Heritage University honors Native American elders, welcomes Indigenous actor/comedian Tatanka Means as highlights of Native American Heritage Month celebrations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University honors Native American elders, welcomes Indigenous actor/comedian Tatanka Means as highlights of Native American Heritage Month celebrations

 

Toppenish, Wash. – November is Native American Heritage Month, and Heritage University is celebrating with a variety of events that honor Native Americans in our communities, including the Honoring Our Elders ceremony, taking place on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. During this event, we celebrate four Yakama Nation elders for their lifetime contributions to the Yakama people and their community. This year’s recipients are Marlene Hunt White, Edward Arlen Washines, Gene Sutterlict and Iola Smartlowit Totus.

Marlene Hunt White YaYamptnikt has spent 50 years supporting the health and well-being of the people in her community. Through her work with Yakama Nation’s Public Works department, she ensured that her community had clean drinking water by helping individuals and tribal entities build and maintain viable wells and septic systems.

Wahteshaouct/Shxmyah Edward Arlen Washines has lived his life driven by an unwavering commitment to uplifting his community through the development of education, social services, and employment. As an educator and director of Higher Education, he inspired Yakama Nation youth to graduate from high school, pursue college degrees, and return to their homelands to use their skills and talents to benefit their community.

Wah-Shu-Lums Gene Sutterlict, Sr. is passionate about protecting and preserving the forest of the Yakama Nation and the sacred sites that are located within those lands. He’s spent his lifetime walking the fine line between harvesting renewable timber resources and preserving the woodlands. For almost 40 years he worked in forestry for the Yakama Nation, and the trees harvested brought in revenue that funded tribal services that house, educate, and support the health and well-being of the people of the Yakama Nation.

Iola Smartlowit Totus Kwasa dedicated her life to nurturing and raising nine children. Along her six biological children, she selflessly welcomed three more into her home, creating a loving and expansive family. Iola instilled within her children a deep appreciation for the natural world and an unwavering respect for their rich Yakama culture, passing down invaluable traditions. For years, she and her family journeyed across the powwow circuit, bonding and celebrating their heritage as they danced and shared the beauty of their Yakama culture with the world. In her retirement years, she continues to help Yakama elementary school-aged children connect with their culture by teaching them their traditional language.

The annual Honoring Our Elders ceremony will be held in Heritage University’s Smith Family Hall on Wednesday, November 8, 2023, at 8:30 a.m. This event is by invitation only. Also, their stories are featured in a series of full-page ads, each dedicated to a specific elder, that are running in the Yakama Nation Review through November. Framed copies of these ads are being added to the permanent display of honorees at the university in the Violet Lumley Rau Center.

Other events Heritage is holding in November in observance of Native American Heritage Month as designated by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 include:

November 1 and November 16, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – Native Flute Music by Jeremy Garcia (Yakama)

Jeremy Garcia will perform Native flute music during a noontime concert in the Eagle’s Café at Heritage University on both November 1 and November 16.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023, 8:00 a.m. – Flag-raising Ceremony

Heritage University will raise the flags of the Yakama Nation, the state of Washington and the United States during a ceremony featuring the Yakama Warriors. The ceremony will begin at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the main campus entrance.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023, 6:30 p.m. – Reclaiming the Stage – Indigenous Style: An Evening with Tatanka Means

Heritage is hosting a performance by Indigenous actor and comedian Tatanka Means called Reclaiming the Stage – Indigenous Style, an Evening with Tatanka Means at 6:30 p.m., also in Smith Family Hall. As an actor, Means is currently appearing in the Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He’s also appeared in the films “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and “More Than Frybread.” His TV roles also include appearances on “Reservation Dogs,” “The Liberator” and “The Son.” Means is also a much sought-after Native American comedian. Means’ performance at Heritage is free and open to the public.

November 14, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – The Painted Teepee Story told by The Artist, Laurie White Horse

The public is invited to hear artist Laurie White Horse speak about the recent painting of the Heritage Teepee. She’ll share information about the symbolism behind the animals, nature and landscapes now seen on the Teepee, and its significance to Indigenous people.

