Law school pipeline program for Central Washington students to launch at Heritage University


Law school pipeline program for Central Washington students to launch at Heritage University

Toppenish, Wash. – Legal educators, lawyers, and judges from across Washington state will lead a program at Heritage University designed to prepare Central Washington students for the rigors of law school and a legal career. The program, funded by a grant from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program, is an innovative partnership between the law schools at Seattle University, the University of Washington and Gonzaga University and Heritage that aims to make a law degree more accessible to diverse students, especially Latino/Latina/Latinx and Indigenous students.

To teach specific program topics, the program will host highly acclaimed legal professionals from across the state, including:

  • Stephen C. Gonzalez – chief justice, Washington Supreme Court
  • Helen Whitener – justice, Washington Supreme Court
  • Annette Clark – dean and professor of law, Seattle University School of Law.
  • César Torres – executive director, Northwest Justice Project in Yakima, Wash.
  • Sonia Rodriguez-True – Yakima County Superior Court commissioner in Yakima, Wash.
  • Bree Black Horse – senior associate with Seattle law firm Kilpatrick Townsend and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma citizen.
  • Fé LopezGaetke – director, LSAC diversity, equity & inclusion programs & operations.
  • Jaime “Jr.” Cuevas – general council, Ramsey Companies in White Swan, Wash.
  • Lola Velazquez – attorney, Northwest Justice Project.

The LSAC PLUS Program kicks off the three-week program on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, with in-person classes at Heritage three days each week. Key aspects are designed to help the 37 enrolled students envision themselves as lawyers, with a visit by Washington Supreme Court justices, a mock law school class, roundtable discussions with leaders of minority bar associations, and modules that provide helpful information to demystify the application process and the law school experience. Students may also visit one of the Washington law schools. A shorter, follow-up program component will take place in October.

By the end of the program, students will have a better understanding of what it takes to apply to and become accepted by a law school, thrive as a law student, and ultimately a career as a lawyer. Students will make valuable connections with diverse attorneys and judges in their community who are invested in their future success.

For additional background information, visit:

Media are invited to report on the first day of the LSAC PLUS Program, with opportunities to interview students, instructors and program coordinators during a break scheduled for 4:30 p.m. For more information, contact Davidson Mance, Heritage University media relations coordinator, at (509) 969-6084 or

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This project received funding from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The opinions and conclusions contained in this document are the opinions and conclusions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of LSAC.

Heritage University’s Annual Scholarship Fundraiser raises $723,085 in return to in-person event

Heritage University students hold placards to reveal $723,085 as the amount raised during the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships and Paddle Raise held at the Heritage University campus in Toppenish, Wash. on June 4, 2022.


Heritage University’s annual “Bounty of the Valley” Scholarship Dinner returns as an in-person event, raises $723,085 for student scholarships

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s 36th annual Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships, held this past weekend, brought in $723,085 during the event. The premier fundraiser for student scholarships at Heritage returned as an in-person event following two years of being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was also live-streamed for those who wished to attend remotely.

This year the Bounty of the Valley featured hosts, Alex Vera and Gerardo Ruelas, two Heritage alumni and Valley natives who have gone onto much success in their careers at Costco Wholesale in the company’s headquarters in Issaquah, Wash.

Heritage University alumna Yuli Guzman, who recently graduated from Heritage with a B.A. in social work, served as student speaker. Guzman graduated from Davis High School in 2018. She’s completed practicum experiences at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, Comprehensive Healthcare, the Yakima Police Department and the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Her future plans include attending graduate school to earn a Master of Social Work.

This year marks the first time in three years Heritage celebrated its students and generous donors raised their paddles for scholarships on the university’s campus. Heritage University president Andrew Sund, Ph.D. expressed his gratitude for the many donors, longtime and new, who showed unwavering support for Heritage during the pandemic. “When I think back on the many lessons I learned during the COVID times, one of the most endearing is just how blessed this university and our students are to have the unwavering support of all of you,” said Dr. Sund. “Your commitment to ensuring that higher education remains accessible means our students continued their academic pursuits uninterrupted. Moreover, it means that future generations of Heritage Eagles can count on the university being here in the Yakima Valley when they are ready to enter college.”

The live-streamed portion of Bounty of the Valley can be viewed by visiting Donations to student scholarships can be made on the same page by clicking on the “Raise Your Paddle” button. For more information, contact Dana Eliason at (509) 865-0441 or or Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or

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News Briefs

Science student selected for Neurotechnology research at the University of Washington

Miguel Mendoza

Heritage University student and McNair Program scholar Miguel Mendoza will spend this summer on a research project with the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. Mendoza will participate in the 2022 Center for Neurotechnology Research Experience for Undergraduates Program and will work in the “GRIDlab” at UW.

“I believe this opportunity with Drs. Raj Rao, Jeff Ojemann, Jeffrey Herron at GRIDlab will help me grow as an individual and will allow me to dive into the field of neurosurgery, which is a great fit for me as I continue my journey towards becoming a doctor,” said Mendoza.

The McNair program prepares first-generation, minority and low-income students to enter into doctoral studies after graduating from Heritage. Students participate in specialized research, mentoring and other scholarly activities.

Student traveling to Johns Hopkins University for humanities research this summer

Melissa “Millie” Land


Heritage University student Melissa “Millie” Land will spend part of this summer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, after being selected for a Leadership Alliance Summer Research-Early Identification Program (SR-EIP). Land’s internship conducting research in humanities will run from May 30 to August 5, 2022, and she will receive a $5,700 fellowship payment plus travel and housing expenses.

Along with conducting research, Land will participate in social and professional development activities with other students. The SR-EIP provides training and mentoring and prepares them to pursue competitive applications to PhD or MD- PhD programs.


