toppenish, had to be done differently this year due to coronavirus limitations. It became a one-hour television event aired in central Washington on KAPP/KVEW-TV and live-streamed on the Heritage website.

The program featured many video segments of Heritage students sharing their Heritage experience and describing the ways scholarships made their dreams of going to college possible. Student speaker Maria Soto shared her story – that because of her parents’ sacrifices and scholarships made possible by the university’s supporters, as well as her determination, she was able to earn a degree in social work from Heritage. She talked about her goal now of helping the area’s agriculture workers thrive.

Heritage alumni also appeared and gave insight into the careers they’ve been able to pursue as a result of earning their degrees.

Several longtime corporate sponsors and individual supporters also appeared on the program. Many said they’d first given to Heritage after learning about the numerous obstacles students face on their educational journey and have continued to do so over the years. They encouraged people watching the program to contribute as well.

Dana Eliason, Heritage’s Senior Director of Donor Relations, expressed elation at the results of the first-ever virtual event: “Our team realized in March that we were going to have to do this critical fundraiser entirely differently this year.  And friends of the university recognized the importance of responding with their contributions. We are so grateful they responded as they did.”


Heritage University’s President Dr. Andrew Sund, said he is thankful that the event introduced Heritage to a wide audience of people who may not have known a lot about the university or how  students’ educational goals depend on a wide range of donors.


“In addition to being able to reach our existing friends, we’ve made many new friends across the valley and the state this year,” said Sund. “I’m hopeful they have found a place in their hearts for Heritage.”

The virtual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship dinner can be viewed in its entirety on the Heritage University website at Donations to student scholarships can be made on the same page by clicking on the “Support Me” button. For more information, contact Dana Eliason at (509) 865-0441 or


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Reflection by Heritage University President Andrew Sund

Dear Heritage Community:

These past few days have been days of deep reflection for me. The brutal death of George Floyd, the subsequent demonstrations, and the violence around them have changed our nation in ways we are not fully prepared to understand.

The United States promises a society of opportunity and equity for all. We have always known that this promise is incomplete. Yet, since last week we have seen this incompleteness explode before our eyes. We have seen how there is no one United States, but many. Far too many of our citizens live in a United States of inequity and fear. The opportunities that many take for granted are completely absent for others. The agencies  that lead many to feel safe are forces of fear and violence for others.

These past few days I have also been reflecting about my own life. Am I doing enough to confront injustice and build a better society?  I hope that in these times we all ask ourselves similar questions.

This is perhaps an incomplete answer but I do believe in Heritage University. I do believe in our mission and that through a strong education we can make a difference in our world. Our graduates and our students represent the best of the United States and help us get closer to its promise.

However, I am deeply aware that Heritage is also imperfect. Our society still suffers from multiple forms of racism, overt and subtle, and Heritage University is not immune to this. Many times we fall into traps that lead, inadvertently, to unfairness.

My commitment is that as a University will work every day to overcome our own limitations and every day get closer to the promise of the United States.


Andrew C. Sund, Ph.D.

Heritage University to present the annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner on KAPP and KVEW TV Saturday, June 6 at 7pm

HU President Andrew Sund as he appeared through a camera viewfinder during the recording of segments for the virtual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner (Ross Courtney Photos).


Heritage University to present the annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner on KAPP and KVEW TV Saturday, June 6 at 7pm

Toppenish, Wash. – For 34 years, the annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner has been hosted on the Heritage University campus in Toppenish on the first Saturday of June.  This year because of the coronavirus safety protocols in effect, the University has had to create a virtual scholarship dinner.  The one-hour event will air on KAPP/KVEW TV in Yakima and in the Tri-Cities as well as stream online at on Saturday, June 6 at 7 pm.

The Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner is the University’s most important fundraiser of the year.  All of the proceeds go directly to student scholarships in the coming academic year and according to David Wise, Vice President of University Advancement the need for scholarships has never been greater. “In the changed world that we find ourselves in at the moment, so many students and their families have lost their jobs, which they count on to help pay for college.  In order for our students to stay in school, the need for scholarship support will be more critical now than ever.”

The event will feature stories from Heritage students and alumni, as well as appearances from many community, business, and political leaders. Wise is optimistic about the event and its ability to raise the funds needed.  “If there is one thing I know about the Yakima Valley it is about the generosity of the people who live here.  I think it is the nature of this special place we call home.  There is a pride in this valley and a desire to help the community thrive.  They see education as vital to continued growth and demonstrate their belief in the Heritage mission through their giving.

Dana Eliason, Senior Director of Donor Relations at Heritage is usually the chief architect of the annual dinner and was both melancholy and excited about this year’s virtual event.  “I will so miss seeing all of our amazing friends who gather on campus each year in June.  But I know in my heart it is not the dinner that they come for, it is the stories of our students.  That is why they come each year and that is why they give.  The students they invest in go on to contribute to our wonderful community in meaningful ways.  That is the dividend our donors reap from their giving.”

President of Heritage University, Dr. Andrew Sund thinks that not only does the virtual scholarship event have the potential to raise the necessary scholarship funds needed for students, but has the potential to introduce Heritage to a wide audience across the valley, who may have heard about Heritage but not know much about it. “I will miss the annual gathering on campus, it is always such a joyful evening.  But I think we will make many new friends across the valley as a result.  I know they will be encouraged by what they learn, and I hope, find a new place in their hearts for Heritage.”

