The Chronicle's 2020 People of the Year

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Editor's Note: The Chronicle's 2020 People of the Year special section was included with the Feb. 6 edition of The Chronicle. 

Introducing The Chronicle’s People of the Year for 2020

By Eric Schwartz / eschwartz@chronline.com 

Entering last year, no one could have foreseen how remarkably difficult 2020 would become. 

In March, rumors of a new virus on the other side of the globe gave way to confirmation of its terrifying existence, and before long, it had arrived on our doorstep, with Washington becoming the first state to confirm the presence of COVID-19. 

From there, developments came in sudden jolts. 

Businesses deemed non-essential by our state government were forced to close. Elective surgeries and other medical procedures were halted in preparation for a potential wave of COVID-19 patients. Schools were shuttered, with only limited success found through virtual alternatives that deprived children of valuable interactions with their teachers and peers. 

Like rolling waves, uncertainty and fear over the virus came with whiplash-inducing directives from the state and federal government. Terms that were foreign to us just months before — social-distancing, essential businesses and virus infection rates, for instance — became laced into our everyday communications. 

More concerning, many people became sick. Even worse, people died. 

There have been 37 deaths attributed to the virus in Lewis County, with about 3,000 total infections. In areas with higher populations — such as Thurston County — the numbers were even higher. As of Thursday, there had been 320,000 infections in Washington and about 4,500 deaths. Worldwide, the virus has claimed at least 2.3 million lives. 

So where was the glimmer of hope in all this fear and sorrow? It came in the form of everyday heroism from our friends, neighbors and complete strangers who rose to the occasion to assist their fellow man, whether in the form of providing medical care and food assistance or by simply continuing to do their jobs in the face of viral risk that has ebbed, flowed and spiked for nearly a year. 

In a normal year — remember those? — The Chronicle has traditionally honored a singular Person of the Year, someone who stepped outside their job or comfort zone to better the lives of residents in Lewis County and surrounding areas. 

After a year that has countless times been described as “unprecedented,” we decided that more needed to be done to highlight the contributions of those who have made this pandemic just a little more bearable. 

In that spirit, we present to you our 2020 People of the Year, with the Person of the Year award given to two recipients, Glenda Forga and the late Justin Schaffer.  

The people that are found within these pages in no way represent a comprehensive list of all those who deserve inclusion. It would take many more pages to adequately list the names and contributions of everyone deserving of recognition during these times. Our choices were based on a combination of nominations from the public and deliberation among The Chronicle’s leadership team. 

We hope you’ll see our People of the Year as representative of the many men and women who rose above and beyond their calls to help bring comfort and normalcy in a year that many times lacked both. 

Some of our honorees were notified of their inclusion. Others were not. Some completed questionnaires that were used to compile capsules to reflect their contributions. For others, we used The Chronicle’s archives to provide a snapshot of their impacts in 2020. 

We know the hardships are not over. More difficulties lie ahead. However, we also know there are people in our community who stand ready to ease the difficulties and aid their neighbors as we continue into this new and uncertain year. 

We look forward to honoring those folks in 2022. 

Person of the Year: Glenda Forga 

Lewis County Seniors Director Connects Residents With Resources

By Eric Schwartz \ eschwartz@chronline.com 

Glenda Forga speaks matter-of-factly when talking about the struggles of the past several years, both for herself and Lewis County Seniors, the nonprofit she leads as executive director. 

Since 2013, she’s overcome breast cancer, a shattered kneecap, a broken wrist and a burned down house, not to mention the upheaval that came when Lewis County decided to remove the senior centers — where she has worked for 22 years — from its umbrella of full funding. 

Taken together, it would all be enough to knock most people to the ground — and keep them there. 

But not Forga. 

“There really is a silver lining for everything,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason, whether we like it or not.”

After making that statement in a recent interview with The Chronicle, she paused, then recalled sage advice from her husband, Jim, when she several years ago contemplated aloud whether she even wanted to pursue treatment for her cancer, which now appears to be in remission.

“He said, ‘There’s no way around it, so we have to go through it,’” Forga recalled. “And he was right.” 

That might as well be the slogan for Forga’s experiences in 2020, a year when she and her counterparts were forced to figure out a way to serve the same senior citizens who relied on regular visits to the county’s five senior centers before the pandemic with much-needed nutrition and services at home. 

She’s quick to point out that the successful solution that followed — meals delivered directly to the homes of seniors — would never have been possible without the help of her staff and community partners such as United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Debbie Cambell and Twin Transit’s Joe Clark. 

Others, though, are willing to provide Forga the credit she so often reserves for others. 

JP Anderson, Lewis County’s director of public health, calls Forga a “dynamic leader.” 

“When COVID hit, it was like, ‘what do we do,’” Anderson recalled. “The first thing that came to mind was seniors and their vulnerability and how we keep them safe … Glenda and her team sprung into action.” 

Last year, Lewis County Seniors delivered 157,000 emergency meals to around 600 seniors all across the county, providing much needed sustenance and nutrition to a segment of the population that has borne the brunt of the serious illnesses and deaths linked to the virus. 

It is for that reason, and others, that The Chronicle has selected Forga as its 2020 Person of the Year, joining a posthumous honor of the same name given to fallen Washington State Patrol Trooper Justin Schaffer (see the People of the Year special section included with this edition of The Chronicle).

Lewis County Native 

Forga was born in Aberdeen, but she has spent her entire life living in south Lewis County where her family was among the original pioneers in the Toledo area. 