Law school partnership program brings legal career prep to Heritage students

A new partnership program at Heritage is helping students and alumni explore careers in the legal field. The Law School Admission Council Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program is an innovative partnership among Washington’s three law schools – Seattle University School of Law, University of Washington School of Law, and Gonzaga University School of Law – and Heritage University.

It seeks to make a law degree more accessible to diverse students, especially Latino, Latina, Latinx and Indigenous students.

This three-week, summer program helps students realize that getting admitted to law school and launching a legal career are achievable goals. By the end of the program, they will have a better understanding of what it takes to apply to and become accepted by a law school, how to thrive as a law student, and what it is like to work as a lawyer. In the process, students will make valuable connections with diverse attorneys and judges in their community who are invested in their future success.

More information is available at https://law. inclusion/lsac-plus-program/


Angela Guerrero

Student selected for fellowship program

The Latino Center for Health has named Heritage social work major Angela Guerrero as one of the recipients of its third annual Student Scholars Fellowship Program. Guerrero is one of eleven students selected from health sciences programs in universities across Washington state for this crucial financial and community support opportunity.

The fellowship program helps meet the demand for Latinx and Spanish-speaking healthcare workers in WA state by providing financial and community support to students in the health sciences.


Heritage breaks ground for new Early Learning Center opening next year

New ELC groundbreaking

Heritage University broke ground on a new state-of- the-art Early Learning Center on December 3. The new $3.2 million facility will contain five classrooms, and will serve children between the ages of 12 months and kindergarten.

Construction is expected to take eight months, with the center scheduled to open in December 2022. The new ELC will allow Heritage to increase the number of children served from 75 to 90.

The new facility is made possible by a generous contribution from an anonymous donor. See the construction progress by visiting


Five Heritage alums selected among top young leaders to watch in Yakima County

Since 2018, the Yakima Herald- Republic recognizes 39 men and women under 39 years old as up and coming community leaders to watch. This year, five Heritage grads were among those honored. They are: Andrea Flores, Amy Hamilton, Courtney Hernandez, Cindy Lemus and Corbin Schuster.

Flores was recognized for her work in public service. She graduated from Heritage in 2016 with a degree in accounting. She completed her degree in just three years while working full-time. After graduating, she worked in the accounting departments at both Yakima Regional Medical Center and Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital before joining the city of Yakima, where she works as a level two accountant.

Hamilton was recognized for her work in health and medicine. She earned her degree in criminal justice from Heritage in 2018. She was working as a care provider at Total Care Home Health, which is now Avenna Healthcare, while going to school. After graduating, she stayed with the company and worked her way through the ranks. Today, she is the area operations director for Central and Eastern Washington.

Hernandez was recognized for her work in nonprofits and advocacy. She is an English teacher at Davis High School and a community organizer who helped create the Selah Alliance for Equality. Her work, along with others in the grass-roots organization, led the city to agree to changes to improved diversity and conversations around equity and First Amendment rights. Hernandez graduated from Heritage in 2018 with a Master in Teaching.

Lemus was recognized in the category of education. She is an artist and teacher in the Toppenish School District. She teaches art to grade school children from kindergarten through fifth grade and is involved in several community art projects. He earned her degree in art education in 2018.

Schuster was also recognized in the education category. He graduated from Heritage with a degree in biomedical science in 2018 and went to Oregon State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in microbiology. Today, he is a researcher for the Zebrafish International Resource Center at the University of Oregon and an adjunct professor at Heritage.

Heritage University community mourns the loss of a leader and good friend

Long-time supporter and former member of the Heritage University Board of Directors, William “Bill” Rich, passed away on February 25, 2022. He was 87.

William Rich

Rich served on the board for ten years until 2014. During that time, he was part of the Advancement Committee and was Vice-Chair of the Executive and Tribal Relations committees. Through his leadership, Rich helped raise funding to construct the Arts and Sciences Center; hired the university’s second president, Dr. John Bassett; and helped the university rebuild its campus following the 2012 fire that destroyed Petrie Hall.

In addition to his service to Heritage, Rich was an active Rotarian who was part of the Yakima Downtown Rotary since 1984. He spent 30 years working at Jack Frost Fruit Company and Marley Orchards before retiring as the general manager in 1996.

Rich was an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and hunting. He was also a talented woodcarver who took inspiration from nature, carving wildlife and Native American-style masks.

Rich is survived by his wife of 64 years, Sue; his children Doug and Kitty; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Class Notes



Phillip J. Vasquez (Principal Certification) recently retired from the Yakima School District. Vasquez spent 18 years working in school administration in the district. During his career he served as an assistant principal in an elementary school and as a principal at both the elementary and middle school levels.





Melissa Vickers (B.S., Computer Science) recently earned a master’s degree in library and information science from San Jose State University. Vickers is the information technology manager at Yakima Valley Libraries.


Rachel Gonzalez- Garza (M.Ed., Professional Development in ESL) recently completed The National Institute for STEM Education (NISE) certification. NISE is a competency-based, academic portfolio of work that demonstrates proficiency across STEM teacher actions.




Sagrario Bernal (B.A., Business Administration) was promoted to Area Manager for central Washington at Enterprise in December. Bernal joined Enterprise in 2016 as part of their management training program. Since then, she’s spent the past five years working as an assistant manager or branch manager at locations across Washington state.

Lizbet Maceda (B.A., Business Administration) started a new position as a regional prevention specialist at ESD105 in Yakima. Prior to this position, she served as community prevention coordinator at the ESD.


Patrick Feller (B.A., Environmental Studies) joined Darigold to serve as a production supervisor in their whey plant in Sunnyside, Washington. He previously served as a field science technician for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.



Elisa Cantu (B.A., Criminal Justice) recently completed the APR 6 Law Clerk Program. This is a four-year program that is an alternative to attending law school. Those who complete the program are eligible to take the Washington state lawyer bar exam.


