2023 Real Community Heroes Awards & Celebration
Our 2023 Real Community Heroes Awards & Celebration event was held on Friday, May 6th in Tumwater. During the reception portion of the event, guests enjoyed one of our signature cocktails, with charcuterie cups from Evergreen Grazing Co. and dessert from Bittersweet Chocolates.
Awards & Celebration is an annual event hosted by Homes First where we acknowledge and honor the exceptional individuals in Thurston County making strides towards addressing the housing crisis and working to support equality in our community. Every year, Homes First hosts a public celebration in the spring to honor these remarkable heroes who dedicate their time and energy to this cause. Each year’s heroes are chosen by the previous year’s winners. This grassroots approach focuses on individuals who are working on the ground in our community, creating an uplifting and illuminating cycle of these everyday heroes.
This year we were honored to celebrate the following amazing women as our 2023 Real Community Heroes. This was the second year in a row that all three awardees were women! Please take the time to read more about each of our Real Community Heroes below, as presented by our 2022 Real Community Heroes who nominated them.
Tye Gundel, Capital Recovery Center & Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OlyMAP)
Tye was recognized by Whitney Bowerman, 2022 Real Community Hero, for her relentless dedication to community healing, Tye is a beacon of hope for the houseless community. In her roles as Co-Director of Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OlyMAP) and Outreach Coordinator at Capital Recovery Center, she works tirelessly to promote affordable and healthier communities. Her advocacy extends beyond these positions, with a lengthy history of supporting the houseless through various grassroots efforts.
In her early activism, Tye was instrumental in shaping Just Housing Olympia, relentlessly advocating for economic justice for women and the houseless population of Thurston County. Her leadership fostered partnerships with influential women and local businesses, aiming to create safe, sustainable living options for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Her grassroots work to provide supportive services for people living in encampments to be able to shelter in place is one example of her exceptional service that earned her the YWCA Women of Achievement award in 2019.
However, Tye's approach extends beyond typical advocacy, embodying a true community-centered approach. As Robert Bruce, Operations Director at OlyMAP, says, "She's always been very principled about our work being true community work..." Tye believes in the power of compassion and connection, urging us to unite and integrate humanity into our response to homelessness. This involves more than just resources; it calls for genuine conversations and a shared human experience.
In recognition of her unwavering efforts towards building a more equitable and sustainable community for all, we extend our heartfelt thanks to Tye. Her commitment to community growth goes beyond policy, serving as a testament to the transformative power of empathy and solidarity.
Christina Janis, Epic Realty Inc.
Christina, the 2022-2023 State Director of the Washington Realtors Association, is a dynamic force committed to creating positive change in her community. She was nominated by Shy-Anne Haney, 2022 Real Community Hero, for her relentless advocacy, unparalleled knowledge, and selfless service.
In her professional roles, including her current position as a Real Estate Broker/Agent at Epic Realty Inc. and former directorship of the Thurston County Realtors Association, Christina has proven her deep commitment to her community. As Chris Lester, a 2017 Real Community Hero, notes, Christina is "relentless and all-in when it comes to fighting for what she believes is right." Her advocacy extends to all levels of government and she has been a key leader in several local realtor associations as well.
However, Christina's contributions stretch far beyond her professional endeavors. She lends her time and expertise to several community organizations, including the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, South Sound Habitat for Humanity, and Homes First. Her generosity, selflessness, and dedication reflect her sincere commitment to building a stronger Thurston County.
Christina embodies the spirit of a true community hero, embracing a philosophy of service above self. As Co-Chair of the Office of Management & Budget Government Affairs Committee, her expertise and passionate advocacy on topics ranging from local permitting processes to comprehensive plans guiding future growth are invaluable.
Christina's wealth of real estate experience is matched only by her belief in the potential of her community, striving to create a place where everyone can not only find housing, but a true home where they can thrive. Her expertise, leadership, and dedication make her an invaluable asset to our community and a true embodiment of what it means to be a Real Community Hero.
Olivia Hickerson, Sidewalk
Olivia, the Executive Director at Sidewalk, a local non-profit committed to housing assistance and case management services, was nominated as a 2023 Real Community Hero by Ti'eri Lino. With her boundless creativity and passion, Olivia is transforming the landscape of homeless services, working tirelessly to provide housing assistance to the most vulnerable members of our community.
Alanna Barros-Dotson, the Operations Director for Sidewalk, affirms that Olivia "has jumped right in with both feet and is ready to tackle the real challenges that we face every day.” Her tenacity and innovative spirit have been instrumental in addressing these challenges.
Driven by the conviction that housing is a fundamental right, Olivia brings deep compassion to her work with those experienceing homeless. This passion was sparked by a lifelong desire to help others, a calling that became clear to her after studying government and social science and working in the criminal justice system.
Before her arrival in Olympia, Olivia left a lasting impact on Mount Vernon's Skagit Friendship House. As their winter shelter manager, she revamped program operations and fostered community relationships. When the opportunity arose to establish a 24/7, year-round shelter, Olivia handled the hiring and training with characteristic dedication.
Olivia's enduring positivity and service-minded approach have guided her through a variety of roles across multiple countries. We are profoundly grateful for her contributions to Thurston County, as she tirelessly works to create a healthier, more compassionate, and resilient community.