Heritage University receives $1.4 million grant from Biden-Harris Administration to tackle critical nurse shortage in central Washington


Heritage University receives a $1.4 million grant from Biden-Harris Administration to tackle critical nurse shortage in central Washington

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University announced it has received a three-year $1.4 million grant from the Biden-Harris Administration to launch an innovative program addressing the critical shortage of nurses in our rural communities. This strategic initiative called “Pathways to Opportunity” is designed to boost the number of skilled and diverse nurses, implementing a Grow Your Own model to engage local high school students, guide them through college preparation, recruit them into the university’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, and assist with their entry into the high-wage, high-demand local nursing workforce.

These funds originate from the Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development (RPED) grant program that promotes the development of high-quality career pathways aligned to high school, high-wage and in-demand industry sectors and occupations in any given region. In America’s rural communities, only 29% of people between 18-24 are in higher education, compared to almost 48% in urban areas and 42% in the suburbs. Rural students face challenges with accessing, paying for, and completing college. They also face barriers to having reliable transportation, access to health care and high-speed internet, and may suffer from food and housing insecurity.

Heritage University recognizes the urgent need to bridge the gap in healthcare professionals and is committed to developing a comprehensive career and college readiness pathway. The Grow Your Own model includes outreach efforts in the high schools to identify and support students interested in becoming nurses and guide and prepare them for college. Essential services offered using the Grow Your Own model will include dual enrollment, SAT/ACT preparation, tutoring, workshops, financial aid guidance, mentoring, advising and STEM summer bridge programs. Heritage will work closely with the University of Washington GEAR UP and workforce partners on developing these services. At the university, BSN students will receive support from two case managers who offer National Council Licensure Examination (or NCLEX, one of two standardized tests for licensing nurses) preparation, advising, coaching, mentoring, career guidance, internships, and other support programs to ensure retention and graduation.

Heritage University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Melissa Hill, Ph.D. stated that Heritage nursing is perfectly positioned positively impact the healthcare landscape by educating a new generation of skilled and diverse nurses to meet the growing needs of our local communities. “This substantial investment from the Biden-Harris administration underscores the importance of addressing the critical shortage of nurses in rural communities and Heritage University’s role in helping to fill those gaps,” said Dr. Hill.

Heritage University partnered with Research, Grants, and Information (RGI) Corporation of Sunnyside, Wash. to secure RPED funds for this Pathway to Opportunities initiative. RGI Corporation’s mission shares the Heritage University mission of impacting underrepresented and underserved communities socially, educationally, and economically for more than twenty years, and assisted in developing the successful grant application that was awarded. “RGI Corporation is pleased that Heritage University was awarded this highly competitive grant to train more nurses in addressing the workforce shortages in our rural communities,” said RGI Corporation CEO Robert Ozuna.

Pathways to Opportunity will focus on Native American, Hispanic, low-income, and first-generation high school and college students. Outreach will target students in the eight high schools and one tribally controlled school. For more information, please contact Melissa Hill at (509) 865-8584 or hill_m@heritage.edu. For help with media interviews, please contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University to offer help filling out FAFSA forms during “Financial Aid Nights”



Heritage University to offer help filling out FAFSA forms during “Financial Aid Nights”

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is spearheading efforts to help students and their parents navigate the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Heritage will be hosting “Financial Aid Nights,” a series of upcoming events dedicated to help students and their families in completing the FAFSA.

The U.S. Department of Education launched the new FAFSA for 2024-25 on December 30, 2023, after a three month delay due to the FAFSA Simplification Act. Heritage University Admissions Director Rebecca Garza says “Financial Aid Nights” will provide valuable support and guidance to ensure a smooth FAFSA process, making higher education more accessible to all. “Since 85% of our students are the first in their families to attend college, it’s important to us to make sure students feel empowered and know what steps to take,” said Garza. “Our hope is to create events where students and their families have access to financial aid information. Our team members will be on hand to walk them through the FAFSA/WASFA process, and the information provide will be in English and Spanish.”

