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Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

Gratitude and Fresh Inspiration

Erika Olson

by Kathy Coffey, LSC Executive Director

In the spirit of gratitude this season, we invited some of our graduates to take a few minutes to reflect on their LSC experience.

This was part of LSC’s recent Pay It Forward Campaign. The first facet of this campaign was Paying It Forward to create scholarships for those who need financial assistance to be a part of LSC. This second phase asked alumni to notice the impact of LSC in their own lives and think about who made it possible for each to be a part of this program.

Julio Cortes, Class of 2014, remembers feeling honored when he was chosen by Cocoon House to participate. “I definitely built confidence in connecting with people who were in work completely different from myself,” he said. “I allowed myself to get out of my comfort zone. I developed great connections that still exist to this day!” 

Melanie Keopraseurt, Class of 2015, was nominated by colleague Melody Schlaman, who was a member of the 2014 Signature program. Melody, who held several management positions in the Swedish PICU and EDs at several campuses, was well known and highly respected in the Swedish family. Sadly, she passed away in 2015.

Melanie said:

It made me feel like [Melody] saw something in me that I wasn’t sure was there yet. I wish she were still alive to see how far I have come and so I could continue working along side of her. I am able to see things through a bigger picture and have a deeper connection to our community.

Stephanie Arnoldin, Class of 2009, said LSC not only helped her connect to her new community – meeting people she is still friends with today – but also gave her an entirely new outlook.

When I heard about the program, I was new to the area.  I was thrilled to be selected, but I often felt like I was inadequate compared to all of my fellow classmates.  I really did not feel like I had much to offer.  I was wrong. 

LSC was my introduction to an entirely new world.  LSC helped me discover things about myself that I could share with others.  It helped me understand how I could make a difference.

We all were giving our time and what we received in return was magical.  So often we find it easy to say we are just too busy. When we actually commit our time we are committing a part of us.  You start to see what the community is made of at a profound level.  You start to understand the impact every issue has on the people of the community.  It becomes real. Their stories touch your soul.  The issues become part of the thread that transforms [us] into a community.  We move from strangers to family.  We are forever connected.  

I started to look at life through a different lens.  Being part of LSC has really helped me grow into the person I am today.  It is hard to believe it has been almost a decade since I went through the program.  How time flies!

We all need to take active roles in making our community great, staying actively involved in the issues that adversely impact the people of our community.  We cannot just sit back and wait for someone else; we must be part of the solution.  

Darlene Weber, Class of 2015, is especially proud of her employer’s long-standing involvement with LSC.

Being nominated was very exciting. I had heard a lot of good things about the program from other Sno-Isle Libraries staff and was eager to go through the program. Sno-Isle Libraries’ participation in Leadership Snohomish County demonstrates the organization’s commitment to staff development and building connections in the community.

I now have an increased awareness and understanding about how Sno-Isle Libraries’ strategic priority to build civic engagement directly connects to what other organizations are doing in our communities.

Learning more about the issues in our communities – and the individuals and organizations addressing those issues – has helped me build connections both professionally and personally. 

Chris Eck, who will graduate from LSC in the spring, already knows this experience is making a difference. 

I’m just starting the program, but already feel the exposure to the presenters, the material, and my fellow participants are helping my professional and personal growth. Being nominated made me feel so fortunate and valued. [LSC] is helping me view and learn more about the wider community, and to see how I can contribute more broadly.

James Johnson, Class of 2016, said LSC helped make gratitude more of a focus.

I think of gratitude a lot more than ever, even though I always thanked people. Being sincere and authentic – whether our own thirst for it or appreciation of others – this is something that no longer takes a back seat.

I learned the impact [of gratitude] and an appreciation for what people engaged in a program like this can accomplish – for themselves and the community.

Vicci Hilty, who is now Executive Director, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, graduated from LSC in 2004.  She was also recognized this year as an LSC Distinguished Alumna.

Being nominated was a little frightening, but exciting. I knew it would be educational and fun. Guess what, I was right!

I gained knowledge, people to reach out to, a true sense of community, teamwork, and gratitude.

It helped me prepare for my job as Executive Director years later at DVS. It opened my eyes to the many blessings and issues in a community and helped me to see firsthand that we can make change.  

Vicci was nominated for LSC by now-judge Laura Van Slyck. Vicci said, “I will never forget her recommendation and belief in me.”

LSC inspires each class member on an individual level. We also observe recurring themes: for instance, new insight, expanded connection, and fresh inspiration. Individual leaders decide where to go from there. It’s dynamic and sometimes surprising.

