Overcoming trauma, women reach new heights

Compiled by Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly


Trauma can be a difficult thing to overcome. It can set back a person’s life, but when one can find strength in trauma, it can push them to new heights.

On May 10 at the New Hong Kong Restaurant, the Women of Courage Luncheon will bring together 13 women and one organization that have overcome great difficulties. Many of the honorees are currently working to help others overcome their traumas as well. The event will be hosted by Mary Knell, the CEO of the Washington and Western Canada Division of Wells Fargo.

The honorees, in random order:

Col. Mary Devlin

Col. Mary Devlin joined the Marine Corp in 1976. At Basic School, she was a member of the infamous Charlie Company ‘77, a pilot program that fully integrated women into basic training for rifle platoon commanders.

In 1990, Mary relocated to Germany becoming crisis action planner and assistant chief of staff for Marine Forces Europe during Operation Desert Storm.

During Operation Enduring Freedom, Devlin was the deputy director of the Joint Interagency Coordination Group. She retired with the Legion of Merit Award in 2007.

During her retirement in Belgium she founded Cameos of Heroes, a program that records oral histories of World War II survivors. Devlin returned to the States in 2010 and is currently chair of the Civil Service Commission for the City of Bellevue.

Pamela Banks

Following her retirement from a thirty-year career in Seattle city government, Pamela Banks was appointed as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle in April 2012. Pamela is the second woman to serve as the organization’s leader since it was founded in 1930.

Pamela began her public service career in 1982 as a community organizer with the City of Seattle’s Department of Housing and Human Services and within six years was managing the forty-person, five-million-dollar program. At retirement she was a program manager with the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods.

She was also a board member and president of the Seattle International Baseball League; president of the Garfield High School PTSA; founding board member of the Garfield High School Foundation; board secretary of the Seattle/King County NAACP; and chair of the youth, education, scholarship, and services committee of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Pamela seeks to increase the Urban League’s focus on health, education, employment, and housing and adapt to the increasing diversity in Seattle and surrounding areas.

Jerilyn Brusseau

Jerilyn Brusseau is a restaurateur, businesswoman, humanitarian, and cultural diplomat. In 1995, she cofounded PeaceTrees Vietnam, a project to foster cross-cultural friendship and healing with the country of Vietnam.

Her brother Daniel Cheney, a young helicopter pilot, was killed in the Vietnam War in 1969, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for Bravery. The loss of her brother inspired the creation of PeaceTrees Vietnam.

Jerilyn has been featured in People Magazine and in an Emmy-Award-winning documentary film, “Vietnam Revealed.”

Jerilyn is also a founding member of the Seattle Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a member of Seattle Four Rotary Club, and recipient of the first “Broadway Edison Culinary Award” for global and community service, offered by Seattle Central Community College. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Women’s Center of the University of Washington.

Bookda Gheisar

Bookda Gheisar is executive director of Global Washington, a broad-based membership association that promotes and supports the global development sector in the state of Washington. A resident of Seattle since 1986, she has 22 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector.

Before coming to Global Washington, Gheisar was Executive Director of the Social Justice Fund from 2000 to 2008, where she was dedicated to addressing the root causes of social, economic, and environmental inequities through strategic grant-making efforts to community-based organizations.

In 2007 Bookda received the Bill Grace Leadership Legacy Award from The Center for Ethical Leadership. In 2006, she was recognized by the YWCA and ACT Theater of Seattle in the list of “Seattle Women to Celebrate,” as well as being recognized by the Seattle Weekly as best grassroots philanthropist.

Stella Leong

Stella recently retired as lead software development engineer with CenturyLink Communications after nearly 25 years of work with this company. Prior to CenturyLink she worked ten years for the Seattle School District as a middle and high school teacher in the bilingual program as well as in the district’s information services area.

Stella has been on the Board of the Washington State Chinese Cancer Network Association since the organization’s inception in 2003. Its mission is to provide support and assistance for cancer patients, survivors, and their families in the Chinese Community. She has been board president for the past five years and currently serves as treasurer. She is also served on the board of Kin On healthcare.

Anne Levinson

One of Washington State’s first openly LGBTQ public officials, Levinson has had a long career in public service. As a judge, she founded and presided over one of the nation’s first mental health courts.

Anne has also served on the board of directors for dozens of charitable organizations, including the founding boards of the Seattle Girls’ School, the Privacy Fund, Hands Off Washington, and the Center for Children & Youth Justice.

In 2006, she chaired the statewide coalition that successfully kept an attempted repeal of the state’s anti-discrimination law off the ballot. In 2009 she made it possible for lesbian and gay families to be legally recognized by leading the statewide coalition that defeated the attempted repeal of the state’s domestic partnership law.  In 2012 she was a strategic advisor for the Referendum 74 marriage equality campaign. Anne currently serves as an independent advisor to the City of Seattle.

Blanca Santander

A native of Lima, Peru and a resident of Seattle since 1996, Blanca Santander is an artist, illustrator, and photographer. As a freelance artist, she illustrated children’s textbooks as well as books and pamphlets for distribution in impoverished areas of Peru for international non-governmental organizations, including UNICEF.