Heritage University will host “Financial Aid Nights” at Heritage in Toppenish, Wash. on January 24, 2024, and on February 21, 2024, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on both nights. Additionally, Grandview High School will host “Financial Aid Nights” in Grandview, Wash. on February 7, 2024, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Dinner will be served at all three events. For more information, please contact Rebecca Garza at (509) 865-0734 or garza_r1@heritage.edu or Davidson Mance, media relations coordinator at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.



Heritage University receives $250,000 gift from the Directors of the Bezos Family Foundation to support DACA and DREAMER students




Heritage University receives $250,000 gift from the Directors of the Bezos Family Foundation to support DACA and DREAMER students

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University announced it has received a $250,000 gift from the directors of the Bezos Family Foundation to support the institution’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Emergency and DREAMER (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Funds. This transformative contribution reflects a commitment to supporting the immediate needs of undocumented students facing unforeseen challenges.

Each year, the Bezos Family Foundation’s Board of Directors choose non-profit organizations that align with the Foundation’s mission. In selecting Heritage, the Foundation’s directors recognize the university’s work to provide equitable opportunities to children and youth in its communities.

Andrew Sund, Ph.D., the President of Heritage University, expressed his gratitude to the Bezos Family Foundation’s directors for their generosity. “This gift underscores the understanding that the foundation directors have of challenges undocumented students face if they wish to pursue a college education. DACA and DREAMER students do not qualify for federal financial aid often creating situations where the cost of attending college is insurmountable,” said. Dr. Sund. “This gift helps level the playing field for students to pursue a college degree regardless of their immigration status.”

For more information, please contact David Wise, VP for Advancement at (509) 865-0717 or wise_d@heritage.edu. For help with media interviews, please contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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In Memoriam


Honoring the Heritage University friends and family we’ve lost.


The Heritage family lost a beloved member this summer when Jim Barnhill passed away in August. He was 92. Barnhill’s connection to Heritage and its students went back to the university’s infancy. For 36 years, he and his wife Dee, who preceded him in death last year, provided philanthropic support for student scholarships and campus development. They established the Jim and Dee Barnhill Scholarship in the mid- 1990s, an endowed fund that will support students in perpetuity. Additionally, they were lead supporters of the construction of the Arts and Sciences Center, as well as the construction of five buildings built between 2015 and 2018, one of which houses The Barnhill Fireside Room, named in their honor.

Barnhill was a dedicated friend and advisor who provided his unique insights to the university Advancement team, frequently inviting them to his home to share “mocha moments.”

In addition to his commitment to Heritage, he was a member of the Yakima Rotary and served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, United Way, New Vision and the Yakima Valley Libraries Board of Trustees. He was a dedicated newspaperman whose career spanned 47 years and ultimately led to serving as the publisher of the Yakima Herald for 16 years until his retirement in 1996.

Well-loved Yakima Valley philanthropist and long-time Heritage University supporter Marie Halverson passed away on October 21. She was 90 years old.

Halverson and her husband of 63 years, Fred, who preceded her in death in 2020, were pillars of the Yakima community who were active volunteers with several organizations and generous contributors to the causes they supported. Marie was a 50-year member of the Florence White Guild, a volunteer with Memorial Hospital, and served on The Burke Museum’s board of directors. Her support of Heritage University goes back 26 years.

She is survived by her four children: Craig Halverson, Korynne Wright (Jeffrey), Kristin Luttinen (Scott), and Kathryne Garland (William III).

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to Halverson’s favorite charities, including Heritage University.


Tragedy struck the Heritage family on October 15 when student Aspen Hart passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident. She was 18 years old.

Aspen was a junior majoring in Elementary Education who had just started her academic journey at Heritage in the fall. She earned her associate degree from Columbia Basin College while she was still in high school, graduating from both CBC and Kennewick High School in 2023. She grew up in the Tri- Cities area, dancing and cheering competitively, and continued to share her love of dance with others as a coach at Dance Image West.