Maybe these stories will help inspire you!

And, if you’re moved to Pay It Forward this season, please click here to give. With your support, talented professionals will continue to embark on this journey, forging connections to create and lead our community into the future.



Insights, Perspective, and Resolve

Erika Olson

Breakout session with YWCA's Housing Services Team. William Wright photo.

Breakout session with YWCA's Housing Services Team. William Wright photo.

By Kathy Coffey, LSC Executive Director

As we gathered on April 28th in Lynnwood for our first-ever event in the Step Up series: Understanding and Implementing Racial Equity, we examined our own leadership through the lens of equity. As we were listening, conversing, reacting, and interacting, the keynotes and breakout sessions led many of us to new insights, new perspective, and new resolve.

From our survey:

I had an aha moment when listening to Dr. Hollins. She [said that] "talking about racism isn't going to divide us. We're already divided."
Not thinking or acting in discriminatory ways is not enough.  I need to be proactive, engaged, and a change agent.
So many aha's.  My favorite: Be willing to sit in the tension and get curious!


As I've said before – the expectations for leaders are many and complex. As we collaborate and engage, sometimes we can feel like we've been pigeonholed – oh, she's good at that; he will be able to handle this; she knows those people. Sometimes it's a matter of familiarity; we've been in this company before. Sometimes it's a matter of expediency; we need to move quickly. Sometimes it's a matter of perceived authority; this person will get attention.

We ALL judge.  It is our nature.  The key is to know that we are judging and to do something about it.
I learned a lot.  My favorite quote from the day was "Equity feels like discrimination to those that have had privilege."
Honest dialogue and getting a little uncomfortable with one another is necessary to move this work forward.


If you weren't able to join us, you can still view video of our two keynotes, plus one breakout session, using our virtual toolkit. Resources are available here from our speakers and from our friends at Sno-Isle Libraries. Special thanks to them and to all of our partners and sponsors, especially Premera Blue Cross and Everett Community College, whose support really made this first, free community event possible.

LSC’s goal for the day was to provide a non-partisan venue to increase awareness and begin or continue the dialogue about racial equity in our community. The two-hour breakout sessions were a deliberate choice to allow attendees to walk away with tools to make a difference in their spheres of influence. Here are a few of the ways attendees plan to carry this work forward:

I walked away today feeling hopeful…many people in our community are committed to racial justice and workshops like today are extremely recharging.
I am inspired to start a Racial Equity Committee in my workplace. We could have informational book clubs, workshops, email newsletters, and employee surveys.
I will speak up when I hear microaggressions.
Work to be present and aware of how my background and perspective affects my ability to listen, perceive, and/or judge.
I commit to continuing to learn and be open.
I will respond now to "color blind" comments.
Speak up, unapologetically, more often. Lean in to discomfort when it comes to talking about diversity, inclusion, and equity.

As we consider what we learned at Step Up, we're also preparing for graduation on May 25th. This group of community leaders is ready. We need these leaders to navigate and charge forward – as individuals and as a community – connected to the greater good. We need each one of you.

In our closing sessions, we reflect back on the program year. Sometimes, this process is frustrating. Expectations don't always translate into takeaways. The experience can be surprising. We learn things we didn't think we needed to learn and discover things we didn't realize we were missing. We have exciting moments of synergy and smaller, meaningful personal victories. And at the end of this process, if we are open to introspection, we realize it's really a new beginning.

What do you need to learn? How can you discover what you’re missing?

Then, what will you do?

You Want To Make A Difference?

Erika Olson

By Kathy Coffey, LSC Executive Director


More than five million women marched across the world in solidarity on January 21st. From all the signs I read, there were nearly as many reasons for taking part as there were people.

Regardless of your gender, political affiliation, race, cultural background, or socio-economic status, chances are that YOU want to make a difference. You want your kids to grow up in a world that is safe and accepting. You want access to education. You want to be able to speak freely, find reliable news sources, and practice the religion or spiritual practice of your choice.

In Snohomish County, of course, we want all of these things – and within that landscape, we want to grow community leadership. We want to foster strong, diverse, informed leaders who can take on the issues effectively. So last year, we asked the community this question:

Are the barriers to leadership in Snohomish County different for women and men?

LSC collected data from more than 300 individuals – black, white, native, Latina, male, female, straight, gay – through a survey and focus groups. The information yielded mirrored that of our state and county.

Without intentional practices and strategies in place, many organizations unconsciously fail to support up and coming talent, simply because those professionals are female. When decision makers look to promote, proximity and familiarity can play a role.

