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YWCA Spokane is proud to announce the 2023 Women of Achievement Award Honorees
These 9 outstanding local women will be honored in the community throughout February and March, leading up to YWCA Spokane’s 41st Annual Women of Achievement Awards Ceremony and Luncheon, held Thursday, March 9th at the Davenport Grand from 11:00AM-1:00PM, where they will be officially recognized.
To be awarded a YWCA Women of Achievement Award, a woman must embody YWCA Spokane’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. The selected honorees listed below give generously of themselves to make Spokane a better place for all to live. Continue scrolling or click each name to learn more about each honoree.
The winners of the 2023 Women of Achievement Awards are:
- Maisa Abudayha – Arts and Culture Award
- Heike Lake – Business and Industry Award
- Virla Spencer – Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award
- Amy Knapton Vega – Community Enhancement Award
- Mary Pat Treuthart – Education Award
- Betsy Wilkerson – Government and Public Service Award
- Kay Olson – Science, Technology and Environment Award
- Shamerica Nakamura – Young Woman of Achievement Award
- Sandy Williams – Lifetime Achievement Award, posthumous
For 41 years, YWCA Spokane has celebrated successful women in the community for their achievements along with their commitment to giving back to the Spokane community. Established with the goal of increasing community awareness and appreciation for the diverse contributions of women leaders in Spokane, YWCA Spokane has honored over 250 women in the region. We are proud to add this year’s outstanding honorees to that legacy.
2023 Women of Achievement Award Honoree Bios
Arts & Culture – Maisa Abudayha
To Maisa Abudayha, food is a language, a bridge, and an opportunity.
Since 2019, Maisa has been busy connecting cultures and fueling spirits through her passion for cooking and providing access to foods that members of the Spokane community might not ever have the chance to experience if it weren’t for Feast World Kitchen.
While in her home country of Jordan, Maisa earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology and an international license as a stockbroker. After she immigrated with her family from Jordan’s urban outskirts to Spokane, she struggled to make ends meet.
Along Maisa’s journey of finding her footing in her new home, she discovered that food is a vital part of every culture and that culinary arts are a way that everyday people can express themselves and share who they are. With the awakening that food brings people together in a way that nothing else can, the vision was formed to launch a nonprofit restaurant that builds bridges toward positive – and delicious – inclusion for members of immigrant communities in Spokane. Now, just three years after Feast World Kitchen was established, Maisa draws from the love of her Jordanian culture and passion for helping immigrants as a compass to guide her while serving as Chef Program Director of the award-winning community space.
The innovative restaurant serves a rotating selection of feature meals prepared by immigrants and former refugees, giving each chef the opportunity to bring their culinary context to Spokane. Participating chefs are also cared for in other ways by Maisa and her team, such as facilitating connections to help apply for business licenses, savings accounts, or other opportunities to sustain their new lives.
Maisa’s tireless energy is an infectious inspiration. She gives her all so that others can flourish, treating every shift at the restaurant and every event Feast caters as a growth opportunity for immigrants and former refugees. Maisa shows up with her full heart and full effort to support this growth.
Her leadership has been instrumental in helping over 75 chef families share their culinary gifts as they earn income, learn valuable career skills, and build community connections. 79% of Feast World Kitchen’s chefs are women – many of them low-income single moms who have experienced significant trauma.
Maisa has become an incredible presence and voice within our community and has established herself and Feast World Kitchen as a permanent fixture in Spokane’s culinary and cultural landscape.
YWCA Spokane is honored to present Maisa Abudayha with the 2023 Women of Achievement award for Arts and Culture.
Business & Industry – Heike Lake
YWCA Spokane is honored to present Heike Lake with the 2023 Women of Achievement award for Business and Industry.
In Heike’s nearly 30-year human services career, she has developed dozens of programs to empower women and eliminate racism.
At Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) in Spokane, Heike rose steadily: Intern, Therapist, Clinical Supervisor, Clinical Director, Associate Director and District Director. Then, four years ago, she began serving as Chief Operating Officer for the entire three-state agency. Heike has spent most of her career developing and strengthening programs in response to sexual assault and family violence.
She also brought specialized refugee behavioral health to the Inland Northwest. Heike created pathways for people new to Spokane who arrived under traumatic circumstances. She brought Unaccompanied Refugee Foster Care to Spokane. Shortly after the program opened, a United States travel ban was instituted that jeopardized the safety of foster youth, some of whom were on an airplane to Spokane. Amid hateful rhetoric, Heike managed the situation with grace and character, focusing on safety and justice for the youth. Amid the Afghan and Ukraine refugee crises, LCSNW has assisted hundreds of people fleeing to the Pacific Northwest. Heike has been at the forefront, leading resettlement teams through extreme challenges due to reduced capacity resulting from past U.S. policies.
Heike is a dedicated public servant and community leader. She’s the behind-the-scenes glue that brings exciting work to the Inland Northwest. Due to her commitment to nonprofit community service, LCSNW is thriving and capable of reaching more vulnerable people and families than ever.
Molly Daggett, MSW, Washington State Department of Social and Health Service, shared, “Heike Lake is an insightful and visionary leader who is more apt to be working quietly making things happen, rather than touting her accomplishments.” Heike is relentlessly positive in the face of challenges that would stop others. Not only does Heike shine when developing strategic, innovative programming, she’s also a master at creating structures that support quality and efficiency.
In addition to Spokane, Heike has been influential in other parts of the Northwest. She has worked to grow services for elders through the Tacoma-based Santa for Seniors Program; increased legal resources for immigrants and refugees west of the Cascades; helped open a behavioral health clinic in Pasco; developed an affiliation agreement with Compass Housing in Seattle, whose Board she now sits on; and oversaw development of a crisis nursery in Klamath Falls, Oregon, among many other projects. Heike is also revered by teammates for her intelligence, humor, and care for them, their clients, and their work environment.
Heike is a person of strong integrity and character. “Heike takes her role very seriously but is the first to laugh and bring joy to a challenging task. In the same manner, she is driven by seeking Health, Justice and Hope for her team and community,” says David Duea, LCSNW, President and CEO. As a leader she understands the importance of consistency in her role. Heike is always kind, compassionate and thoughtful and believes in taking the high road of respect. She is well versed on the topic at hand and her delivery of information gives her significant but subtle influence. Always prepared to meet people’s intellectual and emotional needs, Heike inspires excellence and grace in others, shining the spotlight on them rather than herself.
Mentoring new leadership is Heike’s strength. She has supported dozens of women in leadership throughout the Spokane region, at LCSNW, as well as in the community and partner organizations. Her passion for helping people runs deep – and she knows the best way to do that is to lead others to help with empathy and compassion.
Heike is not likely to turn the focus on herself. While not at all shy, she is modest in reflecting on her numerous strengths and accomplishments, such as bringing new, evidence-based trauma treatment practices to the Inland Northwest. She has avoided public recognition during her long career. She’s the kind of quiet, excellent leader and colleague who inspires others. Leaders are often seen as outgoing and larger than life; Heike is an example that there is more than one great way to lead. Spokane is a better place to live and work with Heike standing alongside us.
Carl Maxey Racial & Social Justice – Virla Spencer
YWCA Spokane is proud and honored to present Virla Spencer with the 2023 Carl Maxey Racial & Social Justice award.
Virla Spencer is the CEO & Co-Director of The Way to Justice, a non-profit, female-founded and led community law firm that is deeply dedicated to eliminating racism and furthering racial equity, especially within the legal system. Virla co-founded The Way to Justice with a mission to pave the way to justice through community empowerment, advocacy, and access to legal resources.