Corbin Schuster, PhD (B.S., Biomedical Sciences) earned a doctoral degree in microbiology from Oregon State University in December. His thesis was “Expanding Diagnostic Assays for Pseudoloma Neurophilia and Description of the Progression of Infection in Adult Zebrafish Populations.”


Edith Zarogoza (M.A., Physician Assistant) joined Miramar Health Center in Pasco, where she is working as a physician assistant. Miramar is a Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic subsidiary.

You are an important part of the university family, and we want to make sure that you are fully informed of all the great opportunities that are available to you through Alumni Connections. There are lots of great ways to stay connected:

• Like us on Facebook ( HeritageUniversityAlumni)

• Sign up to receive Heritage’s e-newsletter HUNow.

• Visit us online at heritage. edu/alumni

Of course, the best way to stay connected is to make sure your contact information is up to date. Please be sure to let us know if your address, e-mail or phone number changes. You can submit your changes online through alumni, e-mail us at alumni@ or give us a call at (509) 865-8588.

For the Love of the Game


For Coach Adam Strom (BA.Ed., 2015, M.A.Ed., 2019), every loss is a choice “to be bitter or better.” He doesn’t harp on what his team did wrong. Instead, he tells his players to think about one thing they did right and feel good about it.

It’s an attitude that’s propelled him from part-time high school basketball coach to the fulfillment of a dream: head women’s basketball coach at National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-level (NAIA) Haskell Indian Nations University.

“My dad always said you give the players the credit when they win, and you take it on the chin when you lose. I ask myself how I can be better,” he said. “And I remember what my dad told me ‘always let your team know before they leave the locker room: I believe in you.’”


Ted and Phyllis Strom instilled values of family, faith and education in their eight children. Mom was straightforward, Dad was philosophical, but both came from a place of great love, said Strom.

Ted Strom, who passed away in 2014, was his son’s most significant life coach and “coaching coach.”

In fall 1996, Strom was at the University of Washington on a pre-engineering track when his dad had a heart attack.  Strom rushed home to be by his dad’s side.

“Dad had to take it easy for a while, so he said I was going to be his assistant coach – which was his way of saying he was still coach, but I was going to do the work,” Strom laughed.

Strom loved coaching and decided to pursue it. He transferred from UW to Yakima Valley College and a couple of years later, took over girls’ varsity at White Swan High School, his alma mater.

“I then understood why my dad would be up at night watching game film. I found myself doing the same thing, reading books, talking to other coaches. I was a student of the game.

“I questioned myself a lot, but I was always able to lean on my huge passion for others to achieve.”

Working to excel meant playing and practicing all year, including about 60 games a summer. Fun was a by-product, said Strom, and girls came to White Swan to be part of its culture.

Adam Strom

Every new challenge had him questioning his abilities, but Strom stepped outside his comfort zone every time. In his second year at Hermiston, his team won conference title.


“I was riding my high horse – coaching, doing what I wanted to do,” recalled Strom. “And I received a challenge to do more.”

It was 2012, and Strom’s wife Relyn was principal at Yakama Nation Tribal School. She talked with him about teaching. Strom agreed to meet with the school’s superintendent.

“’These are struggling learners,’ she told me. ‘You’re needed in the classroom as well as on the court.’ The clarity of her approach reminded me of my mom. I accepted the invitation.”

Strom needed to finish the mid-level math program he’d begun at UW. He enrolled at Heritage and became a full-time math teacher at the Tribal School.

“I was ready to give to these students and to be a student again myself.”


Where Strom’s basketball players had always been excited to be under his tutelage, his pre- algebra students at the Tribal School were not. Three years behind grade level, he said they felt little sense of belonging.

Again, his dad’s words echoed: “Let them know you believe in them.”

“I’d greet them at the door every day. In class, we’d talk about the relationship between school and life. I let them know my classroom was a safe place. They knew I cared, and they did better.”

In 2017, two years after joining the Tribal School, Strom received his master’s degree in school administration from Heritage and was appointed principal. In 2020, he was named superintendent. His appointment was announced to the students with the statement, “If nobody told you they loved you, Mr. Strom loves you!”

In 2016, for the first time in the school’s history, his boys team made it to the state playoffs.

Two months later, Strom also found himself on the shortlist to be head women’s basketball coach at Yakima Valley College, a move from a 1B school to community college ranks. He took the job and in his first year, his team qualified for the NWAC division playoffs.


Once again, Strom was happy coaching his team. Then one day in spring 2021, a player showed him a Facebook post about an opening for head women’s basketball coach at Haskell Indian Nations University.

“This should be your next job,” she said.

“My dad told me early in my coaching career, ‘You’re going to make a great college coach someday.’ I wanted to be able to say, ‘Look, Dad – I did it.’”

Strom applied and got the job.

Third-highest level of college basketball, 100 percent native, and coaching women: Strom’s job at Haskell University checks all his boxes.

The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas Relyn got an assistant principal job in Topeka. Two of their three sons are students at Haskell – one plays for the college’s men’s team.

Strom said he’ll be a school administrator again one day. But for now, he’s living his absolute dream and modeling his trademark positive attitude.

Before every game, he tells his team: “There are two things you can control: your attitude and your effort. Making the ball go through the hoop is at best a 50-50 chance. But 110 percent effort is up to you as an individual.

“Take this attitude from the court into life, and there’s no doubt you’ll succeed,” he said. “And you’ll be happy.”