For more information, contact Davidson Mance, Director of Media Relations at Heritage University, (509) 969-6084 or

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New Yakima Valley education initiative secures $11,000 in grants to help Yakima Valley families impacted by Covid-19

Toppenish, Wash. – A $10,000 grant secured by the Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) will be used to help 220 families in the Lower Yakima Valley impacted by the Covid-19 virus. The Latino Community Fund of Washington, one of the members of YVPE, secured the grant from the Communities of Color Coalition, and will use the money to give food vouchers to families in Mabton, Grandview and Sunnyside hardest hit by business closures due to the virus. Fiesta Foods in Sunnyside is also providing $1,000 to help with this emergency relief.

Micaela Razo, project manager for Latino Community Fund in central Washington, said many low-income migrants in Mabton, Grandview and Sunnyside now have no incomes to feed their families after losing their jobs. “These families have no other way to provide for their loved ones, and are in need of the economic support this grant will bring,” said Razo.

Latino Community Fund is a member of YVPE, an organization formed by Heritage University to tackle the challenges of educational attainment faced by communities in Yakima County across the cradle to career continuum – also known as collective impact.

In administering this specific grant, the organization will work with the school districts of Grandview, Mabton and Sunnyside to identify the families impacted by Covid-19 to provide them with food vouchers they can use immediately.

Biking in the Snow

I am flat out suspicious of adults who ride bicycles. Not that I am proud of this fact. I just want to own up to it from the start. I should also add that I am an adult who owns and on occasion rides a bicycle. This last bit of information I throw in to underscore my self-awareness that hypocrisy and prejudice are not strangers, they are bedfellows.

Where I grew up adults didn’t ride bicycles. In the late 50’s and early 60’s kids rode bikes. And although we rode them everywhere, I don’t recall ever thinking of them as modes of transportation or even exercise equipment. They were just bicycles. The thing most kids did. It was our medium and connector. Kind of a crank and chain powered Facebook.

For us transportation implied an attached motor and exercise came by working for a living. My father tolerated bike riding if you were a child. But that faded as you grew in age. By puberty when, in his mind, you should begin to start contributing to your own keep, he was known to boil over on this topic at times.

His rant was usually along the lines of, “Look, if you can’t find something more productive to do than ride your bicycle all day I would rather you just lock yourself in your room. If you want to be a goof off fine, just spare me your advertising the fact all over town.”

It stayed with me. Today when I see an adult riding a bicycle my mind runs along one of two long established paths. The first — there goes a person who has too much time, money, and calories to burn. Can’t they find something more productive to do? Or, if they are pedaling along without thousand-dollar biking togs I think — there goes someone who has lost everything and is reduced to transportation by child’s toy. How sad… Please don’t break into my house! The first type makes me angry, the second makes me guilty and anxious. I am not a good witness to others fortune or their misfortunes. Leave me to my own, thank you very much!

Recently my wife and I realized a lifetime dream and purchased a travel trailer. After a snowy 250-mile cross Cascade drive to bring it home I discovered I had under-estimated the size of the required storage facility and over-estimated my rusty backing skills. When that reality became unavoidable, I resigned myself to the fact that, for the night at least, I would have to park it on the dead-end street in front of our house. A matter that would require maneuvering the combined 47 foot truck and trailer in reverse, downhill, for a block on a dark and now snow slicked road.

Growing up farming backing large and often oddly shaped trailers was a required skill. It became second nature and I prided myself on being quite good at it. Something my daughter struggled to believe, having gamely stood in the wet cold for a considerable length of time trying to safely guide me down the street. On what must have been the 10th but more likely the 20th attempt I once again lined up and made a quick scan down the street I was blocking. While thankful there were no headlights, I did pick up movement a block and a half away. It was a sole bicyclist. Even from the distance you could see it was likely a single gear curb crasher, no lights, no reflective clothes, no helmet, a growing black shape pushing itself into focus through the blowing snow.

As bike and rider approached, it glided through the full illumination of my headlights. Rather than continuing down the street, however he made a sharp turn and pulled up next to my open window. Slipping off the seat to straddle the cross bar was a man who appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties. Dressed in well-worn winter coveralls or perhaps a snowmobile suit, knit cap, and gloves. He was thin, tall, fit and had a friendly face and open manner.

“Where you headed with this thing?” he asked. I said I needed to get it down in front of my place for the night and given the conditions I was being extra cautious. An answer that while technically true, glossed over the obvious fact that from the outside it looked an awful lot like I didn’t know what I was doing. He smiled reassuringly and gave me that special nod that truly stand-up guys give when they recognize one of their own is jammed up and not trying to draw attention to the fact.

“You know, I used to back trucks for a living and could get that right where you want. It wouldn’t take a minute?” With keen observation he read the hesitancy on my face to even briefly swap possession of my truck and trailer for his bicycle. He quickly added, “I live down at the other end of the neighborhood and was just headed over to Jill’s house to feed her animals while she is out of town.”

The addition of the appended set of “references” to his truck driving CV, plus the hours already spent in futility, and my daughter’s plea of, “Dad, let him try” was enough to tip my judgement. I opened the door, stepped into the street and let him slide in behind the wheel.

True to his word he smoothly glided the entire rig down the snowy hill, positioning it expertly in front of our driveway. As he stepped out I shook his hand, wounded ego in recovery mode by virtue of his grace and the relief of being done for the night.

“You need to let me give you something for this.” My mind scrambling to process how I would do this with a wallet I knew was running on empty.