The Way to Justice was born when The Center for Justice, where Virla worked for over a decade, closed without notice during the early days of the pandemic. Virla has not slowed down for even a moment. The Way to Justice has accomplished much in its first two years, thanks in large part to Virla’s commitment to collaborative leadership. She has co-led The Way to Justice, helping it to thrive and flourish, leading programs that are often the last resource and hope for their clients. Virla’s vision is a community-based system that serves as a remedy to the existing system, that should be equally accessed by all.
Virla’s journey led her to this work. She raised her children on TANF, lived in section 8 housing, and used food stamps. She learned to keep going no matter what. “As a black woman, I experienced discrimination in the education, employment, housing, and criminal justice systems. I have been homeless, a single mother raising seven children and having nowhere to go,” Virla said. As a survivor of domestic violence, she can relate to clients who experience it. She knows what it’s like to choose between paying the light bill or feeding the family.
Virla’s vision and leadership have inspired many. After being released from a 10-year prison sentence, “Tamara” met Virla while attending one of her Women’s Relicensing Workshops. Virla helped her get her driver’s license back, and they developed a trusting relationship. Tamara was working to be reunited with her children but needed stable housing first. Tamara called Virla because she couldn’t find an apartment that would rent to her. Tamara told Virla which apartment had most recently turned her down, and Virla stepped in. Virla made a phone call and because of this intervention, the apartment complex rented to Tamara and she got her kids back. Today, Tamara has her real estate license and owns two homes.
The path to Virla’s current role with The Way to Justice started when she was a volunteer at the Center for Justice. The yearlong volunteer program led to part-time and then full-time work, ultimately leading to her role as the Director of the Center’s Relicensing Program, which she ran from 2013 to 2020. One of Virla’s friends shares that, “She never does the bare minimum. She sees and believes in people’s humanity and their full potential, and she shows up with the fullness of all she is.” Because of her experience, SNAP asked her to join their board of directors, and the state Supreme Court appointed her to a statewide committee reviewing legal services for those in poverty.
“For me, it’s about helping people create change for themselves and their families,” says Virla. “My heart is to serve people.”
Community Enhancement – Amy Knapton Vega
Amy Knapton Vega has been a champion of vulnerable children for more than 25 years.
Vanessa Behan has served the Spokane area for 35 years, accepting over 115,000 intakes, and impacting countless lives through rigorous dedication and an unwavering commitment to provide immediate refuge for children and support to strengthen families. Amy has played a critical role in the history and growth of the beloved organization for 25 of those years, beginning her journey as a graveyard house parent and eventually earning the role of program director before taking the helm as executive director.
As Spokane has grown and evolved throughout her time with Vanessa Behan, the needs of local families have also changed. One thing that hasn’t changed in that time is Amy’s vision to keep children safe and loved, and she reflects that in all that she sets out to accomplish and has excelled at facilitating programs and services to meet those evolving needs while staying true to the organization’s core mission: helping parents who are experiencing difficulty providing safe shelter and care for their children, who may be dealing with complex issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness, or may just be exhausted and worn out from the demands of parenting.
Amy has been described as someone who accepts challenges with a smile, dignity, humility, and grace, and has been recognized by colleagues as a ‘miracle worker.’ Her ‘we’ll figure it out’ mentality is what has led to the immense growth Vanessa Behan has attained under Amy’s direction.
When Vanessa Behan began having to turn away at-risk children due to capacity issues, Amy found a solution and led fundraising efforts to move locations from the founding building they had occupied on the lower South Hill since the nonprofit was established in 1987, to a new 32,000 square foot facility in the emerging Sprague District. The strategic move will be monumental in ensuring the organization’s ability to expand services and help more children and families in need well into the future. Being 100% privately funded, the move may have seemed daunting to most, but Amy’s passion and conviction inspired community partners and garnered overwhelming support to fund the project, resulting in the facility being entirely paid for just 14 months after completion.