Heritage University to hold 40th Commencement at Yakima Valley SunDome May 14, 2022


Heritage University to hold Class of 2022 Commencement at
Yakima Valley SunDome

Yakima, Wash. – Heritage University will celebrate the Class of 2022 during its 40th Commencement Exercise Saturday, May 14 at 10:00 a.m. at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Undergraduate and graduate degrees will be conferred upon students graduating from both the Heritage Toppenish campus and the Tri-Cities campus. Overall, 274 students will earn their degrees at Heritage this year. This will be the first Heritage University commencement ceremony held at the SunDome since 2019.

Representative Debra Lekanoff of the 40th legislative district of Washington state, which includes parts of Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, will be the commencement speaker. Sworn into the Washington State House of Representatives in January 2019, Rep. Lekanoff is the only Native American woman to currently serve in the Legislature. She is Vice-Chair of the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee and also sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

In addition to serving in the Legislature, Lekanoff served as Governmental Affairs Director for the Swinomish Tribe. With over 20 years of government relations experience, she engages on a variety of issues at the international, federal, tribal, state, and local levels.

Heritage University will present the 2022 Violet Lumley Rau Outstanding Alumnus Award to Courtney Hernandez. Hernandez earned her Master’s in Teaching and her English Language Learner endorsement from Heritage University in 2018. She is currently an English teacher at Davis High School in Yakima. At Davis, she and a colleague reinvigorated the Black Student Union.

Hernandez was recently featured in the Yakima Herald-Republic’s special series “39 Under 39” which recognizes community members under the age of 39 who are making a difference in the Yakima Valley. Courtney helped organize Black Lives Matter rallies over the past two years. She is also a co-founder of Selah Alliance For Equality (S.A.F.E.), which was recently involved in a court battle with the city of Selah to ensure the protection of First Amendment Rights for all Selah citizens. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, the suit was settled with the city agreeing to diversify its workforce, amend its sign ordinance and put a mural on a city-owned retaining wall that sends the message that all are welcome in the city.

Heritage will announce the recipients of the Board of Directors’ Academic Excellence Award and the President’s Council Student Award of Distinction during the ceremony.

The Yakima Valley SunDome is located at 1301 South Fair Ave. in Yakima. Parking is free. Additional information is available online at

For more information, contact David Mance, media relations coordinator at (509) 969-6084 or

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Taking Flight

Heritage launches campaign for the Ross Institute for Student Success

In 2009, when Sr. Kathleen Ross announced she was retiring from the presidency of Heritage University, she promised her work at the institution was far from over. She was compelled to expand the work started in rural Toppenish, Washington, to colleges and universities in towns big and small throughout the United States. Ross took her wisdom from the president’s office and into a newly-founded institute that would allow her to build on all that she and other educators had learned about working with students that she called the “New Majority.”

As colleges and universities throughout the United States diversify, more students who have traditionally been left out of higher education are pursuing degrees. They are the “New Majority,” those who are the first in their families to go to college. More often than not, they are from lower-income, working- class backgrounds and are often Latino/a, African American, Native American or from other cultural and racial minorities. They are just as bright, capable and driven as their traditional student peers, but through no fault of their own, they are often either underprepared for college or lack some of the skills that help students thrive in a college environment.

Heritage University was founded precisely to help New Majority students. In the 29 years under Ross’s leadership, much was learned about working with these students to break through barriers that keep them from success. Ross compiled these learnings in her book Breakthrough Strategies Classroom-based Practices to Support New Majority College Students. This book gives educators real, practical tools that Ross and other Heritage educators found to be successful in helping students thrive and persist through earning their degrees.

When current Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.D., arrived at the university, he was gifted a copy of Ross’s book. The tools he found within were powerful and insightful. More had to be done to expand on this work, both for the students at Heritage and beyond. It was time to direct resources towards the small one-woman institute that Ross operated under and build it into a research center that would provide development and training for Heritage faculty to enhance classroom practices and teaching methods. Additionally, the institute would conduct new research into effective practices and methods developed at Heritage and institutions elsewhere. The knowledge gained would be shared widely through visiting scholars, symposiums and other similar efforts.

“The lifelong work of Heritage University co-founder and President Emerita Kathleen Ross inspires me to follow in her footsteps and advance the mission of providing higher education to underserved student populations,” said Sund. “In addition to preserving the legacy of Dr. Ross, this new institute will continue her groundbreaking work, form collaborative and strategic partnerships, and, most importantly, make new research-based discoveries that will transform the lives of first-generation college students everywhere.”

In April 2022, Heritage launched its campaign to raise the funds needed to build the Ross Institute for Student Success. The announcement came at Ross’s 80th birthday celebration on April 7. A donor provided a $1 million cornerstone gift to launch the effort.

“The institute is a lasting legacy to a woman who dedicated much of her life to helping men and women rise to their fullest potential, regardless of the roadblocks they face,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement. “We see the proof of how important equitable access to higher education is to individuals, families and communities every day. The work Kathleen started all those years ago, and that Heritage does to this day, only scratches the surface of the need. The institute will allow us to do so much more, for so many more.”

To learn more about the Ross Institute for Student Success or to make your gift, go to

Building the Foundation to Thrive

Three years after its founding, YVPE’s organizations and individuals are working together to help students – and have early results to show for it.

Aligning resources and people, and prioritizing meeting students’ needs, Yakima Valley Partners in Education (YVPE) has made significant progress toward improving educational outcomes for the children of the Yakima Valley.

“Through community listening sessions, we identified the educational challenges students face and formed groups of professionals and community members who wanted to address these,” said Suzy Diaz, Heritage’s Collective Impact director for YVPE.

Significantly, said Diaz, three of the Valley’s school districts – Sunnyside, Mabton and Grandview – are working collaboratively on their shared concerns for their students, their futures and the related well-being of the community. YVPE plans to include other school districts as the work progresses and funding is made available.

“We’ve seen school districts willing to collaborate cross-sectors to solve challenges to benefit students.”