He replied, “You know, I didn’t do this so you would pay me, but I have been homeless for the past few years and am just getting back on my feet. I finally have a car but no gas and it’s Christmas and I would surely appreciate anything you could do.”

Pulling my wallet out and handing him the few dollars I had, I proposed that he finish his errand and come back. I could then take him to his car so we could go to the gas station and fill his tank. He seemed both surprised and appreciative and within 20 minutes was back at my door.

Leaving his bike behind to claim later the three of us climbed into the car and headed off. We all introduced ourselves and expressed our mutual gratitude for the good turn to the evening. Well spoken and polite, David complimented us on our home following up with the one question that always puts a knot in my stomach. “What do you do for a living?”

I attempted a deflection by answering, “I am at that wonderful point in my life where I am starting to retire.” But he wasn’t having it.

“You look like you have done well. What did you do when you were working?” Too far from our destination to run the clock out with another stall. I would have to provide an answer.

Now, I love and am proud of what I have done for a living. It has been meaningful for me and is the perfect definition of the adage “love what you do and you will never have to work a day in your life”, but I have found that telling people you make your living by helping raise and give money away isn’t relatable for most. When I say it to folks not from that world I always imagine the lyrics of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” starts running through their head.

Growing up I was taught working for a living involved spending your days, winter included, outdoors. And, as evidenced by both my father and grandfather’s hands, involved the risk of loss or damage to limbs or appendages. I have never been afraid of that kind of work when necessary. I even have a modestly shortened pinky finger to prove it. But its harshness did encourage me to finish college. And when I learned I could make as much or more by essentially talking for a living, I started moving my life in that direction.

Having had this conversation before I knew to keep it short and specific.

“I work in philanthropy. My career has been helping to raise and distribute money to worthy and charitable causes. I just finished helping raise funds to build a new YMCA and aquatic center and am currently working to rebuild a school district on an Indian reservation that hasn’t had a new building since the 1930’s.”

If he disapproved, it didn’t show, he just politely said, “Wow, I didn’t know people did that kind of thing.”

We arrived at the mobile home park where he was living and he directed me to his parked car. He got out as I waited to follow him.

He pulled into the station and was readying his tank when I parked, walked over, and put my card in the pump. He asked how much he should put in and I said to fill it. As he was finishing I went to the cash machine to get a few extra bucks. I folded up the bills and handed them to him as we prepared to say goodbye. We both thanked each other and he asked to be sure and let him know if anything came up where someone needed a good worker. I gave him a couple of suggestions, promised to think of more, and gave him my business card and told him to use me as a reference to anyone he needed. Almost as an afterthought I asked, “So David, are you from here?”

“No,” he answered, “I grew up on a cattle ranch my dad ran for a guy down on the Snake River”

The Snake River is over 1,000 miles long. It runs from Wyoming where it flows down from the Rockies high above Jackson and crosses the full width of southern Idaho before turning north and to carve Hell’s Canyon and define a portion of the Idaho Oregon border. Its final stretch turns west through the southwest corner of Washington where it empties into the Columbia River at Lake Wallula. At its closest point it’s about 500 miles from where my mom and dad homesteaded in 1945 after Dad was discharged from the Marines and came home from the Pacific. I know the name of just one ranch on the Snake River.

“Really? What ranch?”

“The Flying H. It doesn’t exist as such anymore. Not a lot of people ever knew about it.” he answered.

“Maurice and Kathleen Hitchcock’s place? Your dad was Maurice and Kathleen’s rancher?”

We shared a wide-eyed stare. I went on, “My grandfather was Maurice’s very first employee. He hired him as his mechanic and donkey puncher when Maurice was starting out as a gypo logger outside of Sisters Oregon. As he and Kathleen became more successful and Grandpa aged, he kept him on as his grounds keeper and handyman. My grandmother was their cook and housekeeper. The Hitchcock’s supported both long past their work life and safely into the next. They were among my family’s closest and most admired friends.”

David told a similar story of how Maurice and Kathleen had paid for his dad’s college education, as they did for many students in the small town where their mills were located. After his Dad’s graduation he was hired by them to run their ranching operations. His dad sadly passed due to cancer in his mid-fifties. As an afterthought he added that his grandfather was the superintendent of schools in the town where the Hitchcock’s mill and home place were located.

Stunned again I stared back, “Vic and Thelma Anderson? You’re Vic and Thelma’s grandson? Your grandparents ran the school my siblings and I attended. In fact, I am pretty sure your father or uncle were classmates of my oldest brother. That school I told you I was trying to help rebuild? It’s your grandparents’ school.”

The only son of an only son, my father had, much to the embarrassment of his wife and children, the habit of striking up conversations with complete strangers in the hopes of finding a connection. When traveling he was known to look up family names in the local phone book and call perfect strangers on the off chance that they had been sitting around waiting to hear from him. When he would sometime be rewarded with some shred of a connection, often tenuous, we seldom shared his satisfaction. It was pure annoyance knowing his “success” would just breed more of the same behavior.

So it wasn’t so much the fact that David and I found a mutual connection, even as striking as it was, I grew up having that demonstrated to me on countless occasions. What was meaningful was the circumstance of our meeting and who we were connected by.

Vic and Thelma Anderson gave me, my siblings, and thousands of others the education that would become the foundation stone of their life. Maurice and Kathleen Hitchcock provided my family a toehold on wealth and inspired in me the secular importance of giving back. These couples shaped me in ways I never fully realized, acknowledged or thanked them for. I believe with no doubt it was the legacy of those influences, in both David and I, that guided us toward trusting each other in the middle of a dark, cold and snowy street at a time when we needed each other.

