Meet the 2013 Washington State Jefferson Award Winners!
In 2010, a local school board in Richland Washington decided to restrict access to extracurricular activities to students due to a Gay-Straight-Alliance club request. Students were no longer allowed to meet after school together in clubs. Jared Costanzo, then student representative on the Washington State Board of Education, decided to form a student coalition called the Student Voice Project in order to fight for student rights. Facing adversity, Jared along with several other students, met with two local superintendents in order to resolve this major issue. One week later, the school board voted to reverse their policy, reinstating student rights.
After this major success, Jared and the Student Voice Project expanded the organization statewide in order to achieve the goal of spreading student voice and representation. Three years later, Jared has established the Student Voice Project headquarters, located in Washington D.C. and has expanded the project to the national level with a student coalition network with more than 20 states represented.
Although she grew up feeling incredibly different than other children around her, Karen was an energetic young girl who envisioned changing the world. She was labeled as a genius, a tomboy and an imaginative spirit, yet inside she felt confused and socially awkward. Of course, Karen didn’t realize back then that she was on the autism spectrum. It wasn’t until her 40’s that Karen was diagnosed after her two sons (2 and 8 at the time) had received their own diagnoses of autism. However, once she was diagnosed, life made a whole lot more sense.Karen co-founded Autism Empowerment, a 501(c)3 non-profit based out of Vancouver, WA in June 2011. She currently serves as the volunteer Executive Director. Her vision promotes Acceptance, Enrichment, Inspiration and Empowerment within the Autism and Asperger communities locally, nationally and worldwide.
Mike knew there was a way to provide food assistance with dignity to low income neighborhoods that had limited or no access to a food bank. As a volunteer board member for FISH Food Banks of Pierce County, he knew the challenges that many families were facing and he wanted to find an innovative solution that did not require bricks and mortar, but could also serve people in an inside space to shield them from cold and rainy weather. After conducting research on different mobile food bank models, he realized that the best solution would be a moving van that was converted into a foodbank on wheels. In June 2011 Mike, with a cadre of volunteers, spent months converting the van with shelving, lights, heat, a freezer and a generator. Every day Mike stocks the food shelves to make sure they have enough food to distribute that evening and every Saturday he washes the trailer – he even drives the truck and trailer to each site. Currently this food bank is located in five different sites Monday through Friday. It is able to go where there are the greatest demands. He has fostered partnerships with three of the local school districts to host the food bank after school. Schools were chosen because they are located in neighborhoods, many in low income areas, and they have parking lots.
As far back as 1982, Julia has been advocating on behalf of women veterans in seeking equality with their male counterparts within Veteran’s Affairs. Julia completed U.S. Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island, SC in 1978. After thirty months she achieved the ranking of Sergeant but due to disabling injuries was unable to re-enlist. Today and for the past 25 years, Julia Sheriden is an advocate on behalf of injured and disabled veterans, in particular veterans who have suffered military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and brain injury. Currently she is the President of Outreach and Resource Services for Women Veterans (OARS), based in Seattle, WA. She has helped numerous female and male military veterans over the years. She uses a holistic approach when working one on one with veterans by encouraging them to work toward the highest quality of life they can reach after their military careers.
Olowo-n’djo arrived in the U.S. from Togo, Africa with a sixth grade education, and within five years he had graduated from U.C. Davis. Before graduating he started a project to support women in his home country. In Togo women, like his mother, were denied educations as girls and opportunities as adults. Olowo-ndjo recognized that their traditional knowledge of handcrafting shea butter was a unique skill and product. He also saw that with the right marketing and drive, shea butter could generate enough income to support these women and their families and communities. He saw that poverty and gender inequalities could be alleviated without hand-outs or foreign aid. With this vision, Olowo-n’djo organized a women’s cooperative in Togo to produce shea butter, which he would market to the U.S. Ten years later, the shea butter cooperative based in Olympia, WA is the biggest private employer in central Togo. They have over 400 members and employees in Togo, and employs55 people in Olympia.