Her first involvement with the county’s senior centers came in 1999, when she started work at the Olequa Senior Center in Winlock, replacing Nita Daarud, who had held the position for 25 years. 

“I had huge shoes to fill,” she said. “But I hit the ground running.” 

She remained site manager until 2007, when she was promoted to the position of homebound meals coordinator, an experience that would take on more meaning and value 13 years later when the pandemic struck with full force. 

After a brief hiatus when the county contracted Catholic Community Services for the role, she returned to the position in 2013. 

That’s around the time when personal adversity began to strike in waves. 

She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She shattered her kneecap and was confined to a wheelchair for six months. She broke her wrist. And to cap it all off, her house burned down. 

Just as she was recovered from that cocktail of catastrophes, word came out that Lewis County commissioners, faced with a budget crunch, had decided to no longer fully fund Lewis County’s senior centers. 

Facing backlash during a series of fiery public meetings, the county ultimately decided to offer additional but temporary funding, but the centers would need to be weaned off the county’s financial support and become a nonprofit. 

“They said ‘OK Glenda, put together a transition team and figure out what to do,’” she recalled. 

So, with the help of supporters and the staff of the senior centers, that’s just what she did. 

Several years later, she’s quick to bring up that silver lining adage again. 

Without the broken knee, her staff wouldn’t have learned how to carry out some of her duties, she notes. 

Without being forced off county funding, the senior centers wouldn’t have the independence and flexibility they enjoy today, she added. 

Oh, and the pandemic? 

“We have even found the silver lining in this COVID,” she said. “We have found so many seniors out there who really needed our help who weren’t getting help before all this.” 

Pandemic Arrives 

Forga recalls the tumultuous days of March 2020 when everyone, not just the senior centers, were figuring out how they would operate in a newly viral landscape. 

It was March 13 when she arranged a conference call — Zoom had not yet become popular — with all five Lewis County Seniors sites. Everything had been shut down, but there was one key piece of the program that could not, in Forga’s mind, be halted. 

“We have to figure out how to get food out to the people,” she recalled saying. 

She and her crew worked for 14 days straight, preparing meals that were first picked up by seniors and later delivered directly to their doorsteps. 

Forga recalls meeting with the county commissioners to outline the difficult task of getting the nutrition to seniors. 

Clark, of Twin Transit, offered to deliver them. Campbell, of United Way, offered to handle the finances involved.  

Valuable partnerships emerged swiftly, with the Chehalis School District offering kitchen space early on and others providing volunteer hours and support. 

“Every time we’ve needed something, we’ve just had to figure it out,” Forga said. “You find that out as you’re doing it.”

That’s not to say it has been easy. 

While Lewis County Seniors have found a groove, there were many times when frustration would get the best of her, she admits.

“I’ve cried myself silly on the way home,” Forga said. “Because I just feel a little overwhelmed. Then I just pull up my boot straps and keep going, because if my staff is working so hard, I don’t have a right to feel like that.” 

Origins of Care 

Forga says she isn’t 100 percent sure why she gravitated to serving senior citizens as a career, but she has a decent idea. 

Her father was a veteran of World War II, so her parents were actively involved in Winlock’s American Legion post, along with other similar organizations.

As a little girl, she would join her parents in visiting the VA hospital in Vancouver three or four times a year. She would pour coffee and provide cookies to the older patients, as others played music for the veterans and otherwise entertained them. 

The memory elicits a few tears for Forga, who said in many ways she believes she works hard for seniors so that her mother will know she’s still there, still working to serve the vulnerable and often overlooked population. 

“I’m not sure if that’s where it came from,” she said, crying. “But I can’t turn it off.” 

Forga was particularly irked by recent comments from Gov. Jay Inslee, who suggested seniors looking to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine rely on friends and family to help them reach the resource. 

After 22 years, she knows something many on the outside likely do not. 

“Resources are limited, their ability to get out there is limited,” she said. “Some are recluses, but they are still our people and we need to take care of them … When I was homebound coordinator, it would shock you how many people don’t have kids or family.”

Forga hopes Lewis County Seniors can ultimately have a key role in delivering information about the vaccine to seniors, or perhaps even the vaccine itself. 

Moving Forward 

These days, Forga and her team and partners have developed a rhythm, though funding is always a reason for concern. Fortunately, government grants and support have up until now kept the herculean effort of feeding the county’s seniors afloat, but the budgetary tight-rope walk is never really over. 

Forga is working on a bachelor’s degree in business management with an emphasis in human resources, and she hopes to complete it by the end of the year. 

She has two children, including Dan Whisler, 38, who has a son, Jaxson, and her daughter Mandie, 35, and husband Jake Flora, who have a little girl named Adeline.

She also provides a lot of credit for her success to her husband of 33 years, Jim. 

Ultimately, she’s uncomfortable accepting full credit for the success of Lewis County Seniors, both as an increasingly independent nonprofit and a lifeline for the community’s senior citizens. 

She always directs that back to her staff.

“If I told them all tomorrow that it was over and I couldn’t pay them, but that I was going to continue to work, every single one of them would have been in here with me,” she said. 

•••

Person of the Year: Justin Schaffer, 1992-2020 

Of all the losses in 2020, among the first and most painful was that of Justin Schaffer, who in March was killed in the line of duty while serving as a trooper with the Washington State Patrol. 