November 15, all day – Rock Your Mocs

Rock Your Mocs is an expression of tribal identity where we invite people to wear moccasins on November 15 as a way to celebrate Indigenous traditions and culture around the world.

November 16, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – Movie Talk – AMÁ

This documentary covers the untold story of the involuntary sterilization of Native American women by Indian Health Services well into the 1970s. This will be shown in the Harry Kent Classroom.

November 17, 2023, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Holiday Bazaar

The Holiday Bazaar will be held in the Patricia Wade Temple Room and is presented by the American Indigenous Business Leaders Chapter at Heritage University.

November 20, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Fireside Chat with Kip Ramsey

Kip Ramsey shares his perspective of a 2019 United States Supreme Court Case involving his company, Cougar Den vs. the Washington State Department of Licensing. The event will take place in the Barnhill Fireside Room.

November 29, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – WAR CRY live podcast: Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

The public is invited to watch, listen, and participate in a live podcast hosted by Emily Washines, Robyn Pebeahsy and Patricia Whitefoot, with special guest Cissy (Strong) Reyes. This event will take place in the Patricia Wade Temple Room.

November 30, all day – Dr. Virginia Beavert (Tuxámshish) Day at Heritage University

Honoring the esteemed Yakama elder Tuxámshish on her 103rd birthday.

All Native American Heritage Month events at Heritage University are free and open to the public. For more information on these events, contact Maxine Janis at (360) 513-2808 or Janis_M@heritage.edu. For help with interviews, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.

 

# # #

 

 

 

 

 

Heritage University and Toppenish School District sign agreement to provide library services for Toppenish High School students

HU VP of Student Affairs Corey Hodge and Toppenish High School teacher Brenda Barragan (holding document) and THS students stand outside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center, which houses the Donald KC North Library at Heritage University, September 22, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University and Toppenish School District sign agreement to provide library services for Toppenish High School students

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is opening the Donald K.C. North Library on its campus to Toppenish High School students after their high school’s library became unavailable. Heritage University and Toppenish School District recently signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) which allows chaperoned Toppenish High students to visit the Heritage library and access resources and borrow library books and other materials.

Brenda Barragan, a teacher at Toppenish High School, said the school’s library closed in 2020 to make room for a new career center. Barragan and others realized students needed a library for research projects, access to books and databases, free internet and computer access, and a quiet space to read, learn and write. Toppenish High staff then approached Heritage University with the request to have their high school students access the Donald K.C. North Library. As a higher education institution, Heritage administration recognized the importance of fostering a spirit of collaboration and community engagement and worked with the Toppenish School District to develop the MOA.

Heritage University Library Director Daniel Liestman knows the importance that access to robust library materials will have for Toppenish High School students. “The opportunity for Heritage to provide access to THS students we saw as a vital link to their education,” said Liestman. “In today’s world of fake news, misinformation, and rampant bias, it is imperative that students in both college and high school, become smart and savvy consumers of information. We are honored to partner with THS and provide enhanced services that their students would not have had access to otherwise.”

Barragan thanked Heritage University for coming to the rescue of Toppenish High School and her students, as this groundbreaking partnership will open the door to a world of knowledge and opportunities for her students. “Access to the rich resources and expertise of the Donald K.C. North Library will empower our students to reach new heights in their academic journeys,” said Barragan. “This opportunity will enable our students to expand their horizons and achieve academic excellence. We deeply appreciate Heritage University for their commitment to educational collaboration and fostering a culture of learning within our community.”

The Donald K.C. North Library is located inside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center on the Heritage University campus in Toppenish. The MOA between Heritage and Toppenish High School is in effect through the 2023-24 school year. For more information please contact Daniel Liestman, Donald K.C. North Library Director at (509) 865-8520 or liestman_d@heritage.edu, or Brenda Barragan, THS teacher at bbarragan@toppenish.wednet.edu.  For help with interviews, please contact Davidson Mance, Heritage University media relations coordinator, at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

# # #

Heritage University’s new MSW granted pre-candidacy status

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University’s new Master of Social Work program is granted pre-candidacy status

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s new Master of Social Work (MSW) program is on its way to becoming officially recognized and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Board of Accreditation. The CSWE has placed HU’s MSW on the June 2024 BOA Agenda for candidacy review and has been granted “pre-candidacy status.”