Since her arrival in the United States, Santander has become an active member of the local arts scene. Barnes & Noble’s Booksellers selected Santander as their featured artist for National Hispanic Heritage Month in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  In 2009, she won first prize in the National Hispanic Leadership Institute art contest and for the past several years has been the Nordstrom Latina Summit feature artist.

Presently she is featured in a multicultural exhibit at the Sacred Circle Gallery at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of United Indians of All Tribes.

Tammy Pitre

Tammy Pitre has over 22 years of experience in human resources with a major focus on diversity and recruitment. She currently works for the office of the Washington State Human Resources Director within the Office of Financial Management as a senior recruitment, planning, and strategy advisor.

Prior to this position, Pitre led the outreach and diversity team for the Washington State Department of Personnel and also worked with the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce as the King County business liaison for the public/private partnership between the chamber and the Washington State Employment Security Department.

She is also chair of the Puget Sound Diversity Taskforce and serves on the boards of the Washington State Business Leadership Network and the Staffing Management Association.

Pitre holds a strong passion for the Pacific Northwest’s vast diverse populations and has gained a reputation for consistently reaching out to diverse job seekers to aid in their career success.

Carol Simmons

Carol Simmons is a retired educator and a lifelong Seattle resident. She was a teacher, counselor, administrator, and university instructor from 1959 to 1994. Upon her retirement, she attended law school at the University of Puget Sound.

Simmons is committed to multi-ethnic education, desegregation, integration, appreciation of diversity, and the elimination of disproportionately in academic achievement and discipline sanctions between white students and certain groups of students of colors. She continues to volunteer her time on various school district committees and testifies at school board meetings on the issue of equity for all students. She has marched, protested, boycotted and applauded various educational equity issues.

Simmons has received numerous awards and has also been featured on national television and in national print, has published numerous articles, and has been featured on the front pages of Seattle newspapers in the last several years for her educational activist work.

Winona Hollins-Hague

Seattle native Winona Hollins-Hague has been an active leader and advocate in the health community for over three decades.

Hollins-Hague is the immediate past chair of the UW School of Social Work’s Practicum/Field Work Advisory Committee and serves on the advisory board of the UW Health Promotion Research Center. She has worked in several major hospitals and clinics including the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and was senior clinician and outreach manager for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Hollins-Hague currently serves on the Commission on African American Affairs where she represents the commission on the governor’s Health Equity Council. She is nationally known for her work as a past member of the Consumer Advisory Board of the National Marrow Donor Transplant Program.

Winona’s passion is spending time with her family and working as a Community Broadcasting Host for a gospel and blues music show on KBCS-FM.

Martha Yallup

Martha Yallup is a member of the Yakima Nation and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Central Washington College, a Master’s from Fort Wright College, and a Doctorate in education leadership from Seattle University.

Wanting to increase the number of people from the Yakima Nation and community earning academic degrees, she and her colleague, fellow Yakima tribal member Violet Rau, decided to start a local college. Along with the help of Kathleen Ross, Heritage University was founded.

During her career, Martha also served on the boards of Haskell College in Kansas, the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, and was an advisory board member of the UW Center of Excellence in the University of Washington Medical School.

Martha worked thirty-two years for the Yakima Nations in the areas of health, social services and education. Now retired, she currently mentors Native American graduate students.

Valerie Segrest

Valerie Segrest is a nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods. As a Native American woman, she has developed a new perspective in addressing issues of health and social justice for indigenous peoples. Her goal is to restore health and well being to her tribe and other Native communities by combining traditional Native food and plant knowledge with modern scientific findings.

As an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, she serves her community as the project coordinator for the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project and also works for the Northwest Indian College’s Traditional Plants Program as a nutrition educator. In 2010 she co-authored the book Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit: Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture.

Valerie is currently a fellow for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy. She hopes to inspire others about the importance of a nutrient-dense diet through a simple, common sense approach to eating.

Yasmin Christopher

Yasmin Christopher is a second year law student at Seattle University. She is the president of the Middle Eastern/South Asian Law Student Association; is currently a Global Justice Fellow; and, has just accepted a position with the Polaris Project in Washington DC as a policy fellow this summer.

Christopher has also lectured and advocated around the state and country regarding her family’s immigration experiences as survivors of human trafficking. She was featured in a Feb. 16 Seattle Times article when she spoke about her choice to address her family’s painful history.

Christopher is passionate about relaying her experiences to address the reality of existing disparities and privileges in order to get others to look deeper at the current incentives for human exploitation.

She is set to graduate in May 2014 with her juris doctorate degree.

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became the Susan G. Komen Foundation and launched the global breast cancer movement. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure, the organization has invested nearly $2 billion to fulfill their promise, working to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world through research, community health outreach, advocacy, and programs in more than 50 countries.  (end)

Tickets for the Women of Courage Luncheon are currently on sale for $30 until May 13 with discounts available for students. For more information about the Women of Courage luncheon or to buy tickets, visit www.womenofcolorempowered.com.

Northwest Asian Weekly Staff can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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  1. […] Overcoming trauma, women reach new heightsNorthwest Asian WeeklyPamela began her public service career in 1982 as a community organizer with the City of Seattle's Department of Housing and Human Services and within six years was managing the forty-person, five-million-dollar program. At retirement she was a program … […]

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