Nonprofits making a difference in the Inland Northwest
By Abigail Thorpe
The backbone of many of our communities are their nonprofits—from feeding and housing the homeless, to providing a safe haven for kids and the abused, to helping keep the environment, waterways and nature we value so deeply flourishing, the many volunteers and workers at these organizations are the unsung heroes.
We’ve heard of many of the big, international or national nonprofits that bring in millions each year to address pressing needs throughout the world. These organizations and the work they do is vital, but there are so many local organizations that make a big impact on a more intimate and centralized level.
Throughout the Inland Northwest, we are blessed by a community that often pulls together to address needs that surround us, yet so many still go unmet. Many small nonprofits don’t have the backing national organizations see, and they rely heavily on the volunteer hours, donations and fundraisers that make their mission possible. With summer upon us and (hopefully) extra free hours in the day, take some time to support and encourage the nonprofits that keep our communities thriving—here are just a few.
Transitions started in Spokane in 1995, a joining of programs that began as Miryam’s House in 1986 with the aim to help end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane. “At Transitions, families are reunited, women gain confidence and independence, and lives are moved forward from poverty and homelessness to hope and self-sufficiency,” says Development Director Sarah Lickfold.
The nonprofit operates six programs to help provide safety, support and skills for success to women and children in need. The Women’s Hearth is a drop-in center that provides basic needs and community to women, and Miryam’s House and Transitional Living Center provide housing programs to meet women where they’re at and help support their goals, with a further program that provides a forever home for the chronically homeless. The organization also provides care for the young through EduCare and offers training for women in barista and catering programs at New Leaf Kitchen & Café.
“There are so many barriers that women have to face every single day, but Transitions empowers women and families to remove these barriers and build a path to success,” says Lickfold.
In response to a growing need to help women and children facing hardship from violent situations in Coeur d’Alene, Safe Passage opened its doors in 1977. “At the time there were no organized options available to give support and information to the displaced families,” says Chauntelle Lieske, executive director of Safe House.
In the year prior, three families in the area had opened their homes as safe houses to victims of domestic violence, but private citizens took up the call for something more permanent. The name changed to Safe Passage in 2015, but the goal remains the same. “Today the mission of Safe Passage is to provide safety, education, and empowerment to victims of violence and to the community,” says Lieske.
The nonprofit provides safe shelter, 24-hour crisis lines, court-based advocacy and 24-hour hospital response for victims of domestic abuse and rape. It’s Children’s Advocacy Center includes clinical counseling, housing assistance and financial support. The center also focuses on providing education to the community to help prevent domestic violence, offering healthy relationships education for teens and bystander training for middle school, high school and college students.
In Sandpoint, an effort was spearheaded by former mayor Marsha Ogilvie when a group of locals learned children removed from homes for their own safety were sometimes housed in juvenile detention because of a lack of foster homes. Kinderhaven was formed in 1996 to be a safe haven for these children.
Their mission is simple but profound: “Protecting children, enriching their lives and giving them back their right to thrive. We are here for our local children when there is nowhere else for them to go,” says Executive Director Jennifer Plummer. “The most gratifying moments are those when you can see the kids relax, begin to emerge out of survival mode, and really trust that the adults in their lives will take care of them—when you see them just be kids and let their guard down.”
Kinderhaven has been a strong part of the Sandpoint community since its start, offering a safe and loving home for children to heal from their past. “The children build strong connections with our Kinderhaven staff, and the power of these connections has the power to transform their lives,” says Plummer. “We demonstrate to the children with everyday experiences what it feels like to be respected, valued and nurtured on a consistent basis.”
In 2006 Ryan Kerrigan saw an unmet need for under-resourced youth in Spokane: opportunities for outdoor adventures. He developed an idea to partner with organizations already serving youth to provide experiences for those who were unable to provide them for themselves, and Peak 7 was founded.
“While we are a faith-based organization, we serve youth and partner with organizations of all faiths and no faith recognizing the value of every human being,” says Executive Director Brian Kienle.
Statistics show a general downtrend in youth getting outdoors, a result of technology, home, work and school commitments, and often a lack of resources or encouragement to participate in outdoor adventures.
“In a normal year, we know that getting youth outside is instrumental in their emotional and physical health as well as providing challenges, which when overcome, can lead to transformation outside of that experience,” says Kienle. “I have directly heard a student share that conquering a rock wall gave her the confidence to conquer the challenges of high school. ... The ability to put down devices and soak up the incredible natural world around them puts them in a distinct place to ask some of the bigger questions of life in a place of safety and care.”
Conserving incredible natural resources so that communities and programs like Peak 7 can continue to enjoy and experience nature as intended is something Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA) is committed to. Established in 1972 with a mission “to conserve, protect and restore the environment with a particular emphasis on the Idaho Panhandle and the Coeur d’Alene Basin,” KEA is Idaho’s oldest environmental nonprofit and a leading grassroots advocacy group focused on forests, land-use, wildlife, water and climate.
KEA was formed by a group of passionate community members including former Idaho state senators Mary Lou Reed and Art Manley, and nationally renowned environmental attorney Scott Reed. “KEA believes that an informed public is essential to safeguarding the environment,” says KEA Environmental Programs Director Amy Anderson. To that end, they offer a wide selection of classes, programs and education initiatives in addition to their work to preserve North Idaho’s natural resources.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that individuals and communities become active stewards of their local environments, conserving, protecting and restoring our land, air and water,” says Anderson.
Environmentally concerned locals in Sandpoint furthered environmental efforts in the area. Started in 2006 as an effort to combat the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s plan to use herbicides in the lake to control the noxious weed Eurasian watermilfoil, the group affiliated with Waterkeeper Alliance in 2009 to become Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.
LPOW’s mission is to protect the water quality of the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille Watershed so local waterways remain drinkable, fishable and swimmable for future generations. Through education, advocacy and community initiatives, the nonprofit has preserved Sandpoint’s prize waterways through ecologically sustainable methods.
“Our educational programs help foster the next generation of environmental stewards by engaging with local kids and providing them with hands-on activities regarding water quality and aquatic ecology,” says Executive Director Steve Holt and Programs Director Carolyn Knaack.
“It is essential that we care for and protect our environment because of the importance it plays in our past, our future, and in our everyday lives. This lake has attracted humans for thousands of years, and it holds a deep importance for those of us who live around it today. Our economy, health and livelihoods all depend upon the lake and the surrounding watershed.”
LPWK is one of many local nonprofits that make our Northwest communities and lifestyle so incredible. The men and women behind these organizations, as well as many others, put community before self, working to make our towns and cities the kind of places we're proud to call home.
Find a cause you're passionate about, and chances are there's a nonprofit just waiting for a helping hand.