Students who enter programs in pre-candidacy will be retroactively recognized as having graduated from a CSWE-accredited program once the program earns initial accreditation. The accreditation process can take three years, and there is no guarantee that a program in pre-candidacy will eventually earn candidacy or initial accreditation. Accreditation provides assurance about the quality of the program and the competence of students graduating from the program.

Corey Hodge, MSW, the chair of the Social Work program at Heritage University, is confident the HU MSW will achieve initial accreditation and later full accreditation. “The pre-candidacy is good news. We have passed a major milestone en route to accreditation for our program. Our hard work to prepare documents to support our application for accreditation has paid off,” said Hodge. “Graduates of the BSW program at Heritage who want to continue their education in social work, often have limited opportunities in eastern Washington. Having our own accredited MSW means our students can continue to work and live here with their families while obtaining the education and training needed to serve and support families in our communities.”

The MSW program at Heritage is on track to begin accepting students into classes which will start in the fall of 2024. Heritage expects the MSW to achieve accreditation in June 2026. For more information about the program, please contact Miguel Juarez at (509) 865-0423 or Juarez_M@heritage.edu or Corey Hodge at (509) 865-0411 or Hodge_C@heritage.edu.

# # #

STEM educators invited to STEM education empowerment event at Heritage University

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

STEM educators invited to STEM education empowerment event at Heritage University

Toppenish, Wash. – Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instructors in the Yakima Valley are invited to attend “STEM in Action 2023,” an educators’ summit at Heritage University on Saturday, October 14, 2023. At STEM in Action, high-energy speakers and leaders in STEM education will empower and inspire teachers with innovative teaching methods, explore cutting-edge STEM resources, and engage with fellow educators who also share your passion for nurturing curiosity and critical thinking in students.

STEM in Action speakers include:

Joe Marquez – educator, technology leader and the Director of Academic Innovation for CUE. Marquez is also the co-host of the Sons of Technology podcast and YouTube channel.

Tyler Rablin – tech coach, educator, author, and presenter. Rablin is known for creating intentional technology integrations and assessment strategies that build a culture of learning.

David Stiner – Career & Technical Education teacher at Toppenish School District and education consultant. Stiner teaches computer science and graphic arts with a focus on getting students ready for the workforce.

Suzanne Depoe – Google test engineer. Depoe leads the way in expanding STEM studies for Indigenous students throughout the United States by bringing robotics programming to tribal communities.

STEM in Action 2023 is co-sponsored by Toppenish School District and Heritage University and will be held on October 14 from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The cost is $40 and will earn educators clock hours. Lunch will be provided. Interested educators should act now, registration for STEM in Action 2023 closes October 9, 2023. To register, visit www.bit.ly/stemsummit23. For more information, please contact Barb Moses at bmoses@toppenish.wednet.edu or Maggie Dawson at dawson_m@heritage.edu.

# # #

 

 

Heritage University to hold ribbon-cutting for campus food pantry

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University to hold ribbon-cutting for campus food pantry

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for “Eagles Market,” a new food pantry that will serve students, faculty and staff and their families. Eagles Market is in the Sr. Elizabeth Simkins Hall on the west side of the Heritage University campus in Toppenish. The ribbon-cutting will take place Friday, September 29, 2023, at 11:00 a.m.

Eagles Market will address food insecurity among students and their families. Food insecurity refers to the lack of consistent access to nutritious food. Many college students face financial challenges and struggle to afford sufficient and healthy meals as they balance school, studying and family life. By establishing a food pantry, Heritage helps ensure that students have access to nutritious food especially when they are away from campus.

Corey Hodge, VP of Student Affairs at Heritage, said the food pantry can contribute to the overall well-being and health of students by providing regular access to nutritious food. “In a recent student survey, many respondents said having a food pantry would reduce the stress of having to find food and allow them to concentrate on their studies and help them do better in school,” said Hodge. “By providing a reliable source of food, Heritage and its benefactors show their commitment to support the well-being of students and foster an environment conducive to learning.”

