Caring Hearts winners honored for aiding disabled

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



If you go

What: Innovative Services NW fundraising dinner and auction.

When: 6 p.m. March 26

Where: Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood Drive.

Information: Reservations accepted through Wednesday. Visit or contact Dawn Johnston, development director, at 360-823-5171.

Local nonprofit agency Innovative Services NW has announced the 2011 winners of its Caring Heart Awards. The awards recognize people and organizations working to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities and social disadvantages.

The upcoming dinner and auction is Innovative Services NW’s major annual fundraiser, with corporate sponsorships, donations and a silent auction of gift baskets, a golf outing and a stay at the Heathman Lodge. There’s also been a $5,000 challenge grant from an anonymous donor looking to bump up fundraising at the event.

Here are this year’s Caring Heat Award winners.

Lori Gregory, owner-operator of Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas, gets the Children’s Award. Mountain Peaks llamas have made more than 300 visits to local schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and senior communities. Gregory credits her daughter, Shannon, with training Rojo, their original therapy llama.

Meredith Hardin wins the Employment Award for her work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind. She has arranged visits between blind job seekers and local professionals, worked with Dress for Success to get work-appropriate clothes to clients in need, and helped create Innovative Services NW’s first-ever internship program for visually impaired or blind clients.

Kay Parks is receiving the Community Advocacy Award for 30 years of commitment to bettering the lives of people affected by developmental disabilities. She helped create the family-focused PRIDE program at the Arc of Clark County and drove the development of Teammates, a dedicated housing development for people with developmental disabilities. She served on the Arc board of directors for 15 years and is a former board president.

The Ray Hickey Foundation has won the Development Award. Late businessman and philanthropist Ray Hickey made large gifts to YWCA Clark County, the Columbia Land Trust, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and the hospice facility that bears his name, among many others. His foundation has been an active supporter of Innovative Services NW, helping to leverage even more support from other businesses and individuals.

Mike and Nancy Gaston share the Board of Directors Award for their tireless volunteerism at schools, chore services, crisis lines, Habitat for Humanity, mentor programs, nonprofit boards and much more. Mike, a former Rotary president, worked to place Automated External Defibrillators in local schools, libraries, and other public places. Nancy is currently president of the Assistance League of Southwest Washington.

John McDonagh gets the Chairman of the Board Award. McDonagh, publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal, serves on numerous commissions and boards, including the City of Vancouver Civil Service Commission and Share. He was instrumental during Innovative Services NW’s successful capital campaign to build its headquarters, the Mary Firstenburg Family Center.

Jeanne Kojis has won the Eveann Classen Leadership Award. Kojis has been working for nonprofits and community projects since age 16 — everything from hunger relief and environmental stewardship to helping found the Evergreen School District Foundation. As the driving force behind Northwest Writing Services, Kojis helped win support for numerous nonprofit agencies; she is now executive director of the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington.

Betty Sue Morris is receiving the Vancouver USA Hometown Award. During her 20 years in public office — eight as a state legislator and 12 as a county commissioner — Morris tilted the state’s juvenile justice statute toward prevention and treatment over incarceration; supported battered women’s programs, local parks, senior services and endangered salmon; and developed the Clark County Public Health Department.