My grandfather, like all of us had a life filled with both fortune and misfortune. He was a gifted mechanic, who passed along those skills, and more than a few of his hand tools, to my father, who in turn gave them to me, who has endeavored to share them with my daughters. Like it or not, we are in large part what we inherit. When my grandfather went to work for Maurice it was at a time when, for a variety of reasons, losing his first wife at a young age, the depression, the habit of drink, he had not been able to hold a job and had lost much of what he had. I am not sure what kind of options Maurice had for prospective employees; all I know for certain is that they found and remained committed to each other for the rest of their lives. And I remain today one of the beneficiaries.

My prejudice and hypocrisy is not a product of superior insight. It’s my auto theism fooling me to believe my fortunes and misfortunes are of my sole god like creation. They aren’t. Our fortunes and misfortunes should not be what separate us. They should be what bind us together. Both in the moment and across the decades. Ignorance of that fact is the source of far too much needless suffering.

We moralize fortune and misfortune as virtue or vice when we would be better served by embracing its randomness. Fate has no cause. And even if it did it wouldn’t matter because the only important answer is to the question, “So now what are you going to do?”

The tangible legacy of the Hitchcock’s and Anderson’s lives in business and service, the lumber mills and schools, still exist today. As important as they are, it may not be the most valuable legacy they left us. Both couples, like many others of their day were exceptionally decent people. And as such it was in their character to look for, respect, and hold up the decency of others. I used to take that for granted but now know that I can’t. Decency has to be cultivated and we cultivate it in ourselves when we recognize, respect and cultivate it in others.

As our conversation drew to a close we shook hands again, wished each other a Merry Christmas and headed for our cars. As I was backing out, he apparently unfolded and counted the bills I gave him and came back over and tapped on my window. As I rolled it down he said he just wanted to say thanks one more time and share a final thought, “You know I think tonight just proves the point that sometimes it pays to go backward in life.”


Kathleen and Maurice Hitchcock


Kathleen and Maurice Hitchcock made more than an indelible mark on David and Michael’s families, their legacy impacts thousands of Heritage students—past, present and future.

Their support and generosity helped build the university. Shortly after the Heritage’s founding in 1982, the couple met with then President Sr. Kathleen Ross and pledged to provide all the lumber that Heritage needed to build the campus. Over the next six years, Hitchcock lumber was used to remodel the original Petrie Hall and the seven modular buildings that were brought onto campus to house offices and classrooms.

Among Kathleen’s favorite activities at Heritage was the annual Polo fundraiser. Here she sits with Major Ronald Ferguson, who was the polo manager for the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.

Maurice passed away in 1984, and Kathleen carried on their commitment. She joined the board of directors in 1986 and served for 10 years. She was a founding member of the institution’s fundraising committee and a vocal supporter who met with donors, accreditors, community members and even prospective students.

In 1988 Heritage recognized Kathleen and Maurice’s contributions with the naming of the Hitchcock Building in their honor. The Kathleen Evelyn Hitchcock Scholarship, which supports women over 25 who are pursuing their undergraduate degrees, was established in her memory shortly after her death in 1999.

Class Notes



Angela (Dillman) Birney (M.Ed., Professional Development) was elected mayor of the City of Redmond, Washington. She started her term in January and will be in her position through December 2023. Before becoming mayor, she served as a member of the Redmond City Council, having been elected to the position in 2015.




Shirley Pleasant Sutton (M.Ed., Community and Human Resource Development) serves on the Lynnwood Washington City Council. She was elected to the position in 2015 and started her four-year term in January 2016. Sutton built a career in K-12 and higher education administration prior to entering into city government. She worked in several director positions in Yakima-area school districts before moving to Lynnwood to be the Executive Director of Diversity Affairs at Edmonds Community College. She retired from education in 2013.


Carol (Powell) Ellingson (B.A., English/Language Arts) taught at Fort Simcoe Job Corps from the time she graduated from Heritage until her retirement. She is active in the Republican Party and worked on the campaign to elect Donald Trump. She is now running for secretary of the Republican Women of Grant County. Ellingson reconnected with her high school sweetheart and the two were married in 2010.



Marie Avalos Guerrero (BSW, Social Work) is the owner and clinical director of the Innovation Resource Center, which provides outpatient substance abuse treatment to clients living in Yakima and surrounding counties. Avalos Guerrero opened the clinic in September 2011.


Jenny (Sutter) TeGrotenhuis (M.Ed., Counseling) is a certified Gottman Relationship Therapist and Clinical Trauma Professional working in private practice in the Tri-Cities and through distance therapy. In addition to her practice, she manages the mental health wellness blog and newsletter Ask Jenny T, is the author the ebook Draw the Line with the One You Love: Set a Boundary That Can Strengthen Your Bond, and is a contributing writer to The Gottman Relationship Blog and Thrive Global.


Allison Nystrom (M.Ed., Counseling) joined Community Health of Central Washington-Ellensburg as a behavioral health consultant. She is a designated mental health professional with experience in family support services advocacy, mental health case management and mental health therapy.


Kelsey Carrigan (B.A. Ed., Elementary Education) is teaching first grade at a public charter school in Phoenix, Arizona through Teach for America and was offered another position teaching special education at the same school next year.




April (Kent) Holmes (B.A., Business Administration) works in the finance department as a revenue auditor at Legends Casino Hotel in Toppenish, Washington. In September she married Cleo Holmes.