Children entering school arrive with varying reading abilities, home lives that may impact attendance, food insecurity, health needs, transportation challenges, even homelessness.

“Teachers dedicate themselves to teaching and do a wonderful job, but students carry so much with them as they enter the classroom.”

The challenges faced by students impact achievement rates in the Valley. According to, 20 percent of young people here fail to complete high school. College attainment rates are low, with only 8.2 percent of students getting two-year degree and 11.1 percent earning a four-year degree.

“One of our first goals is that children enter school kinder-ready, improving their chances to meet the educational milestones that follow and enter the workforce with increased success,” said Diaz.


YVPE’s focus for the three school districts is on a significant milestone in a student’s future success: reading at or above grade level by third grade.

In its first year, YVPE members established the “Rural Accelerator Leadership Program” to positively address the varied issues affecting literacy achievement, especially in rural communities. Members include school district leaders, community members, and professionals from community- based organizations. Each works in one of four active workgroups: Health, Digital Connectivity, Partnerships and Resources, and Parent-Family Engagement.

Helping make reading to grade level by third grade a reality, a program called “Early Steps to School Success” was implemented in the Grandview School District in the 2019-20 academic year. It’s an early-learning support program run by Save the Children, one of YVPE’s founding partners and funders.

In addition, in a step Diaz calls “very significant for our goals,” place-based, full-time staff have been hired to coordinate early-learning family- support activities.

Families were so eager to receive support from the early steps team that a waitlist was generated. Organizers are adding additional coordinators in Grandview, Mabton, and Sunnyside in 2022 to meet the demand for services.

The coordinators partner with parents to screen children for developmental progress using an evidence-based curriculum to ensure early- learning milestones are reached. When a need is identified, the coordinator connects the family to resources. Seventy children have been served to date; 10 percent of them have needed referrals for developmental services.

“If a child receives support early, they’ll be more likely to enter school kinder-ready,” said Diaz. “It’s an opportunity for a family to raise questions and get the needed school-based supports.”


The Health workgroup focuses on increasing access to healthcare for families of students pre- school to third grade. The goal is to increase attendance by reducing health issues that keep students from attending school, thereby increasing students’ chances for achievement.

“Part of our work is trying to understand whether there are healthcare needs that aren’t being met that are a barrier to attendance or success in the classroom,” said Josie Chase, human resources director with Grandview School District and Health workgroup liaison.

“You have to get your information from families themselves to understand what’s happening at this moment in time. Maybe it’s the affordability of healthcare; maybe it’s a type of provider needed or undiagnosed conditions.

“When we understand and help meet their needs, and they’re in school, there’s a greater likelihood that children will be on pace to meet grade-level milestones.”

A YVPE community health fair served 250 families in fall 2021, providing free healthy food via a food truck, meetings with a mental health provider and emergency services, plus coordination for sports physicals, dental screenings, COVID vaccinations and school immunizations.

Families who completed attendance surveys received free food voucher. In total, 600 surveys were completed, giving the Health workgroup excellent data to help them develop student- centered strategies. More than 150 students have since been enrolled in free telehealth services.

Grandview Early Steps to School Success family; bonding and teaching the youngest members of the family through play

“When students are able to come to school every day, they’ll be on grade level,” said BJ Wilson, Grandview’s director of special education and a member of the Health workgroup.

“Removing barriers for students this young truly opens up their future.”


The pandemic has demonstrated the necessity of connectivity in our homes, said Jared Lind, director of instructional improvement and assessment for the Grandview School District and liaison for the Digital Connectivity workgroup.

“And it revealed early on the inequities that exist in our communities.”

Digital connectivity is all about making sure students are connected virtually to their schools, teachers and outside sources of information necessary for their education. This means equipment, wireless connection and ensuring users have the skills they need to use their devices.

“It’s also really important that our students are given the option to read what’s of interest to them.”

In 2020, Save The Children provided “MyOn Digital Library” subscriptions to every third grade student in Grandview, Mabton and Sunnyside, thus providing access to both fiction and nonfiction digital books. They have optional reading supports like narration options and language choices that allow them to connect further with what they’re reading.

“It makes reading that’s of interest for students available to them in their homes any time day or evening,” said Lind.

The long-term goal is to increase access for all grades. Ultimately all students will have access to more than 7,000 books.

“The MyOn system keeps track of students’ time spent reading so we can celebrate it,” said Lind. “We’re doing incentive programs with school librarians taking the lead on that.

“We’re seeing a change in reading habits and an increased joy in reading.”


Increasing alignment between food access, transportation and homelessness is the primary goal of the Partnerships and Resources Alignment workgroup.

Many challenges to education are related to one another, said Faviola Ochoa, lead associate for the State of Washington with the Early Childhood Program of Save the Children and liaison for this group.

“Food insecurity is a consequence of poverty as well as lack of transportation, especially for people in rural communities. Sometimes there are multiple issues so that family dynamics focus on just surviving. It doesn’t leave much time for the parent or caregiver to seek out resources for other things.

“It has to be about the long-term, so people know what’s available on an ongoing basis. We need to give them the tools to empower them, whether that’s sharing it online or laying out all the resources in flyers at resource events.”

The group has also organized the distribution of staple items directly to schools during parent nights and drive-through events, literally “meeting people where they are.” Local grocers and food banks partnered with YVPE to provide families with gift cards purchased with funds collected from nonprofit organizations, allowing families food choices and the freedom to shop at their convenience.

“Normally, families have to go to the school for one thing and then the food bank,” said Ochoa. “This is about integrating multiple things at once to minimize the transactional busyness families are often up against.”


The Parent and Family Engagement group has acknowledged the importance of involvement beyond attendance at parent-teacher conferences and open houses. “Parental involvement” must reflect the lived experience, i.e., what makes sense for families in the reality of their actual lives, said Gloria Jones-Dance, assistant professor of teacher preparation at Heritage.