At the time of his death, state restrictions prohibited funerals with any more than a handful of attendees. 

A convoy of hundreds of vehicles came together in April, gathering at the Lewis County Mall before driving up State Route 6 and passed the home of Justin’s parents, Glenn and Sheila Schaffer. 

But it wasn’t until August that his family, friends and the Washington State Patrol were able to come together for a proper memorial service in his honor. 

This year, The Chronicle has selected Justin Schaffer as a posthumous Person of the Year in honor of his service to the community and his ultimate sacrifice. 

Below, we’ve republished his obituary to honor his service:

Justin R. Schaffer was born Jan. 30, 1992, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

In 2006, Justin and his family moved to Chehalis. He graduated from Adna High School in 2010, and went on to earn his associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Centralia College in 2012.

Justin was hired by the Washington State Patrol in November 2013, and was commissioned as a trooper in September 2014. Throughout his career with the agency, Justin obtained the specialty positions of K-9 trooper and drug recognition expert.

Justin met his wife, Sandra, when the two worked together at Grocery Outlet in Chehalis. They began dating in January 2012, and married in August 2013. Justin and Sandra had been married for nearly seven years and have two fur babies, Kadie, 5, and Frankie, 3, who was also Justin’s K-9 partner.

He had many passions, including working out with Sandra, playing golf with his friends or watching football and baseball. Justin enjoyed working with his hands and was always making new creations, whether it involved woodworking, remodeling their home or working in the yard.

He was the type to always help his friends out. One of their favorite pastimes became cutting firewood together. If you truly knew Justin, you would know that he did not like anyone making a fuss about him. When he walked into a room, he always had the biggest smile that would light it right up.

Justin enjoyed pulling pranks on his wife and friends, in fact, he got a kick out of it. Once, when Sandra asked him not to leave used water glasses around the house, he left full cups of water all over their bedroom and bathroom for her to find. He loved getting a reaction out of her. One of his most memorable pranks was when he painted his sergeant’s office University of Washington purple and gold — his sergeant was an avid Cougs fan who had attended Washington State University.

Justin is survived by his lovely wife, Sandra Schaffer; parents, Glenn and Sheila; brother, Brandon; wife, Samantha; and many other loving family members.

His love for life will forever be in our hearts. His family and his community lost someone so special on March 24, 2020. Justin was more than a husband, son, brother, friend and co-worker. His family would like to thank everybody for all of the love and support given to them.

•••

PEOPLE OF THE YEAR

Dr. Kevin Caserta, Chief Medical Officer and Site Administrator, Providence

I am blessed to serve Providence and Lewis County. Working with others is an enormous source of joy for me, and even during the most challenging times of 2020, I was comforted by our incredible team. If you can work with others, you generally can figure everything else out. From Centralia to Olympia, and throughout our five-county service area, our community is fortunate to have Providence as its leading healthcare provider. I am truly amazed by our caregivers and their dedication to service even in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 strengthened my understanding of the power of our Providence team and our partners, expanding my definition of healthcare heroes.

Everyone who works for Providence is considered a caregiver. Frontline clinicians such as physicians, nurses, and therapists are deservedly recognized for their excellent and compassionate care; however, they couldn’t do their jobs without the efforts of so many others. For instance, all clinicians require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and patients from infections. The pandemic disrupted the international supply chain for masks, respirators, and other equipment, stressing our entire healthcare system. The fear of not being able to keep our caregivers safe caused me to lose more sleep than anything else last year. Fortunately, our supply chain team across Providence worked tirelessly, following every lead, searching the world for available supplies. Through their work and God’s grace we always had adequate PPE.

Our heroes in the lab understood the importance of quickly and accurately identifying patients with COVID-19. Through their skill and the generosity of our Providence Foundation donors, and the Lewis County Public Health Department, Providence Centralia Hospital was able to implement in-house COVID-19 testing, decreasing turnaround times from seven days to eventually 30 minutes in many cases.  

Despite frequent changes in practice recommendations, stressors with kids’ schooling or childcare, long hours, and their own risk of acquiring COVID-19, our caregivers never stopped serving. It was not uncommon for me to get emails from our infection prevention team and members of our incident command at 2 a.m., sharing ideas and always planning. Other healthcare heroes include our environmental services team, respiratory therapists, spiritual care, our communication team, and so many others. I wish I could list them all.  

Like Providence and our partners, Lewis County has a history of coming together during times of tragedy such as the 2007 flood. Unfortunately, in some instances we have allowed pandemic politics to cause division rather than cooperation. I am saddened by this divide and at times even have become angry with those who refused to do simple things like masking and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. I recently lost a dear friend to COVID-19, a gentle man who dedicated his life to service in honor of his Savior. In his honor, I chose no longer to be angry, and chose instead to serve and love even those who disagree with me. I pray you join me.

•••

Todd Chaput, Project Manager for United Learning Center, Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Executive Board Member, Public Facilities District Board Member 

How would you describe 2020?

Wow, a year like no other. I think it was a tough year for everyone. COVID really impacted our daily lives unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. However, I think it made us look at our world a little more focused. Our circles became smaller. Family, close friends, colleagues and our neighbors became our safety net. We had to rely on small groups and look for new ways to make the most of a tough situation. Study pods for kids sprang up. New ways of celebrating were created. I am betting every graduating class wants a parade now. All of this came out of hardship. It is awesome to see just how resilient we can be. 2020 was a year of great loss and tremendous change. It’s impact will be felt for years, but we can come out of this stronger.  