Champion for the Nation

Elizabeth Nason (aka “Walaxus’ta), enrolled member of the Yakama Nation, is a mother, grandmother, attorney, college and law school graduate, softball and basketball coach and enthusiastic fan. She is also the highest-ranking administrative leader in the Yakama Nation, serving as the Tribal Administrative Director since 2013. This humble yet accomplished woman followed an impressive path of hard work, discipline and perseverance to get to where she is today.

Nason was the first in her family to go on to higher education, the first Yakama woman to become a practicing attorney, graduating from the Gonzaga University School of Law, and the first female chief justice for her tribe – all while maintaining a busy household, often as a single mom. How did she achieve so much? She laughs that sometimes she looks back and wonders the same thing because her childhood, while happy, was not easy.


When Nason was born, her mom was just 16, so her grandparents stepped into the parental roles, as they did for a number of her cousins that she affectionately refers to as her brothers and sisters. Her grandmother was a go-getter, and Nason admits she probably learned her tenacious, self-reliant ways by living under her influence.

“Growing up, I had to work each year in the berry fields with my grandmother and the rest of my brothers and sisters,” said Nason. “I had no choice, and this happened until I was in eighth grade.

We worked picking strawberries on the coast and then raspberries in Oregon. My grandmother was a hard worker, caring for sometimes more than 10 of us grandchildren at a time. She dried our traditional fish, canned fruits and berries, crocheted and had her garden. With the little resources they had, they provided.”

Her grandmother was an influential role model, and both of her grandparents encouraged her to pursue her education. She admitted she loved school, loved achieving and being recognized for her accomplishments. Her grandparents insisted she obtain her education not for them, but for her. It’s a mantra she repeats to her own grandchildren today.


During an aptitude test in high school, she learned she had skills for training as an executive secretary. When her husband joined the military after high school, however, she moved with him. Her education was put on hold until they returned to their home town. Once back, she followed the path laid out for her and earned an Executive Secretary Certificate from Yakima Business College.

In 1978, while working as a legal secretary for the Yakama Nation Public Defenders’ office, she learned of the National Indian Paralegal Training Program. She applied and got one of the coveted spots, which required travel during the program.

Her first training site was Washington D. C. She packed up her four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son and a relative to watch them while she was in class. It was then that she decided to go to college. She earned an associate degree and started her undergraduate studies, first at a college in New Mexico, then she moved back to the Yakima Valley and enrolled at Central Washington University, located some 60 miles away from her home. However, the hour-long commute combined with working full-time while managing her household and children was just

too much. She reluctantly withdrew from college. One day, she was driving down Fort Road toward Toppenish and spied Heritage University. She applied and was accepted.

“When I went for registration I met with a counselor who saw my drive and did everything to help me succeed.”

Although she can’t remember his name all these years later, he was the first to pointedly ask her, based on her work background, if she would like to go to law school. Although it hadn’t been on her radar before, she thought about it and answered, “Yes, I think I would.”

From then on, said Nason, the Heritage faculty and her advisor carefully guided her, ensuring she was taking the right coursework for law school. They even brought in tutors for her and another student to prepare for the LSATs.

“Heritage provided support for me in more ways than one,” said Nason.

By then she had four children: Shannon, Kenneth, Aaron and Adreanne. She would work all day, take night classes at Heritage while her sisters watched the kids and return home at 9:00 p.m. to spend time with them. Then after bedtime, she began her homework and started the whole thing again the next morning! If she left work early to attend class, that time came off her paycheck. She gratefully acknowledges that former Heritage President Sister Kathleen Ross and Bertha Ortega, retired chair of general studies, offered her moral and emotional support and strength.

“There were times I wanted to throw in the towel,” admitted Nason. “They became more than administrators; they were also my friends.”


Law school is a daunting amount of work for any student, but especially for a mom with a full load of responsibilities. She remembers hearing a man comment that she would never make it through law school because he barely did it, without kids.

“Well,” laughed Nason, “I made it!” She found time to study, even if it was scrolling through note cards while waiting somewhere with her kids.

“Even when they are in leadership, women don’t give up other roles,” added Nason, who was a master multitasker. “We are caregivers and cook dinner, get groceries and do laundry. I used to joke with the male attorneys in our office that I wished I had a wife or nanny to take care of my kids, too. But you just deal with it!”

After graduating from Gonzaga with her Juris Doctorate, she worked first for Colville Legal Services with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Colville Nation, in Nespelem, Washington representing minors. After two years, she joined the Yakama Nation first as an associate attorney and then a lead attorney for the Office of Legal Counsel. She left to work in private practice for several years before returning as the first female chief judge for the tribe in 2002. After her four-year term ended, she took a hiatus from law and took over the tribal diabetes program as its director.

“This was a nice change as it was a positive program that could have life-sustaining outcomes,” she recalled. “ I was able to be part of the design and construction of the diabetes wellness center, which I will forever be grateful to have been a part of.”

Nason’s days are filled with meetings, like this one with her departments’ deputy directors.


One day, former Tribal Chairman Harry Smiskin requested to meet with her. He told her the tribal administrative director had resigned, and he needed someone, looking pointedly at her!

Nason was shocked and asked if she could think about it. “No,” he answered. “I need someone now.”

The diabetes program was running well, so she agreed to an interim position… that was seven years ago!

Today Nason oversees 1,145 tribal employees from six departments: Department of Natural Resources, Department of Finance, Department of Human Services, Department of Justice Services, Department of Public Safety, and 10 programs directly under Tribal Administration.

