Story by:Photo Credit:Greg Lehman

Delia Gutierrez was still hovering on a happiness cloud this morning.

As the Washington Park area Commitment to Community coordinator for Blue Mountain Action Council, Gutierrez was the point person on Sunday’s mural-painting project at the park.

For more than a decade, art work adorned the 400-square-foot wall in the park, a joint endeavor between neighbors and neighborhood organizers in 2007 as an effort to reclaim the park from illegal and unsavory activities.

This summer, vandals ruined the original mural with spray paint, and the city painted over the wall in white. Neighbors, however, advocated for the wall to be a beautiful landmark in their area once again, Gutierrez said.

On Sunday, about 65 volunteers seconded that with several hours of labor, applying donated paint to the wall to create illustrations of a far-reaching tree — with handprint leaves — and children playing sports, an art theme approved last month by Walla Walla City Council.

Gutierrez said she was surprised and gratified by Sunday’s turnout.

“I was not expecting that many people. Usually if you invite 60, 30 show up,” she said.

In the 73-degree weather, happiness seemed to expand as neighbors came together and children played and painted. Xannonce

“They were really getting to know each other, it was a perfect day.”

One benefit to having a large number of kids on hand was giving them all a chance to invest in their park, Gutierrez said.

“They were saying, ‘Oh, look, this is my hand, and this is going to be here forever.

About 10 percent of the nation’s homeless population are veterans. The reasons for homelessness range from unemployment, poverty, or substance abuse and mental illness.

Pasco police is teaming up with Blue Mountain Action Council or BMAC to try and help vets or their families who may be struggling.

Jason Adams who is a Case Manager at BMAC said, "The police are just on the front line and they see homeless people every day and if they see that someone is a vet we will go find them and give them a hand."

A helping hand could be anything from providing food, to paying for the security deposit on a new apartment. Adams himself has been homeless before and understands the struggle.

"I have been homeless and I know what that is like and I know what it felt like to be in that position,” said Adams.

Blue Mountain Action Council and Supportive Services for Veteran Families will be teaming up October 5th at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds Pavilion for a military appreciation event.

The event is open to all veterans and their families.

The event will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and there will be free breakfast and lunch, housing assistance, health and wellness screenings, haircuts and more.

For more information you can contact Trina Parrish at 509-520-0982.

BMAC celebrates coming move to North Second Avenue

  • Walla Walla Union-Bulletin 
  • Aug 9, 2019 Updated Aug 9, 2019

A Second Avenue business complex is on its way to becoming the new permanent home of Blue Mountain Action Council.

Construction crews have gutted the interior of the building at the gateway to downtown in preparation for its transition. Today marks the start of its rebuild as BMAC’s Community Service Center.

Blue Mountain Action Council officials, partners and dignitaries dug their shovels in this morning for a ceremonial groundbreaking that launches what’s expected to be a six-month construction process from general contractor Jackson Contractor Group

Work officially begins Monday, said Blue Mountain Action Council Executive Director Kathy Covey.

This morning’s 8:30 a.m. ceremony offered a peek into the space, a chance to publicly thank the legislators and donors who have made the project financially feasible, unveil a new logo for the nonprofit, and launch a final push to complete fundraising.

The 11,000-square-foot building in the 200 block of North Second Avenue was acquired by BMAC in March 2018.

It was purchased with a $1.4 million loan, as part of a roughly $3.7 million total project.

Major funding has included $1.75 million from the state capital budget. Covey lauded 16th district legislators, Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, and Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, for their advocacy.

Fundraising from community groups and residents to date has raised about $422,000.

“Our goal to be able to do what we need to do with the building is $600,000,” Covey said. “Right now it’s almost a house for us, and we just need to make it a home by getting these last few dollars.”

The project positions BMAC with central headquarters, easily accessible to those who use its services, including job training, energy assistance, food distribution, minor home repair, special needs housing, housing for homeless families, legal assistance, asset building, adult literacy, Long Term Care Ombudsman, weatherization, lead paint abatement, Commitment to Community, AmeriCorps and Supportive Services to Veteran Families.

When the project is done, BMAC will move from its current spot at Kelly Place.

Walla Walla Union Bulletin
Emily Thorton, July 7, 2019

During a recent workshop for College Place City Council to discuss the census, City Manager Mike Rizzitiello presented information on how accurate counts affect the county and presented timelines for gathering census data.Local money at stake with 2020 census

Billions of dollars for the state — and millions locally — are on the line.

Population counts in the upcoming census determine how much money the federal government distributes to states and geographically defines state legislative districts.

Many groups are concerned people won’t be counted in the April 1, 2020, census, so they’ve started taking donations that will go toward census outreach, communication, and encouragement for people to return their census questionnaires.

“We plan to put information on the city website and the newsletter promoting the upcoming census in English, Spanish and Russian,” Rizzitiello said, adding the city will work with others on a regional strategy.

The Walla Walla County has some of the state’s hardest-to-count areas, including along U.S. Highway 12, according to the state’s Office of Financial Management website.