She is survived by her father, Casey Hart, and her sister, Payten Hart. Her mother, Angel Hart, died in the same accident.


Mary Ellen Hughes passed away on October 14 with her family by her side. She was 89 years old.

Hughes was a long-time Heritage benefactor and philanthropist who supported education, the arts and medical research. In addition to her charitable giving, she was a committed volunteer who served on several boards in the Seattle area, including Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Lakeside School and the Seattle Children’s Theatre.

She is survived by her husband, Pat; her children Lauri Hughes, Kimberly Hughes Moazed (Steve Moazed), Jim Hughes (Heather), and Kevin Hughes (Krista); as well as ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.


News Briefs

Generosity for Health and Education


Gaye and Jim Pigott


The number of lives impacted by Jim and Gaye Pigotts’ philanthropy is immeasurable. Throughout their lifetimes, they’ve supported countless organizations through their charitable giving and volunteer services throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Amidst their broad generosity, two areas top their list of important causes to support–education and healthcare.

So, they were intrigued when David Wise, vice president of Advancement and Marketing at Heritage University, told them about a new partnership with Children’s Hospital of Seattle. “Good health and a good education, without both of these things, individuals will have a tough time,” said Jim.

The Pigotts invited Wise and his counterpart at Children’s Hospital, Ruben Mayes, to visit them on their ranch in Winthrop, Washington, to tell them more. The two pulled together a traveling party from both institutions: Heritage’s current president, Andrew Sund, and its founding president, Sr. Kathleen Ross, and from Children’s, James Policar, senior director of development for pediatric cancer; Doug Picha, a consultant on special projects and relationships; and Bonnie Fryzlewicz, senior vice president and chief nursing officer. The team shared how the partnership not only has an immediate impact on Heritage University nursing students who complete a four-week clinical rotation in pediatrics at one of the country’s top children’s hospitals but also how it is changing the face of nursing in Washington State.

“Heritage is a leader in higher education fostering inclusion and cultural competency,” said Wise. “Children’s Hospital is determined to help build inclusivity, diversity and accessibility within the nursing field. By working together, our students benefit by learning from world-class clinicians, and they contribute to enhanced cultural competency and situational awareness as it relates to diverse populations, which fosters growth within the Seattle Children’s staff.”

Heritage nursing students learn alongside the medical staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Those students, many of whom are Latinx or Native American, graduate and enter their careers, diversifying the workforce and bringing with them a broader range of perspectives and experiences, he explained.

The Pigotts were intrigued. They were already familiar with the good work being done by both institutions, having been long-time supporters of each of them. In fact, Jim spent six years serving on the university’s board of directors. Additionally, they understood the critical need in healthcare for more highly trained, skilled practitioners.

“We hear it all the time on the news: hospitals are having a hard time finding nurses, which negatively impacts the quality of care that patients receive,” said Gaye.

The Heritage and Children’s Hospital partnership addresses this need and provides the kind of hands-on training that Jim sees as critical to bridging the school-to-work gap. “This program is timely and relevant; it does a lot of what I’d like to see more of, that is integrating academia with the real world to get students working with real work situations,” said Jim.

Early this fall, the Pigotts officially announced their support for the partnership– a $4 million gift, half of which will go to establishing the Gaye and Jim Pigott Nursing Endowment at Seattle Children’s and the other half funding the Gaye and Jim Pigott Endowed Chair of Nursing at Heritage.

“This extraordinary gift will have a lasting impact on the future of pediatric healthcare,” said Dr. Jeff Sperring, chief executive officer at Seattle Children’s. “By prioritizing equity in nursing, we are taking a crucial step toward better addressing the needs of our diversepatient population.”

“Equity and inclusivity lie at the core of our educational mission,” said Dr. Andrew Sund, president of Heritage University. “This gift will empower us to expand opportunities in the nursing profession, fostering a healthcare workforce that truly represents and serves our communities.”