What are your hopes for the New Year?

I am looking forward to 2021 as a year of new opportunities. A chance to take some of the lessons we’ve learned as we struggled through 2020 and make positive changes in the lives of our families and our community. To move away from divisive rhetoric and look for opportunities to work together towards a common goal. I am betting that most people, like me, want what is best for their families, their work and our community. There has to be some common ground if our goals are the same. Look for those commonalities instead of targeting our differences. Find some joy. 

 

What compels you to be involved with the community? 

For me, my motivation is family. I want a community that will provide opportunities for my daughter and our family. I feel it is important to leave a community, school, job or even a club,  better than you found it. I owe this to my family, just as the generations before did for us. I want quality schools that guarantee the best possible outcomes for our children, a solid economy that provides good jobs and opportunities for those that seek it, and community support for those that need it. We are all better off when the most vulnerable of us are taken care of. 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County?

It is kind of a summation of everything above. We came through 2020 knowing we had the support of our family and friends. We need to continue to look to our community. Real change does not happen on the national level. Sure, it can influence it, but it really happens by helping out a sick neighbor, pushing someone out when their vehicle gets stuck (this is a Wyoming reference), supporting our local schools, volunteering with a charity you like and putting yourself out there by joining an organization or even running for office. Find what makes you happy.  This is what will make Lewis County the place we all know it can be. Oh, and to sum it all up, “don’t be a d---.”

•••

Dr. Richard J. Stride, CEO, Cascade Community Healthcare

How would you describe 2020?

I’m not sure I can describe, or even grasp, 2020. I find myself thinking, “did that really happen?”  2020 was so many things. 2020 was so many lives, so many faces, so many sleepless nights, so many new understandings, so many missed opportunities, so many beginnings and so many endings.

2020 was also an awakening for me, and I believe for many others as well. Like Washington Irving’s, “Rip Van Winkle,” I felt as if I had just woken up from a 20-year nap only to find that nothing I knew was the same. Or perhaps it is the same, just clothed differently.  

2020 forced us, we didn’t have the choice, to listen to one another, to really see anew, or perhaps, for the first time, other races, other cultures, our children and our families. 2020 compelled us to “look” and understand as Dean Koontz said to see that, “each smallest act of kindness reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo. Because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away. Likewise, each small meanness, each expression of hatred, each act of evil, reverberates through time.” We were forced to realize that evil and kindness do not happen in a vacuum. Each act of good or evil lives, and forever affects our world.         

What are your hopes for the New Year?

My hope is that we as Americans can pause and reflect on the fact that what we do today, or don’t do, will reverberate through the hearts and minds of our children, and our children’s children. I have never heard anyone say to me, nor have I said to anyone, “it will be my hope that I ruin my life, or the lives of others, or my children.” We do not utter these words because we don’t believe them, nor do we want to believe them. We instead wait and hope in a future where all people can live, love, and just be. My hope is we move away from “them and us” to just us. Because there is no “them,” it’s only “us.”

 

What compels you to be involved with the community? 

My personhood and character will not allow me to not be involved. It’s like I am compelled to help. I can’t see a need and not at least try to meet it. I see the hurting, I see the marginalized persons, I see the devastating stigma people live with, and I saw my own family struggle with mental illness. Some of this drive I know stems from my anxiety as a child, it didn’t help my anxiety that I stuttered. It was a speech therapist and my mom who helped me get a handle on my stuttering. Some words I still avoid saying even today. I learned to breathe and speak slowly.  

When people tell me their stories, I am moved to action. My first thought is, “let’s see if I/we can do something to help.” If I can make someone’s life better or help their family, why wouldn’t I?  The answer is, I would.   

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County?

My wife Connie bought me a plaque I keep in my office. The plaque reads, “Work hard and be kind.” Several of my staff saw the sign and were moved by the words. They had a large sign made for me with those very words. I shared with Connie what my staff did, and she then said “that was nice, but if they really believe those words, have them sign the sign.” I thought it was an amazing idea. We now have the sign hanging in all our offices and staff are asked to sign if they will truly strive to do this very thing. That’s what I would advise my dear friends, acquaintances, and the truly lovely people of Lewis County to do — work hard and treat everyone you meet with kindness. 

•••

Julie Taylor, Ancillary Services Director, Arbor Health Morton Hospital

Describe your role at the hospital and how you came to the position:

I am the manager of the hospital laboratory as well as the Infection Preventionist for the hospital and associated clinics. I also have high level oversight of the Imaging Department as well as Environmental Services. 

I started working at the hospital in May 2010 as a specimen processor in the laboratory. While working in the lab, I completed the coursework and exams required to become a certified medical technologist. I worked as a medical technologist for five years before becoming the manager of the laboratory in January 2015. I added the responsibilities of Infection Prevention and Control June of 2018. I fulfilled this role until April 2020 when I was promoted to the Ancillary Services Director position. 

 

How would you describe 2020? Challenges? Successes?

2020 was a whirlwind to put it lightly. It was both incredibly trying and extremely rewarding at the same time. There were considerable challenges. The lack of testing supplies and lengthy turnaround times from reference labs early in the pandemic made it difficult for the clinical teams to make decisions. As the pandemic rapidly progressed, state and federal guidelines were changing at a similar pace. Dealing with the moving target was certainly a challenge. Being that this was my first experience navigating a pandemic, I was in uncharted territory. 