“The daily responsibilities are to provide leadership, administration and management of the Yakama Nation’s governmental organization in the administrative realm,” said Nason. “As the liaison between the Yakama Nation leadership and the employees, I spend a significant amount of time in meetings with our elected leaders as well… I don’t think I have ever had a day where there is a normal routine. It’s interesting, though, because since I’ve been in this capacity, I have learned so much in areas I was not aware of.”

Nason leans heavily on her deputy directors to be her experts in each respective area.

“I can’t know everything,” said Nason. “I joke that only my kids think I know everything! I want to empower all of my employees, and I want them to know I appreciate them, and I hear their feedback. I want them to enjoy coming to work to help our government and our people.”


It’s a message she shares with the younger generation, too. The Yakama Nation now offers educational leave to working students so they don’t have to worry like she did about losing pay when they leave work for a class. She urges her employees to take advantage of that opportunity, even if they start with just one class.

Nason has enjoyed a highly successful professional career, making a powerful impact on her tribe and her people by being the first woman to hold many high-level positions. She’s served as a role model to coworkers, not always with intention or overt words, but by carving out her own path, though challenging, through college, law school, in the courtroom and now in administration for her tribe. When asked about her proudest achievements, however, it always comes back to family.

Like her grandmother, Nason has helped raise a number of her alas (Sahaptin for grandchildren). She’s given them the same talk she received as a kid about the importance of education. She’s also passed on a love of basketball and softball, born from her childhood days of playing with her brothers on a homemade dirt-floor basketball court.

Her oldest grandson, her pride and joy, is a high school graduate. Her other grandkids are on the honor roll. She sees more and more tribal members earning associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and she’s happy it’s becoming more of the norm. Some still believe they have too many obstacles to pursue education, and she urges them to rethink that.

“Don’t say ‘can’t’,” she urges them. “I never want to hear ‘can’t’. Leave yourself options and never stop.”

Leading for the Children

Picture a “typical” four-year-old. She’s curious, she likes playing with other children, and she understands taking turns. She can pay attention, say how she feels, and empathize with others. That is most of what’s required to be kindergarten-ready.

However, in the communities surrounding Heritage University, barely a quarter of four-year-olds start their educational career kindergarten ready.

Readiness is measured across six areas of development and learning: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math. Like falling dominoes, the result of starting school at a disadvantage can determine the entire trajectory of a young life. If a child, her teachers and the school system never stop playing catch-up, traditional markers, such as appropriate third-grade reading skills and fifth-grade math competency, may not be met. The transition to higher grades means continuing setbacks.

And what about high school graduation? College- readiness? Education attainment in the Yakima Valley lags behind that of the rest of Washington state and the nation. More than a quarter of Yakima County students drop out of high school. Less than half ever enroll in college, and of those that do, half are academically unprepared for the rigors of college study and require developmental coursework before they begin the real work of college. The greater the student’s deficiency, the more likely he or she is to drop out. In the end, only 15% of Yakima students complete a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The lack of educational attainment in the Yakima Valley is rooted in poverty, language barriers and a myriad of other challenges. New parents must access and utilize support systems, social service programs must keep at-risk children from falling through the cracks, and beleaguered school systems must attempt to successfully educate every child in their ranks.

Expecting it all to work together seamlessly simply isn’t working. The Yakima Valley needs a new approach to education.

Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education at Berea College talks about the Collective Impact model during a meeting of the Yakima Valley partners in January.


Heritage University entered into a partnership with community organizations, school districts and families to tackle the complex issue of educational attainment. Called Collective Impact, it’s a multifaceted partnership that involves shared vision, combined effort and strong leadership.

It all started in the summer of 2018 when Korynne Wright, a friend and supporter of Heritage, reached out to the university with an invitation to a gathering at her home to learn about an approach she believed could have a significant effect on education in the Valley.

“The meeting came to be known as the ‘kitchen cabinet,’” said David Wise, vice president for advancement at Heritage. “It was an informal setting, but the discussion and what came of it was transformative.”

Wright introduced Heritage to a group of key representatives of several organizations that, using the Collective Impact model, actively work to improve childhood outcomes: Save the Children, Strive Together and Berea College – Partners for Education, the latter of which had implemented the “cradle to career” approach to effective education some 20 years earlier.

Yakima Valley’s Collective Impact partners include leaders in education, social services, law enforcement, business, health care, philanthropy, and government sectors. Representatives came together in January to start the work of building the initiative’s mission, vision, structures, goals and processes.

“We learned how the Collective Impact model helps organizations work together toward their common goal,” said Wise. “It involves communication, collaboration, shared vision, planning, data-based decision making and holding each other accountable to achieve the agreed- upon goals.

“It’s all brought together by a strong backbone organization that leads the collective.”

Wise went on to meet with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was introduced to the book Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education, which further broadened his thinking.

Suzy Diaz

Wise believed the Collective Impact model had significant merit for improved educational outcomes in Yakima County and that Heritage needed to be part of it.

“I knew Heritage could be the leader that was needed. And I knew Suzy Diaz, then the director of corporate and foundation relations at Heritage, was the right person to lead the backbone effort,” he said. “With more than 20 years experience working in health care, social services, academia and philanthropy in rural settings, she has a perspective on the challenges that face our communities and the assets that exist.”

In spring 2019, Wise and Diaz, along with Heritage President Andrew Sund, board member Ellen Wallach, and former board chair Steve Altmayer flew to Berea College in Kentucky to see its work in action.