When COVID-19 hit, Amy worked closely with the Spokane Regional Health District to keep staff safe, while ensuring children are still cared for. Stress is a gateway to child abuse, and the pandemic certainly brought additional stress into the lives of Spokane families. Plus, the closure of schools meant children no longer had school time as a safe retreat. As parents understandably struggled and more children dealt with trauma due to pandemic-related issues, she knew Vanessa Behan’s critical services were more essential than ever. Under Amy’s leadership, Vanessa Behan’s doors stayed open throughout the pandemic and even increased the intake age range to welcome children from 7 to 12 to serve as many children as possible.
When Vanessa Behan was asked to take over the operation of the Children’s Waiting Room at the Spokane County Courthouse – with a two-month turnaround to fulfill the request and a budget that did not cover all operation costs – Amy said yes. She found a way to commit to the project, not because it was easy, but because it was the right thing to do, and children attending court deserved proper care and to have someone by their side.
When the right path becomes apparent, Amy moves forward and puts all of the necessary pieces in place to take action. Her faith in the people around her and in the organization’s steadfast supporters keeps her going and gives her the confidence to move forward with opportunities that may seem insurmountable at inception.
Amy’s commitment to the community goes far beyond her role at Vanessa Behan. She regularly reaches out to nonprofits across the Inland Northwest to collaborate and enhance resources being offered to children and their families. She is also active on a number of local, state-wide, and national initiatives. Her invaluable experience enhances countless organizations through mentorship and her participation on boards and committees, including LaunchNW, Our Kids Our Business, and Washington Respite, among others.
Amy is a proponent of life-long education and is passionate about training and mentoring the next generation of social workers. As an adjunct instructor at Whitworth University, Amy works directly with students, providing first-hand insight into how the services they will provide in their future careers can help battle challenges associated with poverty, domestic abuse, and family trauma.
Amy demonstrates authentic leadership while inspiring and advocating on behalf of others, making a positive impact on all she encounters. Her rigor for keeping children safe and loved, her capacity for empathy and generosity, and her drive to make the world a better, kinder place motivates her team and volunteers, who in-turn work tirelessly to save families – and lives. We are grateful for her public service.
YWCA Spokane is honored to present Amy Knapton Vega with the 2023 Women of Achievement award for Community Enhancement.
Education – Mary Pat Treuthart
At YWCA Spokane, it is our honor to celebrate Mary Pat Treuthart and her outstanding achievements as our 2023 Women of Achievement Education award recipient. Mary Pat “M.P.” Treuthart has been a professor at Gonzaga University School of Law since 1989.
Mary Pat began her career teaching law after serving a judicial clerkship and working at Warren County Legal Services in New Jersey as a staff attorney and program director. Her primary caseload consisted of civil cases, including family law, domestic violence, housing, consumer and public entitlements, and civil commitment matters.
She was a Fulbright Scholar and Lecturer at Marie Curie Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland, served as a Legal Specialist for the ABA-CEELI program in Pristina, Kosovo, and co-taught a domestic violence clinical course at Qatar University College of Law in Doha. She has served as a faculty advisor to the Gonzaga Journal of International Law and as a coach to the Jessup Moot Court team.
MP has a long-standing commitment to social justice and human rights issues, particularly those that affect women and people with disabilities. She has provided pro bono post-conviction assistance in death penalty cases at the state and federal levels. She has been involved since 1990 with the Seattle-based Disability Rights Washington, which provides legal and advocacy services to people with disabilities. As a member of the Board of Directors of the University Legal Assistance program, she co-founded the domestic violence mini clinic. Mary Pat was also a member of the Advisory Committee of the Washington Amnesty International “Stop Violence Against Women” Campaign and a board member of the Seattle-based Center for Women and Democracy.
Mary Pat is an avid volunteer, supporting organizations such as Spokane Public Radio, Habitat for Humanity, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, Amigas de Corazon, and the YWCA. She has taught English to adult learners through the Institute for Extended Learning in Spokane County. This is just a portion of the lengthy list of projects and initiatives she has spearheaded. She also co-hosts the weekly movie review program “Movies 101” at Spokane Public Radio, the regional NPR affiliate!