“Family engagement is making sure your kids get to school every day, making sure they have housing, making sure they have food, making sure your kids get to bed so they can be ready for school,” said Jones-Dance. “Parents need to be able to interact with teachers and school staff outside the traditional 8 to 5. How that will look is different for each community.”

Jones-Dance said her group has made a lot of inquiry and listening about what engagement means.

“I was talking with a Grandview parent who’s really involved in her kids’ lives. She said all many parents can do right now, as it relates to school, is drop their kids off. For them, that’s engagement right now.

“We are looking at ways to reach families outside of the schools, possibly some community events in parks this summer, read-aloud opportunities, how we can partner with schools and understand better the backgrounds of the families in these communities.”


The work of getting all students to thrive in school requires everyone, said Diaz.

“Our true north is to invite people to improve educational outcomes by recognizing what they can contribute to the solutions. It’s a trusted adult picking up a book and reading with a child. It’s parents asking what their children are learning. It’s employers allowing flexibility so parents can be present for their children.”

Henry Strom, superintendent of the Grandview School District and a YVPE partner, wants more school districts to become involved.

While districts’ work has always overlapped, he said YVPE gives them the means to take that work to another level.

“In education, if a concept is solid, you look for other areas to implement it. We’re now seeing that includes superintendents.

“And imagine the potential for our region if we were all bold enough to bring the data to the table and function like our teachers do to improve student outcomes. That’s what we’ve started doing.

“We’re interested in all students in the Yakima Valley, and that means we are as concerned for other districts as we are for our own,” said José Rivera, Grandview’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning and a YVPE collaborator. “With YVPE, we’re no longer siloed.”

Strom and Rivera say the holistic- helping approach of YVPE increases families’ trust levels. Parents see unified efforts that make a difference in their lives.

“The healthier the household, the healthier the community,” said Strom. “That’s really what we’re going for. We want students to want to come back and raise a family here, contribute to our region and our economy.

“I believe we all have a moral imperative to make our communities better. That means schools, businesses, people, all of us. No one’s going to come and save us, and we don’t need anyone to. We have expertise right here.

“My dad was a P.E. teacher and a coach, and he had a saying, ‘Create a place of being,’ meaning a place that kids want to come to.

“There’s great potential that the Yakima Valley can be that. You want a community that’s so strong that people come in droves to be part of it all. We can do that.”

Heritage University serves as the backbone for YVPE. Our mission is closely aligned with the purpose of this initiative, and as an institution of higher education, many of our alumni are working in the Yakima Valley. Additionally, one of our strategic priorities is community partnerships in which we extend our support to join with others to improve educational outcomes for the Valley.

Catching Up to COVID

Nursing students’ COVID research helps community organizations understand the virus’s impact on those they serve

When nursing student Tashaé Gomez-Jones was preparing for her community health rotation at the Yakima Union Gospel Mission, she had no idea how impactful her work would be for the non-profit and how much it would shape her view on her future career.

Gomez-Jones, a senior who graduates in May, spent five weeks conducting a COVID-19 survey with homeless men and women staying at the Mission in the fall. She is one of several students enlisted by Yakima Valley organizations to conduct client and community surveys about COVID. Her classmate Heather Delozier, also a senior, took part in the same rotation and research. Similarly, Almarae Swan- Tsoodle, a junior majoring in nursing, works with the Yakama Nation and Fred Hutch on a COVID-19 patient survey. For both organizations, the goal was, and is, to better understand the impact of the virus on their communities as a way to improve services now and in the event of future health crises.


A few weeks before Gomez-Jones and Delozier started their practicum, the Yakima Health District approached the Mission with a request to conduct mandatory COVID testing of its clients. It was something the Mission was hesitant to do.

“The people who use the Mission services are already pretty fragile and distrustful,” said Gomez- Jones. “They have some pretty significant barriers, such as felonies, mental illness and immigration status that makes them wary of outsiders. They (Mission Administration) were afraid that mandatory testing would put up a barrier that would keep homeless people from seeking services.”

That, said Gomez-Jones, could have had an equally devastating effect. The myriad of issues that homeless men and women face—malnutrition, lack of healthcare, exposure to the elements, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness—already put them at high risk. For so many of these people, the Mission is the last line of defense that keeps them out of harm’s reach. Putting up a barrier to keep fragile people from bare necessity help could have devastating effects. On the other hand, the Mission also needed a better understanding of their clientele’s knowledge about COVID-19 and their personal safety practices to ensure the safety of all who seek help there.

Gomez-Jones and Delozier started their rotation at the perfect moment. Under the Mission’s directive, they developed a client survey that asked some basic information: What do you know about COVID? Where did you get your information? Have you been vaccinated, or are you willing to be vaccinated? If you got COVID, would you be willing to quarantine at the Mission?

Creating the survey was the easy part. Next, the women had to build enough trust with the clients to get them to agree to share their stories.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work,” said Gomez-Jones. “Our biggest fear was we were outsiders. We were afraid they wouldn’t trust us enough to really open up.”

Every day, the pair would approach the people they saw at the Mission. They’d explain who they were, what they were doing, and ask if they would be interested in participating. Some agreed to answer their questions right away; others took a little more time to build up enough trust. As word spread through the Mission about the two Heritage nursing students, clients began to approach them.

“We found the clients very receptive,” she said. “For so many of these people, nobody listens to them or cares about them. Even when they go to the ER to seek help, they are treated poorly. Asking them their opinion made them feel valued.”

As the days progressed, Gomez-Jones and Delozier’s role with the people at the Mission began to change.

