Mary Lou

Story By: Walla Walla Union Bulletin's Annie Charnley Eveland

Published: Mar 3, 2019

Longtime BMAC employee retires

Walla Wallan Mary Lou Jenkins retired on Friday, about 15,340 days after she began working at Blue Mountain Action Council.

When she started there 42 years ago, Jimmy Carter became U.S. president, the popular film “Rocky was released, NASA unveiled Enterprise, its first space shuttle, Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals and the $2 bill was issued.

A special reception last week honored Mary Lou’s dedication to the community, said CEO Kathy Covey in a release.

Mary Lou worked primarily with BMAC’s adult and youth employment programs and energy assistance. 

However, her immense institutional knowledge of BMAC, its partner agencies and Walla Walla community “made her an invaluable resource to clients and staff alike. She is beloved in the community for her passion and compassion,” Kathy said.

“To many of our past and present clients, Mary Lou is BMAC. We’ll certainly miss her. She’s been a valued colleague and dear friend,” Kathy said.

Mary Lou came on board as a receptionist/typist in 1976. Soon thereafter, she moved to the employment training and placement program.

“Her rapport with youths and adults looking for work or training was outstanding.” It helped that in some situations she was bilingual in Spanish and English. 

“She proudly hung her GED diploma on her office wall, to be an example to those she worked with. Soon her diploma was surrounded by the certificates and diplomas of those she inspired,” Kathy said.

Coworkers knew her as one who said yes when asked for help — she lent a hand to many BMAC programs. Kathy described Mary Lou as “a sort of living history of BMAC.”

And her active involvement in the community reached beyond the nonprofit social services agency. 

Walla Walla Valley Soroptimist Club named her a Woman of Distinction in 2008 for her tireless efforts toward changing lives and changing the community through her work at BMAC, Los Aspirantes, State Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and Friends of Children of Walla Walla.

And she served on the Walla Walla City Council from January 2012-December 2015. 

“It has been a privilege and honor to have served the customers at BMAC as I was allowed to do for 40-plus years,” Mary Lou emailed.  

In addition to Kathy, Mary Lou worked with CEOs  Pete Frisvold, Phyllis Pulfer and Steve Moss and is grateful for their guidance and support. She also said her many co-workers became her second family.  

Now it’s onward into the new phase in her life, a time she’s looking forward to. Happy trails, Mary Lou.

Originally Published by the Union-Bulletin
January 27, 2018

Current Building, Winter 2019

1811 BMAC Entry Rendering 2 3
Rendering of Future Remodel, Winter 2020

Blue Mountain Action Council, the community action partnership whose gamut of services has helped oversee construction of housing for low-income seniors, the disabled, homeless veterans and the Teen Center, will focus this year on plans for a permanent spot of its own.

The organization has announced a nearly $3.7 million undertaking that will redevelop a Second Avenue office complex to position the operation at the gateway to downtown Walla Walla.

“It is time,” BMAC CEO Kathy Covey told the Union-Bulletin. “For over a half-century we have been in the business of helping our neighbors put a roof over their heads, food on their tables, train for jobs to support their families, and find emergency help when things turn upside down. We must now do the same for our staff who work on our community’s behalf.”

The agency has acquired the 11,000-square-foot complex in the 200 block of North Second Avenue, currently home to Nielson Eye Care and an Edward Jones financial advisor office. Those businesses will relocate. Covey said.

A massive overhaul of the property will include a reconfiguration that opens the interior and moves the main entrance to what is now the back of the building. Ample parking is already available, Covey said.

The change will move the BMAC Community Service Center from its current spot owned by Walla Walla County at 1520 Kelly Place. That building, across from Fort Walla Walla Park, is expected to be sold in three to four years. Food distribution services, another major arm of BMAC’s client services, will continue at the Food Bank at 921 Cherry St. The Housing Services Division, which also shares that address, will continue in that spot, too.

Covey said transition will be the realization of a longtime vision for the organization. In its almost 53-year history, the operation has had seven different locations.

Covey said the active search over the last 15 years for a permanent home has been postponed at times so the agency can focus on fundraising and construction of other projects that support its mission.

Most recently that includes fundraising for and construction of The Hub teen center. Located at 534 S. Third Ave., the center brings the teen-focused services from Children’s Home Society and The Health Center to one location. It also includes The Loft, a homeless shelter for teens, plus Early Childhood Head Start and youth job training.

Reconfiguring the new space will require a major fundraising initiative. BMAC will raise $500,000 from local donors for the endeavor. More than $100,000 of that goal has already been met, Covey said.

Funding for the project is multifaceted. BMAC acquired the property with a $1.4 million loan, said CFO Rick Claridge. About $750,000 from a Department of Commerce grant is highly anticipated for the project, as is a $1 million allocation from the Legislature.

Administrators are confident funding resources will provide for the needs of the renovations. The agency must give six months notice at its current location and will do so in anticipation of the move

C2C December Photo Edited

About 50 adults and children from the Edith & Carrie neighborhood came together for their annual Christmas celebration at Carrie Center, a community gathering place built by Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) in 2015.