M.P. is one of those people who leaves a lifelong impression. She does not just lecture about the law from behind a podium; she paces, gestures, and shows deep excitement about the law, which permeates everything she does. Through her, students learn of the complexities (and disparities) of issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, reproductive rights, and cross-cultural issues that play out in each of those areas. Through a legal lens, Mary Pat makes solutions for these issues seem possible. She takes the abstract nature of the law and makes it tangible – a tool that can be used to stand up and fight for the rights of the marginalized. Mary Pat is a walking encyclopedia of the history of women’s legal issues and embodies it in a hopeful and empowering way. The most amazing part of it is that she has done it for nearly 35 years and is still passionate about it. Mary Pat Treuthart is a woman of the highest achievement, and her impact on our community will be felt by the generations of legal activists she has created in her wake.
Government & Public Service – Betsy Wilkerson
At YWCA Spokane, we are truly honored to celebrate the work and accomplishments of Betsy Wilkerson, 2023 Women of Achievement award honoree for Government and Public Service.
Betsy grew up in Spokane and is proud to be the second African American Councilwoman in Spokane’s history. She raised two children in Spokane and is a proud, active grandmother of three. Appointed to the Spokane City Council in 2020, she has championed many causes including the naming of Whistalks Way after a Spokane Tribe heroine and assuring that businesses of color received their fair share of assistance during the global pandemic.
Betsy has been the owner and administrator of Moore’s Assisted Living since 1992, continuing the family business that started in 1976. She is a long-time community volunteer having been past president of the Women Helping Women Fund, Junior League of Spokane, St. Luke’s Community Advisory Board and the Emmanuel Family Life Center. In addition, she served under three governors for 16 years on the Commission for Judicial Conduct and recently completed board terms on the Innovia Foundation, Downtown Spokane Partnership, and Spokane Housing Ventures. Betsy was recognized by Leadership Spokane in 2002 with the Excellence in Community Trustee award and the 2001 Women Helping Women award.
Being familiar with the volunteer and non-profit sector, Council Member Wilkerson most recently chaired the board of the Carl Maxey Center and led two capital campaigns to raise funds for the center in the historic East Central Neighborhood, which is named after the civil rights icon from Spokane. She is the incoming Chair of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, and this Summer, will be the incoming President of the Association of Washington Cities, which is a voluntary, non-partisan, and non-profit association of municipalities and municipal entities that advocates and works with the State Legislature and other government entities.
Betsy joined the Junior League of Spokane in 1989 saying, “The Junior League has been very progressive in lifting up women of color. They really helped me learn not just skills like running meetings and leading initiatives for social change but also how to make lasting friendships like the many Junior League sisters that serve in public office alongside of me.” During her time in the Junior League, Betsy led the inaugural ball for Mayor Jim West and focused on initiatives around empowering women and helping children.
A passion for helping people is a part of Betsy’s family DNA, as her mother was a minister and co-founded the Mt. Zion Holiness Church. Council Member Wilkerson is dedicated to making sure that every resident of the city has the tools to succeed in life and that Spokane remains a City of Promise that attracts people from all over to make it their hometown.
By supporting public services and institutions like community centers, non-profits and local business associations, she believes that community is where we find our strength. Through partnering with the 10 neighborhood councils of District 2, and the various community associations that keep Spokane the vibrant and economic heart of our region, she knows that Spokane can build a future where everyone can thrive together.
Betsy’s life has been singularly focused on ensuring that people of every background have opportunities. This focus has often been met with overcoming barriers for black, indigenous, and people of color communities and other disempowered and marginalized groups; which she herself represents. She has used every job, volunteer role, board seat, and elected office to amplify the voice of women and marginalized persons, including by hiring them and giving them access to positions and places they might not otherwise have.