Eagles Market is made possible through the generosity of the Kwik Lok Corporation in Yakima, Wash., and an anonymous donor in Washington state. The owners of Kwik Lok say supporting projects like the Eagles Market at Heritage University completely aligns with their mission that creates an inclusive culture that fosters innovation to increase the success of its customers and health of the planet. “One of the ways we walk our values at Kwik Lok is building partnerships to increase our impact in our communities. Our support of the Heritage Food Pantry is crucial in fostering a compassionate community where no one goes hungry. Together, we can make a difference, nourishing not only bodies but also the spirit of solidarity within our local community.”

The grants have also allowed Heritage to hire a food pantry coordinator who will oversee the operation of Eagles Market. Heritage has secured a relationship with Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in Yakima to supply frozen, refrigerated, and non-perishable food items to the food pantry, where they will be safely stored and packaged for distribution.

For Eagles Market operating hours and for more information, visit heritage.edu/eaglesmarket.

# # #

Heritage University to Host El Grito de Independencia Celebration in Commemoration of Mexican Independence Day

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University to Host El Grito de Independencia Celebration in Commemoration of Mexican Independence Day

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is delighted to announce its upcoming El Grito de Independencia celebration, scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 16, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This lively event will be held at the picturesque Toppenish campus, in commemoration of Mexican Independence Day.

El Grito de Independencia pays homage to the historical “Cry of Dolores,” a pivotal moment in Mexican history that ignited the Mexican War of Independence against Spanish rule. The re-enactment of this event will take place at 7:30 p.m. A distinguished representative from the Mexican Consulate in Seattle will lead the El Grito ceremony.

Promising an array of vibrant Mexican-style activities and games, El Grito will be an engaging affair for all attendees. The event will be animated by the dynamic hosting of DJ David Soto and the lively performances of Grupo Vico and folklore dance group Raíces de mi pueblo. Families can look forward to a multitude of attractions, including traditional Loteria games, engaging kid crafts, an assortment of food and beverages, captivating traditional dance performances, live music, and an informative resource fair.

The celebration will be open to the public, and admission is entirely free, reflecting Heritage University’s commitment to community engagement and cultural celebration.

For individuals and businesses interested in becoming vendors at El Grito de Independencia, there are still limited vendor opportunities available. To register as a vendor, contact Jennifer Renteria-Lopez via email at renteria-lopez_j@heritage.edu or phone at (509) 517-2040.

For media inquiries, please contact: Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

# # #

 

 

Yakima Valley Partners for Education complete Digital Computation Classes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Yakima Valley Partners for Education’s Digital Literacy Computation classes teach 150 Lower Valley residents how to master wide range of computer skills

Toppenish, Wash. – More than 150 Spanish-speaking Lower Yakima Valley community members now possess a wide range of personal computer skills after completing digital literacy courses organized by Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE). The eight “Digital Literacy Computation” cohorts were held between July 2022 to June 2023. Each cohort of 20 students was taught over a six-week period. YVPE established two community computer labs at Nuestra Casa in Sunnyside, Wash., where six of the classes were held. United Family Center in Grandview, Wash. hosted one cohort, and Mabton Junior Senior High School in Mabton, Wash. also hosted a cohort. YVPE staff member Lorena Legorreta developed the Spanish language curriculum used in these classes.

Yakima Valley Partners for Education Digital Computation Class taught at United Family Center in Grandview, Wash. May-June, 2023

Suzy Diaz, director of YVPE, says all the people attending the classes are Spanish speaking, working adults whose personal and professional lives are now enriched because of having skills that others take for granted. “Students went from not knowing how to turn on a laptop, to having a working knowledge of Google apps, Microsoft Office programs, using QR codes to access information, and much more,” said Diaz. “They also know how to apply for public benefits online and use the internet to visit specific websites for job searches, to name only a few tasks. The world and information about local resources are now at their fingertips.”

The Digital Literacy Computation classes were funded with $100,000 from a $1.2 million Congressionally Directed Spending Award secured by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) for Save the Children. The award also provided for food security and childcare, which allowed adults with children to have their family’s needs met while they attended classes. The adults used laptops, which allowed them to learn how to use a computer and develop typing skills. Some students who had completed the courses were hired to present the curriculum to later classes.