Another huge challenge was the procurement barriers surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE). This was probably the largest stressor for me in this process. I felt a huge responsibility to protect my coworkers as they protected our community. While this was a very large challenge, it was a success in itself. The teamwork and ingenuity from coworkers as well as the outpouring of support from the community was incredibly welcomed. A small group of us put our heads together to create and share templates for face shields, cloth masks and washable gowns. The community took over from there. The Mossyrock School District staff worked together to make 200-plus face shields in one day. Numerous community members began sewing both cloth masks and washable gowns and printing face shield head bands on their 3D printer. I am proud to say that our staff has had PPE to keep them protected throughout the pandemic. 

An additional success that stands out is the teamwork that has been highlighted over the last year. It is very rewarding to be part of a team that came together and worked diligently to successfully navigate this difficult time. I have learned so much!

What are your hopes for the new year?

I think it is safe to say that I have hopes for things to be calmer in the new year! I look forward to seeing familiar faces around the hospital and community as vaccine distribution continues and the state reopens. I am excited for youth sports and other family and community events to resume. I am hopeful that the new year will be full of appreciation and joy surrounding the simple things that we have not been able to enjoy during the pandemic. 

 

What compels you to be involved with the community or to pursue the profession you now hold?

There are several aspects of my profession that are rewarding. Being part of a team is important to me. As a high school and collegiate athlete, I grew to understand and appreciate the power of a strong team. The struggles over 2020 reaffirmed this! The feeling surrounding comradery is so fulfilling! I have always loved science, problem solving and puzzles. My profession checks all these boxes. I thoroughly enjoy the investigative aspect of working in the lab and infection prevention. Helping to solve the daily challenges that occur in a leadership role are very rewarding. I take pride in ensuring operations run smooth and morale remains high. 

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County?

My advice would be to try to find elements that unite us as opposed to dividing us. Strong teams are often comprised of individuals with many different perspectives working collaboratively towards a common goal.

•••

Bob Lund, Lund Trucking Company

As the pandemic has continued its slow burn, many have suffered from food insecurity due to loss of wages and unemployment. Many groups have risen to the occasion to meet the need. Among them was the Lund Trucking Company, which on the day before Thanksgiving partnered with God’s Portion and the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce to provide free boxes of fresh food for the community. It was just one of several such events. 

Bob Lund recently took the time to answer some questions about the effort. 

 

How many boxes of food did you handout or deliver? 

Approximately 11,000 Farmers to Family boxes were distributed from our trucking yard, all distributed by our drivers, who so generously donated their time and effort, free of charge. The drivers also devised a plan to distribute these boxes using the social distancing guidelines. The patrons were instructed to get out of their cars, open their hatch or door prior to receiving the boxes, so our drivers could place the boxes in their vehicles with no contact with the individual, keeping the patron and our drivers safe and free from any contamination. 

 

How long do you plan on doing it for? 

The boxes are derived from a program that President Trump and his USDA  Secretary Mr. Purdue initiated when the president was made aware of all the fruits and vegetables that the cruise lines, restaurants and casinos were not using because of the initial national pandemic lockdown. The program was slated to resume on Jan. 31 under President Biden’s leadership. I will continue to distribute the boxes until there is not a demand for them, or the program is discontinued. 

 

What compels you to be so involved in the community? 

I saw a need and did something about it. I was asked to provide refrigeration for storing the boxes provided by the Farm to Family boxes. I provided food-grade  refrigeration equipment, only thinking I had to provide the equipment. I was then asked to distribute the boxes from our location. I asked my drivers if anyone would volunteer to physically move the boxes from the trailer to each individual vehicle. The first attempt was a disaster. The truck was late, cars were lined up, people were angry. We devised a system where the patrons were driving up one drive, and exiting the other. Quick and easy distribution. Cars were lined up for hours. The only wish I had was that there were more boxes. We had to turn some people away, which saddened all of us. The demand for nutritious food was high, as the elderly were more susceptible to the COVID-19 disease. We asked people to look for elderly families, and set the boxes on their doorstep, ring the doorbell, or knock. This would ensure that the family would have the protein, dairy and vegetables that they would normally purchase at a grocery store, without having a risk of the exposure to the COVID-19 disease. Families with young children, one or more parents out of work, were also a large part of the population. Ensuring fruits and vegetables contained in the box ensured that the children received all the protein and minerals needed for their growing bodies. 

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County? 

Keep up the good work. There seems to be a lot of communication between businesses and private citizens. We can all help each other. 

 

What are your hopes for the New Year? 

I hope that the COVID-19 disease and exposure are eliminated so everyone can get back to work and school and resume their normal lives. 

•••

Holly Abbarno, Centralia Middle School Teacher, Active Volunteer

How would I describe 2020? 

I would say 2020 was introspective for me. My life went from on the go, doing 25 different things a day and being everywhere all of the time, to focusing on being available for my family at home. As crazy as it sounds, as life slowed down, the days, weeks and months seemed to go fast. Without movie theaters open, we had more fun family movie nights. Without restaurants, we had more around-the-table dinner conversations. Without organized sports, we had more  family game nights. I know 2020 brought a lot of stress and heartache, but it also brought a lot of perspective to what is really important to me. 

 

What are your hopes for the New Year? 