“We started to have clients come up to us to seek help with their physical ailments,” she said. “They’d ask us to help them connect with a clinic or help them find rides to get to their treatment. We even had a few instances where they’d mention a medical concern that ended up being a pretty serious, life-threatening issue during our conversation with a client. We would never have known about it if we were not talking to them.”

Delozier credits these interactions, where they helped clients fill an unmet need, as key to helping them break down barriers and build the relationship that ultimately led to getting responses to their survey questions.

“It takes patience to work with this population of people. We were there at the Mission three days a week, all day long. They saw us there and would sometimes ask us for help with things like getting them socks, and we’d do it,” she said. “It really helped us build a rapport with them.”

In the end, Gomez-Jones and Delozier completed about 60 surveys in the five weeks they were at the Mission. They found an overall willingness among the responders to get vaccinated and quarantine if they were infected. About half of the respondents were already vaccinated, and they were among the most passionate about the need for vaccines, especially given the vulnerability of the homeless population. Moreover, those who had not yet been vaccinated were mostly open to the idea of getting the vaccine but were still a bit unsure because they didn’t have enough information on its safety. The lack of information was not surprising, said Gomez-Jones, given that most reported that everything they know about COVID was gleaned from what they read on signs posted on the doors of businesses they walked by.

For Gomez-Jones, the experience was eye-opening and personally rewarding.

“I was most surprised by how welcoming the clients were and how happy I felt being there,” she said. “Before this, I hadn’t had a lot of interactions with homeless people, and there are lots of stereotypes about homelessness.”

Delozier’s experience was similar. Initially, she was apprehensive about the assignment, maybe even a little scared. In the end, she found it extremely rewarding.

“We got to know these people on a human level,” she said. “We came to understand their struggles. How they really try, fail, and try again, and how important it is to be encouraging. I think the experience made me a more empathetic nurse.”


As COVID-19 spread throughout the Yakima Valley, the Yakama Nation was particularly hard hit. By the end of December 2021, the tribe of 8,800 enrolled members had seen 2,487 known cases and 61 deaths from the virus.

In the last half of 2021, Fred Hutch approached Indian Health Services on the Yakama Nation to partner on a survey project that would look at COVID-19 patients, past and present, to get a feel for the effectiveness of services accessed. They wanted to identify areas that worked well, those that could be improved, and areas where resources should be directed. The idea was not so much on how to respond to COVID but rather to help build a crisis action plan for future events.

Swan-Tsoodle joined the project late in 2021. She is enrolled Yakama and has seen firsthand just how devastating the virus has been for families on the reservation. It was important to her to be part of something that brought solutions and healing to her community.

“Living on the reservation, I know that if you want to make a change, you have to involve your people. You have to hear from them and ask questions to fully understand the problem before you can find solutions,” she said. “I want to be someone who helps us all move forward and break negative cycles.”

The project involves collecting data from phone interviews with patients who were or are COVID positive. Patients are identified and recommended to the study by medical providers at Indian Health Services in Toppenish. Swan-Tsoodle contacts each individual, explains the program to them, and invites them to participate. While it focuses primarily on the tribal community, it is open to anyone living within the boundaries of the Yakama Nation reservation. Participants are asked about their experiences with COVID, in particular how their life and that of their family were impacted. Questions are not limited to healthcare but include conversations about topics ranging from economic and social impacts to food and job security.

“One of the things that’s been most eye-opening is how disruptive this virus is to the family and our entire society, in unexpected ways,” said Swan- Tsoodle. “We talk to people who were once fairly well off, then one person in their family got sick. It was the beginning of a downhill spiral. Suddenly people were not able to work. They have no income, no resources. Their lives were on a precarious teeter-totter, and the virus is what pushed them over the edge.”

The project is in its very early stages, explained Swan- Tsoodle, and the number of participants to date is nowhere near a statistically representative count to give researchers a clear picture. However, the work is ongoing and is expected to bring in more data over time. Unlike her peers who did similar work at the Mission, Swan-Tsoodle works part-time for the project outside of her nursing studies and will continue with the research as it progresses.


The kind of hands-on, real-life experiences that Swan-Tsoodle, Gomez-Jones and Delozier were part of is a key element in many of Heritage’s academic programs. Not only do they give students valuable work experience while completing their studies, but they can also introduce them to previously undiscovered career paths, such as the case with Gomez-Jones.

“Heritage University places a great emphasis on students and their education through place-based experiential learning experiences,” said Dr. Maxine Janis, Nursing professor and president’s liaison for Native American affairs. “The opportunity for career discovery while in college is central. Connecting learning to careers can form a strong foundation for our students in every degree field. It provides context to the subjects they are learning in the classroom, exposes them to the myriad of opportunities they can pursue after they earn their degrees, and helps them make professional connections that will serve them throughout their careers.”

This was certainly the case for Gomez-Jones.

“Going into this, I had been unsure about my career,” she said. “I had done some of my hospital rotations but didn’t
really see myself working in that environment. Between my experience at the Mission and the mental health rotation, I found something I can be passionate about. I can definitely see myself working in mental health or community health in some capacity after I graduate.”

Providing Indigenous Providers

Heritage’s new behavioral health program will connect trained indigenous professionals with the indigenous community, through holistic focus and traditional ways.

In August 2019, Heritage educators and Yakama tribal leaders met about a serious problem: the mental health crisis among indigenous people, in particular in the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin.

More importantly, they were about to discuss a solution – a model to be presented by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB).

The facts were known: Western medicine hasn’t been good at understanding indigenous people or providing real help. A better solution is needed.

Sue Steward, NPAIHB deputy director, was there to share details of what had been working in another state for years. With far more remote and underserved communities, Alaska had a program in place that provided quality health services to rural and culturally distinct populations through indigenous people specifically trained to provide those services.