“I’m so inspired by what Yakima Valley Partners for Education achieved with their digital literacy classes this past summer, helping people in the Yakima Valley learn essential computer skills that will enrich their personal and professional lives—and I’m so proud to have secured funding to help make it possible,” said Senator Murray. “When we invest in digital literacy and support people as they learn these critical skills, we’re not just investing in their ability to thrive—we’re investing in our state’s future. That’s why I’ll keep fighting in the U.S. Senate for funding like this to support people in the Yakima Valley and help them get the skills they need to thrive.”

Yakima Valley Partners for Education Digital Computation Class taught at United Family Center in Grandview, Wash. May-June, 2023

Plans are underway to print 1,500 copies of the textbooks used in the Digital Literacy Computation classes to make them available at the sites for continued public use. For more information, contact Suzy Diaz at (509) 480-9354 or diaz_s@heritage.edu or Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

About YVPE
Yakima Valley Partners for Education is a cradle-to-career collective impact network formed out of a commitment to work collaboratively to improve educational outcomes for all youth of Yakima Valley. The initial work focuses on the Lower Valley communities of Grandview, Sunnyside and Mabton and the plan is to extend into Mid Valley followed by Upper Valley.

The network is comprised of partners who have aligned to create a stronger, more integrated, more seamless education pipeline and a coordinated approach for equitably investing in children and supporting their success from birth through careers. The network takes on complex systemic and social issues by leveraging community strengths and forging uncommon partnerships through cross-sector, structured collaboration.

Heritage University serves as the backbone organization. Two leadership bodies guide the supports for the ongoing work of the network. The leadership bodies are comprised of representatives inside and outside the education sector, a key component of collective impact strategy, that guide the administrative functions of the work.

Yakima Valley Partners for Education Digital Computation Class taught at United Family Center in Grandview, Wash. May-June, 2023

# # #

Heritage University nursing program director receives 2023 Nurse Educator Award from Washington State Nurses Association

Christina Nyirati accepts 2023 Nurse Educator Award from Washington State Nurses Association

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage University nursing program director receives 2023 Nurse Educator Award from Washington State Nurses Association

 

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University nursing program director Christina Nyirati, Ph.D., was recently recognized for her work in bringing nursing education to under-represented populations. Nyirati was awarded the 2023 Nurse Educator Award by the Washington State Nurses Association during its convention in May.

The award is given every two years to a member who has demonstrated excellence in nursing education through evidence-based, innovative, and inspirational methods that incorporate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dr. Nyirati founded the BSN program at Heritage University in 2014 with the mission to advance the health of multicultural families and communities in rural environments through excellence in nursing education, service, practice, and community-based research.

“I have worked with students who come to me and say I want to be a nurse, but they had been told by their high school guidance counselor they couldn’t be a nurse because they didn’t start speaking English until they were 7, 9, or 11 years old, and they didn’t have access to college prep courses,” said Nyirati in her acceptance speech. “Most of our students have been denied admission to as many as three nursing schools.”

The school has now graduated 80 highly capable and motivated nurses from rural communities who understand their communities.

“She has shaped the nursing program’s emphasis on cultural inclusivity with particular sensitivity to the Native communities from which it draws many of its students,” said Judy Huntington, MN, RN, who nominated Nyirati. Huntington served as WSNA executive director for nearly 19 years.

Heritage University President Andrew Sund, Ph.D. said that Dr Nyirati is truly deserving of this recognition from the WSNA. “Dr. Nyirati has dedicated her career to the exceptional education of nurses and to the elevation of the nursing profession to the highest standards. Her dedication to preparing health care professionals that serve their communities with the highest level of care possible is extraordinary.”

The WSNA Recognition Awards are made biennially in celebration of individuals who have made substantial contributions in nursing practice, leadership, education, and research. Nyirati was one of 10 individuals recognized at this year’s event. WSNA is the statewide association for the 110,000 nurses in Washington state and has been at the forefront of nursing advancements since it was founded in 1908.