When asked what the most helpful thing would be to develop as a leader, 57% stated that good coaching, mentoring, support (including peer support); and having an advocate were the keys to overcoming barriers.

So, relationships are key.

Relationships were also the top consideration of both the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition report and the Statewide Capacity Plan’s Leadership report.

At LSC, I have found an outlet in the work of empowering individuals to find their voices. Learning about where they live. Working in an act of Civic Leadership. Serving those of different means with community impact projects. [Our classes this year have partnered with 25 non-profits, government agencies, and businesses!]

What will you do next? I have a few ideas to share.

Here are three actions you can take to engage locally and make a difference.


Since relationships matter so much: don’t just share on Facebook. Share your time, your passion, your expertise, in real life. Mentor someone. Mentor a peer. Mentor a student. A favorite quote from Mother Teresa reminds us how fundamental this is. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other’” she said.


Take time to become informed. Allow knowledge to empower your voice. Wherever your passion and interests lie – be it immigrants rights, equal pay, peace and security, reducing violence against women  – do your research. What organizations or networks are active in these spheres? Learn about related legislative issues on a state and national level. Know who your representatives are and contact them. Use your voice and time by volunteering, sharing what you’ve learned, or fundraising.


Here’s one that Leadership Snohomish County is bringing to Snohomish County on April 28th.

STEP UP: Understanding and Implementing Racial Equity
Save the Date for an all-day community event convened to build understanding and context and create tools to use in your life and work to foster an equitable environ. It starts with you.

Stay Engaged. Reach Out. Build Community.

What Defines A Community?

Erika Olson

Psst… Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its signature and young adult program for 2016-2017. Know a great leader? Nominate that person today for this amazing program!

By Sara Haner, Signature Class Member

Leaders wear so many hats. Visionary. Therapist. Cleaner-upper of messes. Community builder. (Sometimes, all of these hats are worn before 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. Yikes.) This month, I’d like to take off the hats and take a closer look.

Before we can talk about building a community, we need to know exactly what defines a community. It’s not always what you’d think. The Positive Leadership curriculum explains that a community is a group of people who are connected through certain attributes that work together over time to meet common needs and solve common problems. Attributes can be defined by living in close physical proximity, common interests, or working towards a common cause, among other things. But, as we discussed in class, having a group that is defined by some of these attributes isn’t enough to make a community.

Think of a group you’re affiliated with that might meet this criteria. Maybe it’s an extended family, a workplace, a volunteer opportunity, or a social circle? It’s possible this group is a community, but it’s also quite possible that this is merely a place of association.

Places of association aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re a leader looking to make a big impact and real change, you should be striving towards community building instead.


Building a Community

Communities can’t just happen overnight. To build a community, a leader needs to focus on three key stages: galvanize, organize, and mobilize.

Galvanize This stage is all about rounding up your squad. It’s identifying and bringing together individuals and calling them to something greater. Of course, this something greater must speak to each of them as a whole, so the galvanization stage must include shared values and a common purpose.

Organize After you’ve identified your crew and agreed on your purpose, the leader must provide the tools for the community to move forward cohesively to accomplish its purpose. In this stage, rules and norms should be established, giving your community members clarity and a sharper focus on why they became a community in the first place. In my personal experience, I’ve seen leaders skip over this stage, or get stuck in it without moving forward. Organization is so important to a community, but is also a fine line. Too little organization creates confusion. (Been there). Too much organization feels stifling and confining. (Been there). The right amount of organization equips your community with the tools it needs to remain focused on its mission, and move together as one unit. (Luckily, been there, too!).

Mobilize To me, this is the fun part! In this stage, you’ve assembled and identified your community, you’ve equipped community members with the tools they need to succeed, and now, you point them in the right direction and cut them lose! In this stage, your community gets to act on its purpose, and it feels so fulfilling! This is such an important stage, because in the words of the Positive Leadership Curriculum, communities need to move, or they will stagnate.

In some communities, each of these stages can happen organically, but an effective community builder understands the importance of building a community deliberately, and making sure each stage is complete before moving on to the next.

As I’ve been working through the concept of community building, I’m reflecting quite a bit on one of my favorite communities right now – my Leadership Snohomish County cohort. In this community, members are encouraged to be themselves (authenticity). When times are tough, people pitch in to help each other (resiliency). People feel developed because the organization wants them to grow (advocacy). These and other qualities make this a positive, healthy community. If you’re interested in being part of a community like this, it’s the perfect time to join us! Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its 2016-2017 classes!