Three neighborhoods are part of BMAC’s Commitment to Community (C2C) program, which helps build capacity so these neighborhoods thrive and succeed. The neighborhoods have over the years developed a special style of Christmas celebration planned each year by neighborhood leaders. What makes the Edith & Carrie celebration unique is a Posada procession that was started last year by Emmanuel Lomeli, a neighborhood leader who was instrumental in organizing this year’s event, too. La Posada is a Mexican Christmas tradition reenacting Mary and Joseph wandering the streets, going door to door asking for shelter, only to be turned away, until one door is opened and they are welcomed in. Of course, the open door is supposed to be at Carrie Center.

Asked why he started La Posada in his neighborhood, Emmanuel pointed out that he wants his children to know the real meaning of Christmas, which is all about sharing with the community, not just Santa and gifts.

This year was special because Maria Ayala, a neighborhood leader and active member of the choir at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, was able to book Heraclio Torres, her choirmaster and an accomplished guitarist, for the event.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and neighbors had to quickly think of a plan B for the procession. Instead of walking the streets, actors representing Mary and Joseph, and most of the Spanish-speaking neighbors, braved the cold and rain outside in front of Carrie Center to sing their Spanish Posada verses. The mostly English-speaking participants, including a group of fire fighters and police officers, stayed indoors and tried on a different kind of bravery: group singing. They, some neighbors and some public school officials sang the Posada responses in English. At the end, the wet and hungry pilgrims were welcomed into the warm space, a potluck their reward. Much to the displeasure of some of the children, everybody had to earn the delicious meal by first singing a few traditional American Christmas songs, in both English and Spanish, again to the masterful accompaniment of Heraclio Torres.

About half an hour into the celebration, a loud noise came from the door, as Santa Claus made his grand entrance. After sitting down on a special chair by the Christmas tree, Santa welcomed each child with a small gift bag and a stuffed animal. Some adults also got in line in order to have their picture taken with Santa. The stuffed animals and a special Chinese potluck dish were generously donated by Panda Express, where Emmanuel Lomeli works as a manager.

Walla Walla Police Department’s Vicki Ruley and Wanda Galland, who have become regulars at neighborhood celebrations, generously contributed items to the children’s gift bags and helped the organizers find an authentic looking Santa Claus, retired police officer Jim Romine.

At the height of the celebration, all tables and chairs were occupied. There was standing room only, but visitors, including City Council Members Steve Moss and Yazmin Bahena, Parks & Recreation Director Andy Coleman, and other city officials, used the opportunity to mingle and chat with neighbors.

Neighborhood Outreach Organizer Ursula Volwiler was extremely happy with the turnout and felt that the planning committee’s hard work had paid off. Each member had invited neighbors and friends, and as a final effort, Emmanuel had gone door-to-door reminding everybody in the Edith & Carrie neighborhood, making a point to say that Santa would be there.

James Powell, a former neighborhood leader who still helps organize Edith & Carrie events and attends them regularly, felt that this event went beyond the surface meaning of a potluck and that the people of the neighborhood truly came together and were engaged. Volwiler confirmed that this was the first time for some residents to participate in a neighborhood potluck, and they saw how much fun it is. Volwiler plans to follow up with residents and gather ideas for neighborhood projects and activities for the coming year.

2018 bfom steering committee l 1

  • Dec 24, 2018

The eighth annual Barrel Full of Money fundraiser for the Blue Mountain Action raised its highest amount ever.

The two-month fundraiser put on with the help of more than 60 area wineries, along with businesses and nonprofit partners, jumped 14 percent from last year’s high with $39,396.02.

The check was presented last Thursday to BMAC in a ceremony at Baker Boyer Bank.

The funds raised will provide more than 196,900 meals for those in need, said BMAC Food Bank Director Jeff Mathias.

The food bank distributes more than 928,000 pounds of food through pantries across the county each year.

Since the launch of Barrel Full of Money — a drive that sets up actual wine barrels at a couple of locations and donation canisters all over tasting rooms and participating businesses — the campaign has raised more than $166,000 for the food bank.

The drive is a joint effort between the alliance, BMAC and local sponsor organizations and businesses: Alaska Airlines, Baker Boyer Bank, Big House Brewpub, Columbia Rural Electric Association, Dunham Cellars, Elkhorn Media Group, Hayden Homes, the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center, Olive Marketplace & Café and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

This year’s campaign also included a raffle; donation canisters at local wineries and businesses; full-sized wine barrels — used as donation vessels — at local restaurants; an auction and wine reception at Dunham Cellars; and cash donations from local businesses and residents.

Gifford Hirlinger Winery, which forgoes a formal tasting fee in favor of donations for the Food Bank, provided $5,000 for the campaign — as much as collected through the raffle, officials said.`

MOD Pizza, a Seattle based quick-service pizza chain, opened on December 6th in Walla Walla. Aside from being touted for their delicious, affordable pizza, they are also viewed to be a conscious company who gives back to their employees and their communities.  

A recent article in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin says "The business has a “people first” approach that starts with paying employees above-industry wages and continues through its “impact hiring” of people with special needs or in need of a second chance. A column in Forbes recently highlighted how its openness to hire people with a history of incarceration, drug abuse, homelessness or mental illness gives back to the company and community as a force for good."

During their first day of operation, MOD donated all pizza proceeds to us, totaling $5,292! 

We are so appreciative of this new addition to town. Go out and get yourself a pizza!


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