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

# # #

Martin Valadez promoted to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Heritage University

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Martin Valadez promoted to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Heritage University

 

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University President Andrew Sund, Ph.D. announced on July 13, 2023, the promotion of Martin Valadez from director of the Heritage University Regional Site in the Tri-Cities to Vice-President for Strategic Initiatives at Heritage University. In this role, Valadez will oversee university operations at its new regional site in downtown Kennewick, Wash. and at its branch campus at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash. as well as take a leadership role in developing additional strategic initiatives for the university.

Valadez joined Heritage University in 2019 as the director of the newly formed Workforce Training and Education program known as Heritage@Work. A year later, Valadez was selected to become the director of Heritage University’s Tri-Cities branch campus at CBC. Valadez has lived in the Tri-Cities since 2006 and is an active leader in the area’s academic and business communities through his experience at CBC as a professor and as the VP for Diversity and Outreach. He also has strong business connections through his work as the former CEO for the CBC Foundation and as a member and vice chair of Gesa Credit Union board of directors. Valadez also recently returned to his role as president of the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where he has served in various roles for more than 13 years. He is also a board member of the Tri-Cities Economic Development Council (TRIDEC); on the board of directors of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC); and current Chair of the Mid-Columbia Libraries board of trustees.

Dr. Sund says the adaptability and flexibility shown by Valadez when taking on new roles make him the perfect choice to develop and foster new projects for university growth. “Valadez has a proven track record with delivering consistent results and achieving targets in every venture,” Sund said. “He has shown an ability to grow positive relationships with clients, partners and colleagues which enhance Heritage’s reputation and drives growth. This promotion is a result of his exceptional work and in recognition of Martin’s service to Heritage University.”

Valadez expressed gratitude for this recognition of his contributions to the University thus far and the opportunity to contribute in a larger role. “Heritage has been changing the trajectory of students’ lives for more than 40 years and it is an honor to be a part of an organization that is 100% mission driven.”

Valadez officially started his new role as VP of Strategic Initiatives on July 1. For more information, please contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

# # #

Star of children’s book written by second graders is now a learning ambassador for children in the Yakima Valley

Houdini poses for pictures with children at the Heritage University Early Learning Center during a reveal event on June 15, 2023

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Star of children’s book written by second graders is now a learning ambassador for children in the Yakima Valley

Toppenish, Wash. – Houdini Was is a story about a classroom pet hamster written by a second-grade class at White Bluff Elementary School in Richland, Wash. The class entered the story into a contest by Scholastic Books called the Scholastic National Challenge in 2010, and their book won first place over more than 2,000 entries nationwide. Fast forward to 2023, Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) and its partners are bringing Houdini to the children of the Yakima Valley as a learning ambassador. On June 15, the teacher whose class at White Bluff Elementary wrote the story, Christan Conners, and one of her students from that year, Lily Ferguson, read Houdini Was to children at the Heritage University Early Learning Center. Afterwards, Houdini, a costumed mascot, appeared and posed for pictures with the children.

YVPE director Suzy Diaz said longtime Heritage University benefactors Ken and Sharon Smith of Yakima, Wash. became interested in YVPE’s literacy efforts and wanted to help. The Smiths, parents of Christan Conners, purchased the publishing rights to Houdini Was, had 500 copies printed, and are now making the book available to schools and organizations in the Yakima Valley.

YVPE’s partners think Houdini will be a “hamster-iffic” learning ambassador.

“The ESD is thrilled to be joining with other community partners in the Houdini project,” said Educational Service District 105 Director Shane Backlund. We’re looking forward to supporting Houdini’s mission of serving as a learning ambassador throughout our region, and we can’t wait to get started with this partnership.”

“Houdini’s journey from a class pet to a symbol of resilience touched the hearts of young minds. In their words and art, Houdini becomes a beacon of hope,” said Humberto Rodriguez, CEO of United Family Center. “The Smith family’s dedication to sharing this story nurtures healing, reminding us that even in grief we find the power to create light.”

“Early literacy helps children develop a rich vocabulary, self-expression, and reading comprehension and promotes life-long learning,” said Vanessa Frias, director of Parents as Teachers at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic (YVFWC). “These skills prepare children for school by encouraging a love for books and an eagerness to learn. Our organization is happy to support Houdini.”

For more information, please contact Suzy Diaz at (509) 480-9354 or Diaz_S@heritage.edu or Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.