My hope for the New Year is for a “new normal.” What I mean is, I hope for schools to open and for restaurants and the economy to be up and going, but I also hope for the good things learned from 2020 to carry over. I hope in the New Year to see people continuing to reach out and check in on their neighbors, to see families continue their game nights and family dinners. I hope that volunteering and giving will remain on people’s hearts and minds. Even after the COVID restrictions are lifted and activities resume as normal, I hope the lessons from 2020 continue into the New Year.

What compels you to be involved with the community? 

There are two main things that compel me to be involved in my community. The first is because being involved and giving back is self-serving. Helping people and giving back feels good. It makes me feel like my life makes a difference and has importance outside of myself. The second reason is to set an example for my children and my students. I am a teacher in Centralia and I believe adults should lead by example. It is one thing to tell a child to be good or generous or kind, but it is another to show them. I hope my own children and my students will see me being involved and get inspired to also be involved and give back. 

 

What advice do you have for people of Lewis County?   

I don’t feel qualified to give advice to other people, but I guess if I say one thing it would be to take advantage of the time you get to spend with your friends and family no matter the surroundings you are in.

•••

JP Anderson, Director of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services

Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Director JP Anderson had been on the job just four months when the COVID-19 pandemic began turning life upside down. 

One year ago this week, he enacted an incident action plan and had his team of professionals begin monitoring and providing updates as the virus rapidly went from being news from afar to something the county would have to deal with in its own backyard. 

“We’d had some cases in Washington state and we were not sure exactly how big things would get,” he recalled, referencing the “slow burn” of the virus across the globe in those early days. “Getting our heads wrapped around the size of the event, that was tricky.” 

It started with public health advice for citizens to socially distance themselves from others and regularly wash their hands and common surfaces. 

Before long, businesses were being closed down by the state, stay-home orders were issued and the reality of the situation became much more bleak. 

“We never thought it would lead to that either,” he said.

Left to deal with the fallout and craft a plan for safely moving forward was Anderson and his team. He credits his staff for his nomination by readers as a Person of the Year. 

“This acknowledgment really belongs to our entire team at Lewis County Public Health & Social Services,” he said. “They rose to the challenge and never quit. I am honored to be a part of this team.”

“We know we’re in the middle of the fight, and we know we’re worn out,” he added. “There’s a camaraderie that gets created in that.” 

Anderson said the skill and professionalism of his team has allowed him to power through the pandemic to this point. It’s an effort that hasn’t come without difficulty or hardship, as statewide mask mandates and school closures elicited a range of responses from residents of the county. 

Anderson said “some days are better than others” when it comes to handling all the pressure that comes with the position. Through it all, he said his wife, Katie, has been his anchor and main source of love and support, as have his sons Cormac, Tyson and Archer.

“I’ve needed that support at home,” he said. “It’s been a huge reason for how I’ve survived this past year.” 

Anderson said one of the rules he lives by is to never question anyone’s intent, whether they’re frustrated over mask mandates and business closures or perhaps angry over a perceived lack of safety precautions from officials. 

“I always knew the intent was there for the community,” he said. “If you can stay in that space, you can overcome just about anything. You understand they just come from a different place.” 

Anderson is cautiously optimistic the weight of the pandemic could be lifted in 2021 as vaccine rollouts continue. That’s his main focus at the moment, planning for overcoming barriers that will deliver the vaccine to Lewis County residents, and particularly senior citizens, who are at greater risk for serious complications or death. 

Once that system is in place, Anderson hopes it is one of the last major things they have to build.

“This vaccine part is really a challenge,” he said. “And you’re doing it with a system that is just exhausted.” 

Anderson credits the Lewis County community with the success that has been had thus far, specifically listing United Way of Lewis County, Twin Transit, The Salvation Army, Lewis County Seniors and the Board of Lewis County Commissioners as being key to Public Health’s success.

“No one beats the Lewis County ground game,” he said. “Nobody.” 

Anderson said that in the wake of the pandemic, he and his team will be ready to help assist the community in healing from the trauma left behind. 

•••

 

Dr. Lisa Grant, Centralia School District Superintendent

How would you describe 2020? Challenges? Successes? 

2020 was an adventure and a journey! It was a year filled with unprecedented situations and surprises. Each day was filled with unexpected opportunities to learn new things, create new ways of work and to discover something new about ourselves as individuals and our organizations.  

Every challenge is an opportunity for us to learn and grow: 2020 was filled with opportunities for growth! The pandemic was and continues to be a challenge. And, while a challenge, it has also been an opportunity. 

• One example that comes to mind is how our staff and families have partnered to try and best meet the needs of our students. Individuals have taken a “whatever it takes” attitude and are doing different things at work in order to support students. Teachers have adjusted instruction quickly and continue to try and find better and better ways to meet students’ learning needs. In addition, we have so many community members and organizations that have reached out to help serve our students: Childcare providers have worked with us to help make sure families have the needed child care so parents can work. The Lewis County Health Department, school districts and local pediatricians are collaborating regularly in ways that would not have happened without this pandemic. The list goes on and on! I am thankful for the partnerships that have helped us make the best out of a challenging situation.

For our school district, the double levy failure was another challenge. At the same time, it is helping us improve and grow in effectiveness as a district. We were made, albeit in a unsettling manner with an almost 70% no vote on the first levy election, of the communities need for the district to be more transparent, work collaboratively with the community, be accountable to our community for how we are using our funds to serve students, and listen better to our community.