“We are grateful to have Berea’s Partners for Education and their nearly 25 years of Collective Impact experience mentoring Heritage through this process. We share the rural lens, geographic challenges and need for resources. Of course, most importantly, we share the common goal of improving educational outcomes for our communities,” said Diaz.

Photo provided by Save the Children.

“We went on in-home visits where new parents and their children met with staff members from Save the Children, who help parents better understand the developmental and learning stages of their child by sharing ways to initiate learning through play, reading and everyday tasks. Parents asked questions about their children’s behavior and provided feedback on how their children are progressing through the learning period,” she said.

“We made classroom visits and saw how literacy supports are integrated into the student’s day.”

Berea College-Partners for Education became the model for Collective Impact in the Yakima Valley, and its team mentors for Heritage.


A year after that first “kitchen cabinet” meeting, Heritage was ready to begin formalizing Collective Impact. The University Board of Directors gave its full approval to move forward. Funding was secured through a $100,000 planning grant awarded to Heritage by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Save the Children came on formally as a major funder, through the support of the Balmer Group, for the first 15 months of the effort and as a planning and execution partner.

Shortly afterward, Diaz presented the cooperative concept to the Grandview School District. When she asked “Who else would benefit from this work?” those present nominated the communities of Mabton and Sunnyside. Given the proximity to Grandview, it was a natural fit to join with all three school districts and form cohort one of this process.

“We learned we were all naturally aligned with the purpose of this work,” said Diaz.

An official convening of partners took place in Grandview in January. There the school districts, partners working within the school districts, local agencies and other stakeholders began discussions about developing a mission, vision, structures, setting goals and implementing processes.

The initiative was officially up and running, with Heritage as the backbone of the Yakima Valley cradle- to-career education continuum.

Danielle Gettings, Grandview School District, makes notes during a group brainstorming session at the January meeting of the Collective Impact partners.


Key local partners in the Collective Impact undertaking in the Valley currently include the school districts of Grandview, Sunnyside and Mabton. Partnering organizations include social service providers, immigrant community providers, law enforcement, the private business sector, philanthropy, health services, higher education, civic-government organizations and Educational Service District 105.

“Within the Yakima Valley, there are 15 school districts including the Yakama Nation that we hope to partner with over time,” said Diaz. “Students often transfer between neighboring school districts, which is another reason to work together – so students can succeed through transitions.”

While Heritage University will serve as the backbone organization, two leadership bodies will guide the supports for this initial cohort and will be comprised of representatives within and outside the education sector, a key component of collective impact. Two advisory bodies will be composed of a cross-sector and countywide representation that will guide the administrative functions of this work.

“This process involves anyone who shares the belief that we can improve educational outcomes together,” said Diaz.

“The goal is that more children enter the school systems ready to learn and achieve the most significant milestones along the way, so that learning continues and it is more likely that each child will reach graduation prepared for college, persist in college and, ultimately, successfully enter a meaningful career,” said Wise.

“By taking this role, we can impact students’ well-being, whether they go to Harvard or Heritage or anywhere in between,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about the good of all, and that’s why Heritage University exists.”


Great things can come from serendipitous moments. Collective Impact is a prime example.

Since its founding 100 years ago, Save the Children has changed the lives of more than 1 billion children in the United States and around the world, ensuring children grow up healthy, educated and safe. After years of working

in rural America, in Kentucky’s Appalachia region, they turned their attention to the Yakima Valley, focusing their efforts on children age zero through third grade. It was their initiative that led to Heritage’s introduction to Collective Impact, and their ongoing leadership and mentorship throughout the exploration and planning period that allowed Collective Impact to form and launch in 2020.

“There are many stops along the way when a child can be guided to achieve their highest educational capacity. We start with the question: ‘Who can improve education outcomes for children?’ The answer is everyone,” said Diaz. “It’s absolutely necessary that organizations that serve children and families collaborate to improve educational outcomes. It really does begin at birth.”

Cradle-to-Career is defined at each step along the continuum.

EARLY LEARNING: “It all begins with early, in-home learning,” Diaz said. “This work includes parent-educator coordinators who visit the homes of parents with children age zero to three to insure educational learning and developmental milestones are reached.”

PRE-K AND EARLY-EDUCATION SUPPORT: In- home learning and child development are followed by supports in high quality, early learning programs and centers to support kinder-readiness. From kindergarten to third grade, markers like reading and math are measured. Healthy socio-emotional development is also important and cultivated.

MIDDLE SCHOOL SUPPORT: This, said Diaz, requires support in attendance, math, science, reading and writing, along with continued supports for social and emotional health that serve to ensure successful transitions into high school.

HIGH SCHOOL AND POST-HIGH SCHOOL TRANSITIONS: In high school, the focus turns to ninth grade success, high school completion, college-readiness and post-high school transitions.

CAREER READINESS: Lastly, career readiness and success are measured by employment and wage-earning data, which help measure the economic vitality of an individual.

This Is a Woman’s World

When Kim Bellamy-Thompson went into law enforcement 36 years ago, she knew she was entering a man’s world.

Kim Bellamy-Thompson spent 23 years working as a police officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, Florida

“You had to prove yourself,” said Bellamy- Thompson, chair of Heritage’s Criminal Justice program. It was Orange County, Florida, 1984. “I proved myself, and I went on to have a really meaningful career.”

When Sergeant First Class Syvilla Reynolds enlisted in the Army in 1989, she saw a similar challenge.

“I knew I had to work twice as hard and keep my nose to the grindstone, always driving for bigger and better things,” said Reynolds, who’s now in the physician assistant program at Heritage.

