Joan Pinnell's Legacy
More than a decade ago, Joan Pinnell (pronounced Joh-an) made a decision that has changed the lives of scores of people. She started an endowed scholarship at Heritage University. Joan’s gifts have since paved the way for a generation of nurses, teachers, business leaders, social workers and scientists, with many more to come.
“Education is important,” she said. “My late husband and I had always supported local organizations. At Heritage, I feel like I am part of something that is really helping people. I am so impressed with the results that I see.”
Pinnell established her endowed scholarship fund in 1997 so that she could help students well into the future. An endowed scholarship is one in which the principal gift, as well as future contributions, is placed in a permanent fund that is managed by the university. Scholarships come from income earned on the investment and are awarded to students who match the criteria set by the donor. In the years since her fund was developed, Joan has helped 41 students go to college. Among them are three women, a therapist, a teacher and a scientist, all of whom graduated and are building their careers in the Yakima Valley.
Ruby Aguilar’s (BSW, ‘08) career is one part heartbreaking and two parts inspiring. She is a children’s mental health therapist at Behavioral Health Services, part of the Yakima Valley Farm Worker’s Clinic system of care. Her days are spent in hour blocks of time assessing and treating children who are traumatized or suffer from any number of mental illnesses. She provides individual and family counseling and maintains a full case load of children who range from five to 15 years of age.
“We all want our children to grow up happy and healthy,” she said. “Part of that is helping them to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges that life throws us all. Unfortunately, sometimes our kids are dealing with some pretty serious trauma. The sooner we can work with a child and deal with those issues, the better off he or she will be.”
In addition to her client work, Aguilar teaches courses on parenting skills through the research-based education program, The Incredible Years. The course is mandatory for parents who are working with the Department of Social and Health Services in order to reunite their families.
As a student at Heritage, Aguilar received the Joan Pinnell Scholarship during her senior year. She went on to earn a Master of Social Work from Eastern Washington University.
“Even after all this time, I still am touched that someone who didn’t even know me would make the kind of investment that Mrs. Pinnell made to help me reach my goals,” she said.
When a doctor orders lab work for a patient at the Yakama Indian Health Clinic, there is a good chance that alumna Veronica Hernandez (BS, ’10) will be the technician doing the testing. Hernandez is one of four medical technologists at the clinic.
“I am so lucky that I have a career where I can use my love for science in a way that helps people live healthier lives,” she said. Medical technologists are the scientists behind the scenes at doctor offices and hospitals. They process patients’ blood, tissue and other fluids, testing for any anomalies. Physicians use the results to diagnose and treat disease.
Hernandez received the Joan Pinnell Scholarship during her last year at Heritage.
“When you receive a scholarship, you feel like you have someone else on your side cheering for you and believing in you,” she said. “I am now in the position where I can be like Mrs. Pinnell and help someone else to reach her dream. That feels good.”
For more than a dozen years, Celia Castilla (B.A., ‘00 and M.Ed., ‘07) has been giving children in the Yakima Valley a solid foundation for a lifetime of academic success. She is a second grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School in the Yakima School District. Class sizes vary by years, but today Castilla has 26 students in her classroom, 30 during the period for reading.
“I love teaching these children,” she said. “This age—seven- and eight-year-olds—they are so eager to come to school. They love learning and really want to be here.”
The impression that Castilla makes on her kids lasts long after they leave second grade. From time to time, her now-grown students drop by to visit and share stories of where they are today. Or, Castilla will run into them someplace in the community, like one young woman from the first elementary school class she ever taught, who went on to graduate from high school and study at a local beauty school.
“It is so rewarding and humbling to know that I really make a difference for these kids,” she said.
Castilla earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Heritage University. As an undergraduate, she was one of the first students to receive the Joan Pinnell Scholarship.
“I am where I am today because of the support I received from others,” she said. “The encouragement and support of mentors and the scholarships that helped me pay for my education were all vital. I am forever touched by their generosity.”