We are working hard to respond and to improve. We have increased our communication as a district and the opportunity for individuals to ask questions, seek information and give us feedback. We formed a budget task force and have staff and community members working with us on our budget planning, offering insightful and helpful feedback. We are being more intentional about our budget and the alignment of our resources to our service to our students.  While we had to make budget cuts that were painful, it has enabled us to study our spending and the impact on our students so that we can leverage our resources better and better for student results.

We have continued work to do as a district, but we are using these challenges as learning opportunities to improve and grow. While it is tempting to focus on the challenges of 2020, it was a year filled with successes as well. I am so thankful and blessed to serve as the superintendent of the Centralia School District. I loved working as the superintendent of Mossyrock, but the challenge and enticement to work in my community of Centralia is a true honor, and becoming the superintendent of Centralia is my personal professional success of 2020.

As a district there have been countless successes. But, to name a few:

• The persistence and grit of our staff, our teachers, bus drivers, custodians, school board members, food service, each and every staff member, has been tremendous. Each individual and employee group has worked hard to serve our students, even in the challenge of a pandemic. The teamwork and flexibility have been a true success.

• Our families have really been tremendous in working with us to serve children. People have shown tremendous flexibility and communication in finding ways to help students learn.

• The partnerships with our community and the willingness of our community to work with us to serve students has been a tremendous success. Child care providers have communicated clearly, built additional sections for students; Twin Transit and others have volunteered services to help us deliver food to students and families; individuals have volunteered to help on committees; church organizations have formed tutoring programs to provide support for students. The willingness of our community to support our school district and our children has been significant and has benefited our students.  

• The collaboration and relationship we have been able to build with the Lewis County Public Health Department and local pediatricians has helped us successfully maneuver this pandemic, but has also built a foundation for continued work together in the future. We will be able to address community and child issues more effectively based upon this partnership. The time and effort dedicated to the children of our district and community by public health and pediatricians has been amazing.

 

What are your hopes for the new year? 

I have tremendous hope and confidence in what we will accomplish for our students, school district and community in 2021. We are going to build upon the successes of 2020 and continue to make improvements. We are becoming a district of excellence and will see continued improvements in the coming year. This will result in better outcomes for our students and will build a stronger school district and stronger community.

 

What compels you to be involved with the community or to pursue the profession you now hold? 

I believe we are on earth to serve others. I am thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the students and community of Centralia as the superintendent. I am driven by the joy of serving and creating the systems and supports that allow our school district staff to do the work that serves the children of our community. I am driven to serve in order to build the opportunity for our students to have a bright future. Strong students result in strong citizens, which results in a stronger, thriving community. I choose to serve children, because they are the key to our future and they deserve our very best effort and work.

I love the work I get to do each day and look forward to it each morning. I am inspired by seeing students and also by the staff that work with them. It is joy for me when I get to visit schools and classrooms each week. I am also compelled by our community. The pride in our schools and our children and the legacy of our local school districts is unique in Lewis County and in Centralia. I am proud to be part of it.

I could not do this work without strong faith and strong support. We do not do our best work alone, and I am continually inspired by the support of my husband and family, the team I work with, and the team of employees in the Centralia School District, and in the Mossyrock School District previously. I gain inspiration and strength from them each and every day.

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County?

I am not sure I am worthy of giving advice, but because you asked, I would say:

• Have hope; working together as a team, we can accomplish any goal and overcome any obstacle. This community is resilient and has tremendous pride. We can and will overcome any obstacle and continue to build a strong community and a strong future for our community.

• Be thankful. There is so much good in our community and in our world and we have so much to be thankful for. I know I sometimes forget to remember the small things and to thank others for them. Find the small things each day and let others know about them!

• Specific to the school district, if you have a question or concern, please reach out. We want to work with you and we want you to have the information you need to make decisions, to support our school district and to help create success for our students, our district and our community.  Please join our team and partner with us to support our students: working together, each giving their best and doing even a small part, will result in the success of our city, our community, our businesses, our school district and our students.

I am so honored and thankful to serve as the superintendent of the Centralia School District. I am thankful to live and work in such an amazing community with such wonderful people. 

••• 

 

Fay Ternan, retired Executive Director of Lewis County Gospel Mission

How would you describe 2020? Challenges?

COVID-19 turned everyone’s life upside down, and that was very true for Lewis County Gospel Mission. Many volunteers were considered high-risk and chose to step down until it was considered safe. Many nonprofits quit taking material donations, which then ended up at the Mission, much of which could not be used. Social distancing became a challenge, especially with room constraints due to the ongoing remodel. No dine-in option required purchase of to-go food and drink containers. Reduced number of meals served per month created logistical and food supply challenges. Aging refrigeration equipment began to fail, and replacement options were included in renovation needs.

Additionally, an executive director needed to be found as I retired Dec. 31, 2020. 

We also had many successes. 

Despite having minimal staffing, volunteers and staff coordinated efforts and schedules and maintained most services most days throughout 2020. Donation acceptance was downsized, then stopped altogether for several months. We were able to start accepting donations (very selectively at first) and are now back to regular schedules. Our guests, volunteers and staff have worked hard to comply with the governor’s mandates. Outside dining was successfully negotiated with more guests offering to help keep the sidewalks and outdoor areas cleaned up.

The renovation has slowly moved forward without restricting any of the normal services. Funds became available to cover the additional costs for dine-out meals as well as hygiene services of restrooms and showers. Coordinated efforts of carefully planned meals and negotiating lesser amounts being provided by state and federal sources allowed all to be fed and overages shared with other nonprofits with meal or food box programs.