Thirty years later, Dawn Waheneka, an HU history major and Mellon Fellow, didn’t pay much attention to other people’s expectations. She entered the U.S. Navy to better herself.

“I grew from the experience, not knowing at the beginning how big it would be. I 100-percent bettered myself,” she said.

History major Dawn Waheneka constructs a wall framework for a new building at a military base in Afghanistan as part of her job as a Navy Seabee.

Times have changed for women in the military and law enforcement. There are fewer hurdles, the pay is good, career paths are solid, and there can be help with college tuition during or after service.

There are opportunities in these careers,
these women said. You do meaningful work. You overcome a myriad challenges. But most of all, you learn a lot about who you really are.


Throughout her career in law enforcement, Bellamy-Thompson had many assignments. She was a patrol officer. She was a narcotics agent. She investigated white-collar crimes, sex crimes and elder abuse.

She wasn’t all about arresting people, “grabbing people and throwing them on the ground.” Although that’s what’s often seen on television and in social media today, it didn’t represent her experience, she said.

What was important to Bellamy-Thompson was making a difference in people’s lives. She did it every day when she helped someone in distress while on patrol, investigated her way to the truth about who committed a crime, or helped bring an offender to justice.

Sergeant First Class Syvilla Reynolds at Camp Najaf-Adair in Oregon doing medevac loading exercises on Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters.

“Mostly, law enforcement is really smart people making sound decisions to make the community a better place,” she said.

For Bellamy-Thompson, her desire to help people – what she calls providing good “customer service” on behalf of a community – was fulfilled in her law enforcement career. She brought her care, communication skills and professionalism to a job that needed it.

Bellamy-Thompson thinks women have ways of dealing with difficult situations that come naturally to them. When the issue is one of domestic violence or sexual abuse, for example, the ‘soft skills’ that women lead with help the victim and help find a resolution.

“Instead of showing up looking stoic and militaristic, I found women typically approach a problem with a desire to resolve things. We communicate our way through issues.”


Reynolds was the kind of kid who signed up for first aid classes at summer camp. She was the kid who dragged animals home and patched them up – whether they needed it or not.

Growing up in Poulsbo, Washington, Reynolds’s grandfather was a doctor, her brother an army medic. Her decision at age 18 to join the Army and work in the operating room seemed preordained.

After leaving her law enforcement career, Bellamy-Thompson came to Heritage to help other men and women prepare for careers in law and justice.

Her choice was an unorthodox one for a woman at the time, but Reynolds said the Army-medical path was the perfect one for her.

“It really is kind of like what you see on M*A*S*H— organized chaos. It gets your adrenaline pumping. I love that.”

While enlisted in the Army, Reynolds worked with elite Forward Surgical Teams (FSTs) for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She now serves one weekend a month in the reserves where she’s the company first sergeant of B Company, 396th Combat Support Hospital in Vancouver, Washington.

Reynolds and the teams she works with provide medical support for injured troops once they’re back in the States. She’s also responsible for
the training and management of soldiers on the operating team.

That’s a significant amount of responsibility, proving how much things have changed for women over Reynolds’s time in the service.

“In the ‘80s, women were almost always in support roles – administrative, supply, nursing. Today, we even have women going through ranger school. Rangers are trained in combat. They lead soldiers on difficult missions,” she said.

Dawn Waheneka traded camouflage for a book bag when she enrolled at Heritage after her military service.


Growing up on the Yakama reservation, the furthest Waheneka had ever ventured from home was Nevada. But, at age 17, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy. A few months later, she arrived in Spain on her first deployment.

Her second was to Afghanistan, her third split between Africa and Croatia, and her fourth Japan.

“I enlisted to better myself, and to see the world,” says Waheneka. “And I did both those things.”

As a Seabee, Waheneka’s team built complexes for U.S. Marines and roads for people in rural Afghanistan. In Africa, she was on a crew that built a maternity home for the women of a small village.

She is excited about the subject of female empowerment. She feels her personal growth through her Navy experience, combined with her Heritage education, gives her the skills to be able to help her people, especially girls and young women.

“I want to take what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned and help Yakama youth develop a more positive sense of who they are.”


Today, women represent 15 percent of law enforcement professionals nationwide and 14 percent of active duty military. These organizations recognize the need to include women in their ranks and their leadership.

Clearly, said Bellamy-Thompson, there’s room for improvement in those numbers. But more and more, she said, both industries are working to ensure they more fully reflect the nation’s population. Bellamy-Thompson has found local agencies are very eager to create internships with the university, which has opened doors for female students.

Reynolds prepares surgical instrumentation prior to a case in the operating room.

Now, every semester, she places 10 Heritage students in internships. Their majors have included criminal justice, social work, psychology, even some of the sciences.

For 120 hours over the course of a semester, students have real-world experiences that give them a head start on the careers they’ll choose after graduation.

“I have students who are helping domestic violence victims get into shelters. There are some teaching citizenship classes as part of their internship. Often an intern moves around within the department, working with a patrol officer, then maybe in probation, then maybe in juvenile services. It all intertwines.

“One student was a biology major with a criminal justice minor who was interested in forensics. We got her an internship in the coroner’s office.”

Students who’ve had internships tend to find jobs more readily, said Bellamy-Thompson. The Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Washington State Patrol and Washington State Department of Corrections have all hired Heritage grads who worked internships.

Women like Waheneka, Bellamy-Thompson and Reynolds paved the road for younger women today. Where they go from there is all possibility.