Both Heritage and Children’s Hospital will use the Pigotts’ gifts as the foundation for ongoing fundraising to support both endowments, which will secure the partnership program for the future.

Honoring Our Elders

Left to right: Arlen Washines, Marlene White, Gene Sutterlict Sr., Iola Totus.

E‌very year Heritage University recognizes Native American elders for their lifetimes of significant contributions to their communities as part of its Native American Heritage Month celebration. Please join us in celebrating these four individuals.


Wahteshaouct/Shxmyah Edward Arlen Washines has lived his life driven by an unwavering commitment to uplifting his community through the development of education, social services, and employment. As an educator and director of Higher Education, he inspired Yakama Nation youth to graduate from high school, pursue college degrees, and return to their homelands to use their skills and talents to benefit their community. His work overseeing Yakama Nation’s Human Services helped ensure holistic well-being and quality of life for individuals and families at all stages of life.

During his service on Tribal Council, he helped build tribal enterprises that bolstered economic prosperity and increased living wage jobs, transforming the prospects of the Yakama Nation and all who live within its homelands.


Marlene Hunt White, YaYamptnikt has spent 50 years supporting the health and well-being of the people in her community. Through her work with Yakama Nation’s Public Works department, she ensured that her community had clean drinking water by helping individuals and tribal entities build and maintain viable wells and septic systems. Outside of her professional career, she channeled her energy into healing herself and her family from the deep scars of historical trauma, and by doing so, was able to help others in her community do the same through extensive volunteer work and the sharing of traditional teachings, bringing about a restored sense of cultural identity and resilience. Her legacy is a testament to the transformative power of dedication and love for one’s people and the land they call home.


Wah-Shu-Lums Gene Sutterlict is passionate about protecting and preserving the forest of the Yakama Nation and the sacred sites that are located within those lands. He’s spent his lifetime walking the fine line between harvesting renewable timber resources and preserving the woodlands.

For almost 40 years, he worked in forestry for the Yakama Nation. The trees harvested brought in revenue that funded tribal services that house, educate, and support the health and well-being of the people of the Yakama Nation. His leadership on Tribal Council provided oversight to the management of these natural resources so that they continue to thrive and provide for the people who depend upon them for generations to come.


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


¡Viva México!

On a warm late summer evening, a crowd of people gathered on the lawn at Heritage University. They stood side by side, row by row; their attention focused on a man on the stage holding the flag of México. He is from the Mexican Consulate and traveled halfway across the state of Washington to deliver El Grito de Delores, the Cry of Delores.

“¡Mexicanos! ¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria! ¡Viva Hidalgo!,” he called out.

“¡Viva Hidalgo!” the crowd responded.

“¡Viva Morelos!,” he cried. The crowd called back, “¡Viva Morelos!”

Back and forth they went, the official crying out and the crowd responding:

¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!

¡Viva Allende!

¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!

¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!

Until the call reached its crescendo.

Vendors sold everything from handmade traditional crafts to authentic Mexican foods.

“¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!”

The official rang a bell and waved the flag while the crowd cheered. Then, all raised their voices and sang the Mexican national anthem.

“Mexicanos, al grito de guerra el acero aprestad y el bridón. Y retiemble en sus centros la Tierra, al sonoro rugir de el cañón,” the song begins.

The crowd was a sea of emotion. Elderly men and ladies stood with their backs pencil straight, tears streaming down their faces, hands held across their chest in the saludo a la bandera. Parents’ attention was momentarily drawn from their playing children as they were swept away by the moment. It was one of those rare moments when pride, respect and unity were so palatable that they seemed to hang in the air.

This was El Grito de Dolores at Heritage University.


El Grito de Dolores is for Mexico and its citizens what the 4th of July is for the United States. It commemorates the events that sparked the Mexican War of Independence.

