2023 Real Community Heroes Awards & Celebration
Our 2023 Real Community Heroes Awards & Celebration event was on May 6th, at Heritage Distilling Co. 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.
Homes First CEO Trudy Soucoup started the program with a land acknowledgement to the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Squaxin Island Tribe and Nisqually Indian Tribe. Then a welcome to all of this year's awardees, previous award winners in attendance, board members, staff, local elected officials (present and past) and all the community members who have supported Homes First and joined us for our celebration. She announced new projects coming up at our Henderson, and O'Farrell, ADUs, FIVE new houses, She then recognized Ron Stewart for 20 years of service as part of the Homes First team!
Following Trudy, Chair of the Resource Development Committee Shannon Glenn, spoke to why she joined the board in 2020, recognized her fellow committee members and thanked the Homes First staff and volunteers, and reminded everyone to join us September 13th, for our annual Heroes for Housing Breakfast.
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)
I selected Tye to receive this award in recognition for all she does to promote a more affordable and healthy community through her work and her volunteer activities. Tye is the Co-Director at Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OlyMAP) and Outreach Coordinator at Capital Recovery Center and Graduate of The Evergreen State College.
Tye (she/her) has been involved in activism and advocacy around the Houseless Community for many years. Currently, Tye uses her experience, connections and knowledge to strengthen the programs at OlyMAP and keep them on a path of growth and accessibility, thank you Tye, for getting us started and for keeping us going.
In 2019, Tye was selected to receive the YWCA Women of Achievement award. At that time, Tye was the driving force behind Just Housing Olympia. She was supporting economic justice for women and houseless citizens of Thurston County by working for safe, legal, and sustainable places to live for all. She led that grassroots organization for no pay and coordinated support services for persons living in encampments to be able to shelter in place.
Tye has been a leader in social justice and economic opportunity for women and has joined with other women in City Councils, local faith community leadership and businesses to advocate for and create safe, legal and sustainable living options for people experiencing homelessness and housing instability.
Robert Bruce, the Operations Director at OlyMAP, shared the following with us:
I learned of Tye when she was leading Just Housing, OlyMAP’s predecessor organization. At that time, Tye was already a household name in the houseless community for her fierce
advocacy, but it was her philosophy of change that inspired me to stay and find my purpose doing this work.
She’s always been very principled about our work being true *community* work, not just asking for people’s money and time but for their willingness to be in community with those who are unhoused and to have courageous conversations. Case managers, shelter beds, affordable housing etc. could be described as the body of the homeless crisis response system and are essential things to grow and maintain. But there’s also a soul to the homeless crisis response system; a perspective that applies the values and best practices of homelessness response to the whole community, seeking mutual understanding, approaching disagreement with curiosity, meeting people where they’re at, acknowledging the effects of trauma, respecting people’s agency, and honoring a diversity of experiences.
Tye has always maintained that these two aspects of the homelessness crisis response system are interdependent. Without the body, the values of the soul would just be a theoretical exercise. Without the soul, the body’s services and resources would be simply administration, lacking true care, dignity and solidarity.
As a community and country, we have a confused soul regarding the unhoused, who are looked at simultaneously with pity and suspicion. As a result, we repeat a cycle of illusion and disillusionment, experiencing temporary surges of conscience as well as destabilizing bouts of cynicism. Being in community together regularly with those who are unhoused breaks down social barriers and builds mutual understanding and solidarity, turning temporary surges of conscience into an enduring resolve for justice.
Of course, Tye has so much more going for her than a killer philosophy about how we should go about all this houselessness stuff. She’s eloquent, a great strategic thinker and leader, a truly curious listener, and has a tremendous work ethic. Her many and diverse connections in the community demonstrate that she puts her beliefs about community into practice in an effective way. I feel proud to follow her at OlyMAP and lucky to have benefited from her mentorship over the past few years.
WOW! What an amazing testimonial for Tye and their work in the community to support those who have the hardest time finding and retaining a home they can afford.
I am personally proud to know that Tye is out there in our community working to make it a better place for people of all incomes to live.
Congratulations Tye as our newest Real Community Hero!
-Whitney Bowerman, 2022 Real Community Hero
Christina Janis, Epic Realty Inc.