Betsy has demonstrated leadership and significant accomplishment in business, non-profit leadership, fundraising, advocacy, and now in local elected office as a member of the Spokane City Council. Throughout all of these positions, Betsy has successfully led and mentored many organizations and individuals. She is described by her peers as being humble, intelligent, trustworthy, kind, capable and above all else, has a knack for prioritizing people above all else.
Science, Technology & Environment – Kay Olson
COVID-19 impacted each and every individual in Spokane, across the country, and around the world. The novel virus required a rapid and creative response to educate, test, and vaccinate the Spokane community. Kay Olson stepped up to find a solution.
After earning her Master of Nursing from Washington State University, Kay joined the WSU College of Nursing faculty and spent several years as an instructor on the Tri-Cities campus before joining the Spokane campus. As Clinical Lead for Public and Community Health courses, Kay helps design and create clinical opportunities, providing real-world experiences for students to witness the impact of social determinants on health and health outcomes as well as practice interventions that reduce the burden of factors that are modifiable, such as food, housing insecurity, poverty, and education.
A year after beginning her new role and the onset of COVID-19, a request for contact tracers from the Spokane Regional Health District ignited Kay’s response to implement an early community health clinic rotation for nursing students, kicking off a critical element to the local response to stop the spread of the virus. Kay worked diligently alongside her students and volunteers at the health district, training and scheduling nursing and pharmacy students and faculty vaccinators. She served as the preceptor at most of the early Spokane vaccine clinics, then trained and supported new preceptors, students, and volunteers that allowed the city to keep up with the vaccination needs. Kay’s existing relationships and history of collaboration with public health departments and entities in the region greatly facilitated the ability to respond quickly and help reduce the impact of the pandemic.
It’s been estimated that Kay’s leadership to recruit faculty and student vaccinators resulted in over 30,000 COVID-19 vaccines being administered across the region. Her dedication, goodwill, and impact on the community during the pandemic truly reflect the spirit of community health excellence.
Two years later, Kay continues to lead community education and vaccination efforts. She generously accepts every community agency’s request for help with COVID-19 testing, education, and vaccination.
Kay has a long history of contributing to the collective well-being of some of the country’s most vulnerable populations as she educates the nursing workforce of tomorrow, instilling values of social justice, health equity, and compassion for those that often have few resources. Her life’s work reflects the power of education, the importance of equitable and excellent care for the community, and service for those most in need.
She contributes to the health and well-being of both WSU students and the Spokane community by providing accurate information and supportive actions throughout the pandemic while creating an opportunity for students and faculty to engage in interprofessional practice in a way that is meaningful. She exemplifies public health leadership and practice by working in partnership with students to develop and deliver programs designed to save lives and reduce the impact of a novel virus, providing skills that will serve them time and again over the course of their careers.
It is YWCA Spokane’s honor to recognize and celebrate Kay Olson as the 2023 Woman of Achievement in the category of Science, Technology, and Environment.
Young Woman of Achievement Award – Shamerica nakamura
YWCA Spokane is honored to present Shamerica Nakamura with the 2023 Young Woman of Achievement award.
Shamerica Nakamura is one of the strongest and most passionate voices for equity and inclusion in Spokane. Shamerica was previously a Site Coordinator with Communities In Schools of Spokane County at North Central High School in 2015 and later became a permanent employee of North Central and Spokane Public Schools.
Her vision, skills, and leadership have helped make Culturally Responsive Classroom Management (CRCM) a part of the foundation of Spokane Public Schools’ commitment to equity and anti-racism. CRCM is a program of professional development created by the Washington Education Association in cooperation with faculty from the University of Washington College of Education. Almost immediately after her participation began in 2016, Shamerica’s leadership began to emerge, both as a trainer and a coordinator of the trainings. Her work at North Central High School, as a School Community Facilitator, in her tireless advocacy for students of color and students affected by trauma and poverty, make her almost uniquely qualified to be a lead trainer for CRCM.