In the middle of the night on September 16, 1810, in the city of Dolores, Mexico, Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the church bell, calling his congregation to assemble. He addressed the crowd, urging them to revolt against Spanish rule. His speech sparked an 11-year war in which Mexico gained independence from Spain. Every year, on September 15, at 11:00 p.m., Mexico’s president reenacts the cry from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City. The call is simultaneously reenacted in cities and towns, large and small, throughout the country, with each community’s highest-ranking official serving in the place of the president.

Jennifer Renteria-Lopez

“Of all the cultural activities that take place in Mexico, El Grito is one of the most significant,” said Jennifer Renteria-Lopez, director of Heritage University’s High School Equivalency Program and one of the lead organizers of the university’s El Grito celebration.

“For Mexicans, it means we are our own people. We are a single, independent country in control of our own government and direction.”

El Grito brings together communities for celebrations that last for days. There are parades, carnivals, Banda music, street dances and food, lots and lots of food. It’s a whirlwind of color and sounds that culminates with the late- night reenactments.

Once this young celebrator got the mic, there was no getting it back from him.


For people of Mexican descent, like Renteria-Lopez, living in the Yakima Valley, distance and time often lead to a disconnect from their cultural roots. Renteria-Lopez was born in the United States but was taken to Mexico by her mother when she was just three months old. She lived there submerged in her culture until she and her now husband moved to the US when she was 19 years old.

“We were searching for a better life,” she said.

Like so many Mexican nationals who immigrated to the Yakima Valley, Renteria- Lopez came to the country with a strong work ethic but limited English skills. She learned about Heritage’s HEP program, where she could take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and earn a G.E.D. She enrolled and became so connected to the program that she continued to take ESL classes and volunteered to help other students long after she graduated. Before long, her volunteer work turned into a paid position. Her academic journey also progressed.

She enrolled in a local college, earned an associate degree, transferred to a nearby university, and earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Eventually, she worked her way to director of the HEP program, and this year, she graduated with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership.

Renteria-Lopez and her husband built a good life for themselves and their little family which includes two young daughters. However, the longer they lived here in the United States, the more disconnected they became from their cultural heritage. They found themselves spending more time celebrating the customs and holidays of this country than those of the country where they were raised and where much of their family still lives.

The face painting booth was one of the most popular activities.

“We left behind everything when we came to the United States, even our culture,” she said. “When you immigrate to a new country, you are an outsider. You want to fit in with your new home and the people who live here, so you set aside part of yourself and adopt the culture of those in your new home. You walk between two cultures. You are not American or Mexican; you’re a little of both.”

Her story, she said, is not unique. As life gets busy and families integrate into their communities, it is easy to lose sight of traditions, especially for things like El Grito that involved whole communities celebrating in unison, and where there are no such celebrations in your adopted country.

Five years ago, when Heritage’s president, Andrew Sund, announced the university would be hosting an El Grito celebration on campus, Renteria-Lopez signed up to be part of the planning committee.

Young dancers from Grupo Vicio
performed Mexican folk dances.

“There was nothing else like this in the Yakima Valley,” she said. “You’d see Cinco de Mayo events, but those are not as culturally significant as people think they are. They are an Americanized version of a Mexican holiday that is really only celebrated in one region of Mexico.”

El Grito, however, is immensely significant. It’s a point of national pride that involves every citizen in every state, city and town. It is part of the cultural fabric of the nation. And, bringing it to Heritage was huge, she said.

“I’ve lived in the United States for 17 years. This was the first time since I left Mexico that I was able to celebrate El Grito and the first time my children have been able to connect to this part of their cultural heritage,” she said.

Gerardo J. Guiza Vargas from the Mexican Consulate in Seattle performs the El Grito de Dolores.

Renteria-Lopez has been part of the planning committee every year since El Grito was first celebrated at Heritage in 2019. This year’s event brought more than 800 people to the Heritage campus. Children made crafts and got their faces painted. Families played games together, including loteria, a traditional game much like bingo, danced to Banda music, and ate authentic Mexican food before the culminating Cry of Delores.