For indigenous people who need help with mental, emotional and behavioral issues, finding the “access points,” or ways to identify mental health needs and receive services, is often difficult. Services may be unavailable or inaccessible, and treatment can be severely lacking.

Enter the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP) established in Alaska in the 1950s, an organically grown and implemented program that succeeded in getting health care access to remote communities. More recently, the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act of 2010 made it available in the lower 48 states. Now it was being presented as an option to the Northwest Tribes.

Building the program within a tribal university is a critical component in its efficacy, Steward explained. Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash., was considered creating a similar program centering on chemical dependency issues. It’s the people who reside within the communities who are best able to understand the support their own people need, she said.

The practical question was discussed next. Could Heritage develop a similar training program to create more providers who are themselves indigenous?

What has worked there can work here, Steward told the group. Seed funding was available to build the Heritage curriculum and support the program.


Maxine Janis, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and the President’s Liaison for Native American Affairs at Heritage, knew it was time to act.

“Delivering to our people has always been approached from a Western education model,” said Janis. “The attempt has always been to deliver it in that way, like, ‘The book said do X, Y and Z.’

“It’s always been through a non-native lens, and the four elements that really comprise well-being
– serving people’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs – are usually not integrated.

“We recognize the need to use a holistic approach to address this crisis, so professionals can go out into the community and help identify where people are out of balance and out of harmony. And it needs to be done in a manner that speaks to our traditions and our community.

“Alaska looked for the natural helpers in the community and trained them to be behavioral health associates. That’s the brilliance of the model.

“We knew this model needed to be our model.”


Two years after the first 2019 meeting, Heritage’s Behavioral Health Aide (BHA) certificate program has become a reality.

Its first cohort of nine students is being trained in a curriculum that uses the principles of the Medicine Wheel – serving mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs, along with wisdom- seeking processes of caring, relationality, tradition, ceremony, healing, humility, honor and trust.

Corey Hodge, chair of Heritage’s social work department, Dr. Danica Brown of NPAIHB, and Janis developed the curriculum based on BHA certification requirements. Both indigenous, Janis and Brown brought a Northwest Tribes perspective to the curriculum.

Partnering work with the NPAIHB continues.  Its staff is involved in recruitment and feedback, supporting students in their professional development, and meeting the needs of the tribal communities.

Brown teaches a BHA class. Dr. Iris PrettyPaint has joined the Heritage faculty as
a nursing instructor and BHA student advisor. Janis and PrettyPaint are co-teaching
the seminar course that integrates the indigenous wellness strategy with all the other BHA coursework.


A behavioral health aide has been described as one of those natural helpers found in every community. They may be best described as a counselor, health educator and advocate.

They address individual and community-based behavioral health needs, including those related to alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse, as well as mental health problems like grief, depression, suicide and related issues. They work under the supervision of licensed clinical social workers.

Their work includes significant detail: referrals, screening assessment, early intervention, crisis intervention, health education, case management, community prevention activities, and postvention following a suicide or a suicide attempt.

“The role can be ideal for both existing students and for people in the community who’d like to expand their knowledge in health care and provide quality behavioral health services in their tribal communities,” said Hodge.

Hodge credits Janis, with her “deep knowledge of the community,” for identifying a number of the “naturals” who are part of the Heritage program’s first cohort.

“In the Alaska model, it might have been the receptionist in a small clinic or that person on the PTA that everyone feels comfortable reaching  out to,” said Hodge. “Alaska identified those people, shared the program goals with them, and trained them.”

“They’re community members, ‘homegrown’ counselors, good listeners, advocates, caregivers, natural healers. These are the people who can be perfect in this role if they want to take the next step in their careers.

“As indigenous community members, they already understand a lot of the concepts of the healing focuses for indigenous people.”

She said the program can also be a pathway for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Heritage.

“The curriculum of the Behavioral Health Education Program falls in line with the philosophy of social work ideals in that the degree empowers students to help others thrive and to overcome challenges.”


Native people can help native people, said Jasmine YellowOwl, a student in Heritage’s first BHA cohort. As a 2019 Heritage graduate who majored in early childhood studies, YellowOwl currently works at Yakama Nation Tribal School.

She calls herself a “bridge” between students, their families and the school, helping them navigate issues they need help to manage. Her job taps into her natural skills and abilities, as does the work she’ll do as a BHA.

YellowOwl said she finds the “identity” piece of the BHA program extremely intriguing.

“I was always told to be proud to be native, but I saw the issues – homelessness, alcoholism – and I didn’t know what it felt like to be proud.

“The program incorporates a lot of what I try to do in my job now – find ways to see things differently. Some of our youth already come from strong families and traditional ways, and that’s very encouraging.”

YellowOwl said having Janis and PrettyPaint as her teachers is a “super big deal. “

“It’s like grandmothers teaching you in a kind and loving way, like ‘Let me help you see a little differently.’

“And now I will have more of an understanding of what I can do in terms of prevention and intervention skills, in conjunction with knowing even more about our traditional ways.”

YellowOwl plans to put her BHA training to use at YNTS and is considering pursuing a master’s degree in adolescent psychology.


Hodge and Janis expect more indigenous curriculum and content to become part of Heritage’s mainstream social work program.

They also see it as another way a Heritage education can keep people in the area.

“In our rural community, if we can train someone here, they’re much more likely to stay,” said Hodge. “That’s something that our social work program is really good at.

“You can look all over Yakima Valley and the Columbia Basin and see Heritage graduates working there. They’re steeped in the culture and committed to their communities.

“This is really workforce development.”

Janis said people whose work life and sense of purpose have been enhanced by the program will be role models for others.

“Two or three years from now, people from this cohort will be mentoring new students,” she said.

“For the future, maybe even the near future, we’d love to see this expand beyond the Yakima Valley, to find ways of allowing more people to serve their communities in this way.”