One area had a response score during the last count of 27.9 percent, with about 76.4 percent returning their 2010 census. On average, 69.1 percent of the county mailed back their questionnaires, which required more expensive in-person follow-ups to try and get more responses.

According to the state website, reasons why responses were low could include people being fearful of the government protecting respondents’ privacy and/or sharing the information, being unaware/unconvinced of the census’s impact on their lives, or being uncomfortable using the internet.

To help reach hard-to-count areas, the Sherwood Trust and Blue Mountain Community Foundation earlier this year formed the Walla Walla County Census 2020 Fund, in partnership with the Washington Census Equity Fund, which consists of 20 philanthropies. The group is collecting money for outreach.

Sherwood Trust CEO Danielle Garbe Reser said it’s the first time to their knowledge a local fund has been created for the census.

“The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years, and it is critical that all residents of our county know about this civic obligation and opportunity to participate in helping our communities thrive,” Garbe Reser wrote in an email. “We need an accurate account to ensure this region receives its fair share of federal funding over the next decade.”

Sherwood Trust gave a $20,000 grant to BMCF to jump-start the fund earlier this year, according to a release, targeting hard-to-count communities like Walla Walla.

Garbe Reser said the county project is determining where to put the money.

“Based on the percentage of our local hard to count community and the challenges of working across a large county, it would be ideal to raise up to $50,000-$75,000 in this fund to conduct thorough education and outreach efforts,” Garbe Reser wrote.

Walla Walla County Census 2020 Fund money will be kept locally, with prioritization coordinated in the state’s efforts to avoid duplicates. Those interested in donating can visit Blue Mountain Community Foundation.

Another initiative, the Washington Census Equity Fund, was created by Philanthropy Northwest, of which BMCF and Sherwood Trust are members. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation kicked off the statewide fund, and it now has more than $1.1 million. For more information, visit

The money raised, and later used for outreach, could see a return investment.

“In Washington state, we receive approximately $2,000 per person each year in federal funding that is allocated with formulas that use census data,” Garbe Reser wrote. “That equates to nearly $20,000 per person over the 10-year period between each census.”

Sixteen large federal assistance programs distributed money to Washington State based on decennial census-driven statistics in fiscal year 2015, according to a “Counting for Dollars 2020 Project” data sheet by The George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy. The total was $13.7 billion, or about $1,914 per person. Those programs included the Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid), with $8.5 billion; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with $1.5 billion; and Medicare Part B (Supplemental Medical Insurance)-Physicians Fee Schedule Services, with $1.1 billion.

And in fiscal year 2016, the state received $16.7 billion through 55 federal spending programs based on data derived from the 2010 census, according to the report.

The census also goes toward things like the city’s Community Development Block Grant — which helps improve the city’s homelessness and more — according to coordinator Jennifer Beckmeyer. She said its allocation for 2019 was $394,643.

“The formula to calculate our grant amount is fairly complicated, but is definitely driven by census data,” Beckmeyer wrote in an email. “The biggest factor that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) takes into consideration is the percentage of the population living in poverty and age of our housing stock, so just as important as the actual population count is accuracy in the socio-economic data for each household in Walla Walla that is also gathered by the Census Bureau.”

Another organization affected by the census is the Blue Mountain Action Council, which provides money and other resources to people in need. One of those is to help people pay their electric bill, CFO Rick Claridge said. To help, the Department of Energy (through the state Department of Commerce) awarded BMAC $539,918 in October 2018 to cover through March 2020, according to BMAC’s audit report. Those dollars are based on a formula calculated with the number of respondents who identify themselves in certain socio-economic demographics.

Another fund, for helping people weatherize their home, was $291,796, awarded in October 2017 to last through September 2019.

However, those distributions likely were based on undercounting or inaccuracy, according to studies.

The GWU’s Institute of Public Policy report, “Estimating Fiscal Costs of a Census Undercount to States” measured the fiscal impact of a census undercount from five Department of Health and Human Services programs, which use the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage to calculate payments: Medicaid, state Children’s Health Insurance Program, Title IV-E Foster Care, Title IV-E Adoption Assistance, and Child Care and Development Fund Matching Funds.

“Those grant programs use the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage ... to determine reimbursements to and payments from each state government,” it said.

The report estimated Washington lost $39 in those programs per person who was missed in the 2010 census in fiscal year 2015.

However, the report was clear on its estimations: it was only for programs that relied on the FMAP. It also said it planned to research other monetary impacts.

“The fiscal impact on a state due to a 2020 census undercount would be far greater than that caused by the five HHS programs covered in this report.”


Providence donation aids BMAC with remodel

St Marys Check Presentation June 2019

The contribution helps with the remodel of the 11,000-square-foot building BMAC purchased as its new headquarters in a $3.7 million project.

The organization plans to move from Kelly Place when work on the new facility is complete.

The new space will position BMAC closer to its clients and give the organization a home of its own at the same time.

BMAC provides services to low-income people, the disabled, veterans and other clients.

Funding from Providence comes through its Mission Committee, which directs donations targeted at improving the health of the community, with an emphasis on improving immunization rates, aiding youth at risk and addressing homelessness, the announcement explained.


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