“It was such an emotional experience, being here on the campus, with others who, like me, have lost touch with this part of themselves, and being part of the team that brought El Grito to the Yakima Valley,” said Renteria-Lopez. “I am very proud of being part of this experience and proud that Heritage is giving Mexican Americans the opportunity to celebrate their heritage and share it with the rest of the community.”


Houdini Was


Once upon a time, a class of second graders at White Bluffs Elementary School in Richland, Wash. became published authors. It all started when their classroom pet – a hamster named Houdini – unexpectedly died. They loved Houdini very much, and they were sad.

The children’s teacher, Christan Connors, thought that if her students could journal about Houdini, they could process their feelings. She was right. “We realized she was so much more than just a hamster,” Connors said.

Connors developed her students’ writings and drawings they made into a book manuscript. They called it Houdini Was – as in, “Houdini was so much more than a classroom pet. She was a superhero, a spy, an escape artist, an athlete, and a clown.”

“She reminded us to eat our vegetables and get exercise, but also other important things like ‘never give up’ and ‘always be nice to your friends,’” Connors said.

Connors submitted the manuscript to a Scholastic book publishing contest for children. Two months later, they got the news: Out of more than 2,000 manuscripts received, Houdini Was won the contest. Scholastic published 1 million copies of the book, and children around the country learned the story of the little pet hamster and all she taught the children who loved her.


Fast forward to 2022, 12 years after the book’s publication. Christan Connors’s parents, Ken and Sharon Smith, had always loved the book. As a Heritage University board member, Ken Smith was aware of the efforts of Yakima Valley Partners for Education’s (YVPE) work to help children meet and exceed third-grade reading proficiency; Heritage’s Collective Impact (CI) division has been the convening and organizing entity for YVPE. The message that helping kids learn to read is everyone’s job resonated with Smith.

“Ken and I talked about how bilingual books help us in our literacy work not just with the children but with parents, too, because many parents and grandparents in the valley don’t speak English,” said Suzy Diaz, Collective Impact director. “If we can support Spanish-speaking parents in reading to their child, there’s the possibility that both will enjoy reading more and that can create at-home literacy habits.”

This summer, Christan Connors and one of her 2010 second graders, Lily Ferguson, read Houdini Was to a class of three- to five-year-olds at Heritage’s Early Learning Center (ELC).

Smith bought the publishing rights to the book, had it redesigned to include Spanish along with English, and had it printed. Since its Spring 2023 publication, YVPE partners Educational Service District (ESD) 105, Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, and the United Family Center Behavior Health and Family Services have been distributing the book throughout the Valley. Sixteen libraries in the Yakima Public Library System, as well as the bookmobile, received copies.

A life-size Houdini “learning ambassador,” or mascot, was produced and now brings the story to life at many readings.

“We felt a mascot would make it that much more fun for kids and adults,” Diaz said. “So now ESD 105 brings her to the Yakima Farmers Market, Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic has made her part of its medical outreach, and the United Family Center is taking her to Yakima Valley Libraries this fall. They distribute copies of Houdini Was as well as other books for new readers.

“It’s been very popular,” Diaz said. “We promote it on our social media, which also gets shared a lot. People tell us they look to our page as a resource – that is progress in terms of keeping excitement for reading going among families.”

“The ripple effect from this book keeps going,” Connors said.


Just as early reading matters for kids, digital literacy is important for adults, and that’s part of YVPE’s work as well. Many adults in families that are served by YVPE lack the basic computer skills necessary to navigate much of modern daily living and caring for a family.

Christan Connors (back center) and Lily Ferguson (back right) pose with Houdini and the children from Heritage’s Early Learning Center (ELC).

As a part of its adult-oriented digital literacy effort, YVPE Food Security Community Liaison Lorena Legorreta developed a curriculum that can be used to teach adults how to use computers. She’s taught instructors how to provide that education.

In the last year, YVPE has opened the online world and all its resources to 160 Spanish-speaking adults who previously lacked computer knowledge and skills. Now, things like applying for public benefits, searching for available food, developing a good food plan, and even finding recipes are possible.