For those of you who don’t already know, Christina is 2022-2023 State Director of the Washington Realtors Association and former director of the Thurston County Realtors Association. 2023 is her 10th year as a Real Estate Broker/Agent. She currently works at Epic Realty Inc.
Angela White, the Executive Director of the Olympia Master Builders, shared with us that in her role as the Co-Chair of OMB Government Affairs Committee, Christina’s work and input on matters such as local permitting processes, energy code changes, and amendments to comprehensive plans that guide the future of growth in every local jurisdiction remains invaluable. Christina has a wealth of knowledge and passion about how our community has and can continue to be a place where everyone can find not just housing but a home where they thrive.
I personally know that Christina does so much for this community through Realtors, Junior League, 100 Women Who Care, Homes First and so many other endeavors.
She always steps up to help anyone and believes in service above self. She truly exemplifies a true community hero!
Chris Lester from Thurston County Title, and a Real Community Hero from 2017 tells us that Christina is a housing champion and champion for our entire community!
She is relentless and all-in when it comes to fighting for what she believes is right. She is not afraid to advocate at the state, county, and local levels of the government, and has been a leader in government affairs issues for both of the Realtor Associations in which she is a member.
Pete Sutch from WIN Home Inspections tells us that Christina is a kind, selfless, and thoughtful person who cares about her community. She consistently gives of her time and resources in order to better our world. She volunteers for the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, Salvation Army Bell Ringing, Olympia Master Builders Board, South Sound Military Community Partners, the Thurston County Chambers of Commerce, All Kids Win, Relay for Life Cancer Association, MLSA Thurston County, Rebuilding Together, South Sound Habitat for Humanity, and of course, Homes First AND somehow still finds time to be a successful Realtor!
Even with all that, Christina finds time to travel, hike and kayak with her husband of 35 years! Together, they have three 3 beautiful grown daughters, 2 spoiled Great Danes and 4 grand “furbabies”.
I think you will now all agree with me, Angela, Chris, and Pete, that Christina Janis is a Real Community Hero!
Shy-Anne Haney, 2022 Real Community Hero
Olivia Hickerson, Sidewalk
Olivia is the new-ish Executive Director at Sidewalk. For those of you not familiar with Sidewalk , it is a local nonprofit that works with individuals who are unhoused to help them find housing and provides move-in costs or provide transportation tickets to move near family in order to be permanently housed.
Olivia has experience serving abroad and a degree in government and social science. She shared with us that she’s always had this will to help, or be in a profession that helps. She also has an associate degree in criminal justice and corrections. She started working in re-entry in the criminal justice system and then discovered a passion for solving homelessness.
During college, Hickerson spent time in the Dominican Republic working with the Mariposa Foundation, which strives to send girls affected by generational poverty to college, who otherwise wouldn’t feel that it was an opportunity. After college, she went to Vietnam and taught English.
Olivia came to Olympia after working in Mount Vernon, at Skagit Friendship House. As their winter shelter manager, she restructured program operations and built community relationships. When local entities combined funding into a single, year-round, 24-hour, 7-day per week shelter, she did the hiring and training. When her mentor left the job, she took over in the interim, doing more administrative duties. She liked both aspects of the work, being on the ground for three years as point person for intake and being in a leadership role.
Alanna Barros-Dotson, the Sidewalk Operations Director shared the following about Olivia:
Olivia has shown immense compassion and brought an innovative spirit to her work here in homeless services.
Her creativity and passion are going to be a real asset to the community as a whole and especially to the homeless service system.
She has jumped right in with both feet and is ready to tackle the real challenges that we face every day as we work to house our most vulnerable neighbors.
Isaac Delys, another colleague of Olivia's shared that he is really impressed with how seamlessly Olivia integrated into our local homeless services community as soon as she arrived. Her dedication to the mission of ending homelessness is infectious.
“I believe housing is a basic right,” Olivia tells us. “Everyone should have a place to lay their head that is functional and that is habitable to live in. It’s very sad to me that we can see people sleeping outside and think that it’s normal and that somehow, based on some decision in their life, they deserve to sleep outside. It’s very heartbreaking.”
Olivia, we agree with you and I know that this award is so well deserved!! We are so lucky to have you at Sidewalk and so lucky to have you doing the work you do to make this community a more healthy, compassionate and resilient place..
Olivia you are a real unsung hero.
-Ti'eri Lino, 2022 Real Community Hero