The renovation included adding a walk-in cooler to replace smaller refrigeration units. Although the process wasn’t quite complete by the end of December, it was close to being finished. 2020 also included successful partnering with social service agencies. The option for some providers to meet their clients (our guests) at the Mission. Quite a few of them were able to start moving forward with lifestyle changes. We were privileged to be part of the team who encouraged and assisted in several going into treatment programs. Tricia Ziese joined staff in November to learn the executive director’s role. I am so blessed to know that on-going leadership Tricia will provide will be another outstanding success.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, financial donations from the community have been generous. Thank you to all who have contributed in any way.

 

What compels you to be involved with the community?

Although I have retired (second time was a charm!) I will continue to provide information and mentor Tricia as she grows into her role as executive director. The needs of the people we serve are complex. I do not yet know what God has in mind for me and when or where I will be moved to serve. There are many seasons in life and “retirement” has just begun. I’m working on quilts I started before I became the director and hope to finish some, then begin something new. There is a parable there somewhere. It may be time to hone some writing skills and explore those ideas!

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County?

Over the years, I have become aware of the “heart” of Lewis County. I’ve talked with individuals, groups, social agency employees and other service providers over the years and find that many people care about their communities. Many struggle with how to help our neighbors in need: the homeless, addicted and mentally ill and those who may be headed in those directions. The questions are many-fold and the answers are incomplete, complex and very subjective at times. My advice to the people of Lewis County is continuing to care about, care for and to share what you can in terms of time, talent and treasures to help where you can.

••• 

 

Dr. Rob McElhaney, Jr., Mary's Corner Clinic 

By The Chronicle

Early in the pandemic, a familiar face — albeit hidden behind a mask and face shield — appeared in the pages of The Chronicle again and again. 

The face was that of Dr. Rob McElhaney, Jr., and the reason was not only because he was a doctor during the first days of a pandemic, but because his Mary’s Corner Clinic was the first in Lewis County to offer drive-through COVID-19 testing. 

“We’re a huge family,” he said of his practice during an interview with The Chronicle last year. “Our patients are our family. We are engaged with their health and we’re engaged with them socially. We’re truly trying to be the old traditional daily practice that way.”

The clinic has been around since 2006. McElhaney, who graduated with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Washington, didn’t originally plan to become a doctor but was inspired by his father and brother, who both worked as doctors, and by two life-changing events that pushed him to go to medical school.

“I had a son born who has disabilities and that really sent me on a deeper spiritual quest in life for meaning. Then there was an auto accident. It was a bad winter, Michigan night. I came upon this accident,” he told The Chronicle last year. 

A pickup truck had hit black ice and T-boned a car, McElhaney recalled. He said the man in the truck was in shock and the woman who was hit was strapped in the car — critically injured.

“She was really in bad shape but she was still alive and I felt paralyzed — I didn’t know what to do. It looked like she might have a broken neck and she was gasping for air. I called 911, obviously, but I tried to unbuckle her and take her out. I was asking myself ‘is this the right thing?’ I felt helpless,” he said.

Those two incidents started McElhaney down the path of looking into medical school.

Last year, McElhaney said he was optimistic COVID-19 would soon be in the rearview mirror. 

 “If I thought COVID-19 was going to last for five years, we would change the way we do things — I would potentially build a whole other building. But I think it’s going to disappear next year. I have tremendous confidence in the vaccine. There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

 •••

 

Lauren Day, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Chehalis

How would you describe 2020? 

2020 has been a year of immense challenges. However, it’s also been an incredible year to watch community members come together to help people. Watching different groups join together to work as hard as they can to make sure our neighbors are fed, kids are safe and businesses are supported has been really incredible to watch and reminds me why I choose to raise my family in this community.

What are your hopes for the new year? 

I hope that we can continue to keep our love for our neighbor alive and continue to do whatever it takes to support everyone in our community, especially our most vulnerable. I also really hope that we can find a way to safely gather together in person and celebrate everything we have been able to achieve during these challenging times. I miss seeing so many people and I really look forward to getting together in person and of course welcoming back even more kids to Club that we have missed so much during these times of limited capacity.

 

What compels you to be involved with the community? 

This community raised me and made me who I am. I am so grateful for the various families, teachers and coaches who were my safety net as a child, being those second, third set of eyes on me, encouraging and pushing me to set and achieve my goals. I loved growing up here and I want to do whatever it takes to help our community thrive so that future generations can’t wait to return “home” to work and raise their families.

 

What advice do you have for the people of Lewis County? 

Do not be afraid to ask for help. No matter how big or small the need is, nothing is better than overcoming a challenge with the support of others by your side.

 

Tell us a little about yourself. What groups are you involved in? How long have you been in Lewis County? 

I was born and raised in Centralia. I graduated from Centralia High School in 2003. I attended Chapman University in Southern California after college and then worked in a few different communities before accepting a job at Providence Centralia Hospital working for the foundation. This is where my love for non-profit work really took off. Toward the end of my career at Providence, I met my husband, and we started our home and family together in Chehalis. Having an opportunity to work for and help shape the Boys & Girls Club of Lewis County has been an incredible opportunity. Not only do I enjoy working with an incredible board and staff team supporting families and youth in our community, but it allows me to include my family and show my kids the importance of helping others. There are so many exciting projects in the works for Lewis County, such as the United Learning Center, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity, through my work at the Boys & Girls Club, to help those projects come to life and help our community and the families that live here thr