The adults have continuing access to computer labs at Nuestra Casa in Sunnyside and United Family Center in Grandview.

Third-grade literacy progress is slow but steady. YVPE statistics show individual growth and improvement in third-grade reading skills with, so far, slight increases in the overall district-level percentage in some schools.

“In the work we’re doing, we don’t always see the outcome until later,” Diaz said. “We don’t know what the reading scores will look like in

three years, but we know we need everyone to help bring this focus to literacy.

“Our work gets books into homes and can start to get families reading,” Diaz said.

“Looking at the big picture, being readers helps us make sense of the world. Equipping our young people with global skills for citizenship in the 21st century really does start now.


Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) is comprised of more than 20 organizations across K-12, higher education, healthcare, and housing.

Each organization has a particular focus along the cradle-to-career continuum – of which the pivotal points are kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, middle school math, high school completion, higher education access, and workforce.

“We meet every month to talk about community- based outreach for literacy,” said Suzy Diaz. “Our purpose is to identify, support and promote family-needed initiatives.”

Two elements – food security and literacy – are always a YVPE focus.

Yakima Valley Partners for Education logo

YVPE’s literacy efforts focus on the following:

Connecting with parents and caregivers: Trying to really reach parents and other family members and caregivers to communicate the importance of developing a culture of reading.

Creating space: Asking parents and caregivers, “Do you have books in your home, space in your home, an ability to create quiet time?”

Providing bilingual offerings: English and Spanish together on the pages of books is very important.

Making books relevant: Books must be 1) culturally relevant and 2) reflect a child’s experience – otherwise, we will lose the connection to them and their lives that is needed to move ahead in reading.

Meeting kids where they are: What do they like and enjoy? What would they like to read about?

Show respect for various cultures: Books that are based on honoring one’s culture, expression, history, and creativity carry a lot of weight



Collaboration as Smart as the Students It Supports

Close up shot of a fresh high quality gold foamy beer poured in a transparent glass on a background of collected biological hop flowers in plantation with a sun shining.


Some of the best ideas take shape over a pint of beer. Take, for example, Heritage Collaboration, a partnership between one of Yakima’s largest hop growers and three craft breweries, all to raise funds for Heritage University scholarships. It began with a spark of an idea.

Heritage University board member Ellen Wallach is known for her hands-on approach to her service to the organizations she supports. A member of Heritage’s fund development committee, she is always trying to find creative ways to help the university build funding streams that can lead to long-term support for the institution and its students. A conversation with a dear friend sparked one such idea. Her friend’s neighbor Manny Chao is the founder and co-owner of Georgetown Brewing, a popular Seattle brewery. She asked her friend if she could introduce her to Chao.


“I had this idea that Georgetown and Heritage could work together to build an income stream for Heritage that would also serve their (Georgetown’s) interests,” she said.

Her friend reached out to Chao and told him a bit about Heritage and the work the university does in the Yakima Valley. Most of the hops that Chao uses to brew his beers come from the areas  surrounding the university. The farmworkers who care for and harvest the hops he depends upon are the families, friends and neighbors of the students who attend Heritage. Chao was intrigued.

“I was attracted by the whole idea of outreach to indigenous and immigrant families,” he said. “I, myself, am an immigrant. My family moved to the United States when I was a child so I could have a better education and more opportunities. There was a natural tie between Georgetown and the Yakima Valley, and providing educational opportunities for the families of the migrant workers who work so hard added to the appeal.”

However, Chao said the impact could be greater than just his brewery producing a single beer. “There are so many breweries in Washington state. I told Ellen we should bring in a hop grower to provide hops to several breweries and bring them on board, which would help spread the word about Heritage further.”

Wallach was on it! She knew just who to call— fellow Heritage board member Bob Gerst.


“Ellen called and told me about her discussion with Manny. She asked if I knew who she could work with to capitalize on the idea,” said Gerst.