Her work at North Central includes moderating SHADES, the student multicultural club, and that work led to student voices advocating for a different, more inclusive approach to teaching history. Shamerica’s vision and advocacy led to the creation of Perspectives, a U.S. History course now offered in all high schools in Spokane Public Schools. Shamerica is a force of empowerment for racial and social justice, particularly for the young people that she serves at North Central High School.
Shamerica is a visionary and collaborator, always thinking, looking, and connecting resources to serve the diverse needs of her students. At just 34-years-old, Shamerica has been a steadfast advocate for youth. In 2017, she was awarded the Chase Asset Builder Award and she also won the Washington Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award in 2022, for her tireless efforts to address marginalization and inequity in her school and community. Through her work at Communities in Schools, Shamerica went out of her way to see that every 9th grader was prepared to start high school by making home visits during the summer to ensure students had school supplies and personal hygiene items. Additionally, she worked with school leadership to engage more fortunate students in a service-learning effort. Those students conducted twice annual food drives which resulted in the largest, best stocked school pantry in Spokane County. Shamerica took clothing donations, sorted through them, sold the worn-out ones to get money for food and took the decent one’s home and washed them herself, until the school bought a washer and dryer. Shamerica will go above and beyond to help students, from fundraising to finding other organizational support in the community to help give those most vulnerable what they need.
Shamerica is often the person working behind the scenes to make sure that things run smoothly. She is a strategic thinker, who looks at all the moving pieces in different situations to ensure that the implementation of solutions is effective, while also examining the rationale that influences solutions to support sustainable impact. While she works daily to ensure change on a small scale in her interactions with students, staff, and leaders in her organization, she also sees big system transformation as the ultimate way to bring about necessary reform, particularly in public education. She is currently enrolled in the MSW program at Boise State University to continue to cultivate her passion and activism for social and racial justice. Shamerica seeks to engage stakeholders in conversations that focus on a holistic approach to creating change. She believes in “boosting the morale of students through authentic relationships and meaningful experiences,” and it is clear that she believes in creating opportunities that give agency to students. Shamerica is an influencer, a motivator, and an innovator.
LIFETIME Achievement Award, Posthumous – Sandy williams
YWCA Spokane is honored and proud to present Sandy Williams with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sandra Williams was an activist, lecturer, filmmaker, entrepreneur, dedicated to addressing issues of discrimination, equity, and social justice in our community, until a tragic accident in summer 2022, took her from us. Sandy left behind a legacy that lives on. YWCA CEO Jeanette Hauck shares, “Sandy was an integral force in Spokane. She led needed change through her work at The Black Lens, The Pride Center, Odyssey Youth Center, the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, and as an HIV/AIDS Prevention Educator who focused on communities of color. With raw honesty, integrity, and unwavering clarity towards a true path to justice, she has led countless trainings, presentations, and courageous conversations that invited the Spokane community to do better.”
Sandra’s accomplishments were many. She was a much loved mother, partner, sister, daughter, friend, and colleague who received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Washington State University and her Master’s Degree in Film/Television Production from the University of Southern California School of Cinema. She was involved in anti-oppression/anti-discrimination work for more than thirty years, as the Coordinator of the Pride Center at Eastern Washington University, the Executive Director of Odyssey Youth Center, the Spokane Field Coordinator for Youth Suicide Prevention Program, and as an HIV/AIDS Prevention Educator focusing on communities of color.
In 2015, Sandra founded The Black Lens, the only African American focused newspaper in Eastern Washington, which published its first issue in January of 2015. Sandra was also a consultant offering workshops, training, and board development to businesses and non-profit organizations. Sandra was deeply dedicated to bring light and conversation to racism and issues of equity.
In addition to activism and grassroots organizing, Sandra effectively used the mediums of film, video, theater, and the spoken word as tools to address discrimination and oppression. In 2008, she ventured into radio with the development of a bi-monthly public affairs program on KYRS Radio 92.3 FM in Spokane, WA. Her program, Revolutionary Spirituality, that aired for four years, looked at the diversity that exists within religious and spiritual beliefs, and addressed the ways that organized religion has been used as a weapon of oppression.
With focused attention primarily on the needs of Spokane’s African American community, Sandra accepted an appointment by Governor Jay Inslee in 2013 to the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs as the Eastern Washington representative. She was a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Multicultural Affairs (MACMA), a founding member of Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR), and a member of the Spokane branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Sandra also joined forces with a local non-profit organization, Friends of the Black Lens, to spearhead the creation of The Carl Maxey Center, a hub in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood that focuses on cultural enrichment, economic development and social and racial justice.
Sandy was known for building relationships based on genuine engagement, real listening, and authentic shared values. She spoke truth to power in a way that honored, rather than hid, the emotional impact of injustice and racism both personally and systematically. She gave voice to an emotional truth, with vulnerability and honesty transformed into strength, dignity and power.
Sandy’s work with the Black Lens drew her into political issues. She believed that keeping communities of color informed about the issues facing them was inherently an act of justice. “I was told early that if everyone is looking to the right, an activist should look to the left, and vice versa, to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes,” she said. She was committed to bringing the stories that often go overlooked–the stories of systemic oppression, the experience of invisibility–to her readers in Spokane. With the Black Lens, Sandy brought much needed diversity to the news platforms in Spokane, and kept us better informed, inspiring us all to end racism.
Dr. Shari Clarke, PhD shared, “I met Sandy within one month of my arrival to Eastern Washington University. Like so many others, I was immediately in awe of her deep commitment to social justice, dedication to the Black community, and strong work ethic in the editing and publication of the Black Lens. Sandy provided me with a lesson on African American history in Spokane with an emphasis on the pivotal role of Carl Maxey.”
“We immediately began a strong bond of friendship based on community engagement, fair and equitable treatment of all people, and creating opportunities to provide voice and visibility to members of the Black community. Sandy’s work in the community is unparalleled with the founding of multiple organizations and of course her vision for the Carl Maxey Center and establishment of the Black Lens newspaper. Sandy’s intellect and unassuming easy manner were magnetic characteristics that drew her to individuals, organizations, and communities across the state. Her impact is permanently stamped on Spokane. There is a quote that says for “Times such as these.” Sandy Williams was born to bring light to so many through her authentic words, extraordinary vision, belief in the possibility of what could be, and actions for times such as these. I will forever honor her memory and legacy.”
Past YWCA CEO Regina Malveaux shared, “Sandy was a quiet, egoless, but tenacious advocate for truth, justice, and community. Her leadership was singular and Spokane will absolutely not be the same without her.”
The Spokane County Human Rights Task Force shared, “Sandy was a voice for the voiceless, a tireless advocate for marginalized people in Spokane, a journalist unafraid to speak truth to power, a builder of hope in her vision for the Carl Maxey Center, and a beloved friend to countless members of our community. While she may be gone, her legacy is assured.”
Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane stated, Sandy was “a visionary leader, organizer, and creative builder who demanded racial justice and nurtured Black power, space and community in Spokane.”
Congratulations 2023 Award Honorees!
THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS!
This awards celebration would not be possible without the incredible support of our sponsors.
To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Lydia Duffy, YWCA Spokane Philanthropy Coordinator, at email@example.com or call 509-953-5992.
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Corporate & Non-Profit Sponsors:
Guardian, Rosauers, Wendle Ford Nissan, Horizon Credit Union, Gonzaga University, Garco Construction, Lawton Printing, Moss Adams LLP, Washington State University, Potlatch Deltic Corporation, Spokane Fire Department, Columbia Bank, Davenport Hotels, YMCA Spokane, Spokane Humane Society, KXLY, Trending Northwest, Global Credit Union, Electric Photoland, Maxey Law Offices, HUB International, Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, Empire Health Foundation, Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition, Planned Parenthood