He knows a thing or two about the players in the hops and beer game; he is Vice President of Human Resources at John I. Haas, one of the largest hops producers in the state of Washington and, for that matter, the world. Haas has long been a supporter of Heritage University and its students. Over the years, they’ve sponsored the university’s largest fundraising event, Scholarship Dinner, provided student internship opportunities, and hired its graduates.

HBC 1134

He explained that while supporting Heritage and its students feels good, it is really a strategic move.

“Supporting Heritage makes good business sense,” he said. “The more educated we can make the workforce in the Yakima Valley, the better we all are, whether it is in the number of people we (Haas) hire or the environment that is created by an educated population. We are all better off by Heritage being successful.

“My role in this project was connecting the dots.”


Gerst knew about a new experimental hop variety that Haas’s sales force was starting to push out to brewers—HBC1134.

Michael Ferguson is the hop breeder extraordinaire who developed HBC1134. He’s spent several years breeding, growing, testing, and growing and testing again and again new varieties of hops in search of one that would produce a European-style hop but with much better yields that need less land and resources to produce than the hops currently being used. The key was it not only had to meet these production standards, but it also had to have the scent and flavor that matched the old variety, and those results had to be consistent year after year with every generation of cloned and propagated plants. Not an easy task!

“You’re doing well as a breeder if you get one good variety out of every 100,000 plants,” said Ferguson.

HBC1134 looked to be a winner. He sent a small sample to Haas brewmaster Virgil McDonald for the next step in the experiment, developing the recipe.



“We take an innocuous beer, add the hop, and taste the beer to identify the flavors the hop throws,” said McDonald. “Then we catalog it and try it with different yeast strains and malts. You know pretty quickly in the first brew or two if you have something to move forward.”

McDonald liked what he was tasting with HBC1134. It lends itself to a nice pilsner or lager- style beer, he said.

Brewer Max Snider draws a sample of Heritage Collaboration Lager.

At the time he heard the news about the yet- to-be-named Heritage Collaboration, he just happened to be in conversations with Chao about his desire to build a new recipe for a lager. The timing was perfect! Georgetown needed hops and wanted to collaborate. Haas had the hops, wanted to collaborate, and needed brewers to

The first batch is served at Haas’s tasting room.

introduce beers made from the hop to consumers. Plus, both wanted to do something to support Heritage students. All that remained was to bring a few more brewers on board.

Chao reached out to his good friend Kevin Smith. Smith is the owner of Bale Breaker Brewing Company in Yakima. When he heard about the opportunity to create a beer using the new hop and do good for his community, he joined the collaboration.

“We enjoy making these charitable beers to give back to the community,” Smith said. “We were excited about making good beer with friends and supporting Heritage University, an educational institution in our own backyard.”

At the same time, Haas’s sales team reached out to another Yakima brewer, Zack Turner, at Single Hill Brewing. They were the first brewery to release their version of Heritage Collaboration at a launch event in early October.



With the wheels in motion and all the initial players on board, all that was left was to brew up some batches and launch it out into the world. Haas was the first to go live. They hosted a tasting party in late September showcasing the basic brew recipe that the craft brewers would build upon.

The public got its first taste of Heritage Collaboration Lager at Single Hill Brewing in Yakima.

Single Hill followed suit a few weeks later. In mid-October, Heritage hosted an alumni gathering coinciding with the launch day for Heritage Collaboration at Bale Breaker, and a second alumni gathering took place in November at Georgetown for their brew launch. At each brewery, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their version of Heritage Collaboration are directed to Heritage University for scholarships.

Just how far Heritage Collaboration could go and how big an impact it could have on students remains to be seen. It all depends upon consumer tastes and demand for the hop that has yet to be officially named. However, said David Wise, vice president for advancement at Heritage, the impact has the potential to be great.

“Every successful venture started as an idea that grows into action and has a host of people behind it that believed in its power. When you think about it, this is the story of Heritage and our students, how we started, how we grew, and how we’ve been successful,” he said. “We’re all raising our pints, cheering on this grand collaboration, excited about what the future may bring.”