Some of them are rich. Others live in humble households. Some are renowned. Others are known to small circles. All have influenced our lives in Idaho’s Treasure Valley.
The Idaho Statesman asked six business and community leaders each to tell readers a short story about a person or group of people shaping the valley today. We gave these leaders the freedom to choose any Valley resident from any walk of life. The only restrictions were that they could not write about themselves or anyone in the organizations where they work.
The leaders are Wyatt Schroeder, executive director of Charitable Assistance to Community’s Homeless; Jill Aldape, vice president of Saint Alphonsus Foundation; Ryan deLuca, cofounder of Black Box VR and founder of Bodybuilding.com; Bob Kustra, president of Boise State University; Sophie Sestero, past executive chair of Boise Young Professionals; and Rick Johnson, president of the Idaho Conservation League.
Here are their stories.
1. This Terry Reilly worker seeks to understand the stories each homeless patient tells
By Wyatt Schroeder, CATCH
Kendra Lutes and I wandered the apartments of New Path Community Housing. It’s merely wood framing and concrete padding, but in a few months, this shell of a building will be a scene of activity: Forty residents will walk into their new home.
Kendra will move a team of Terry Reilly Health Services staff into the first-floor office space. And Idaho will open its first apartment building dedicated to ending homelessness.
Taking a downtown parcel from a Chinese restaurant to the Boise’s most intentional partnership to end homelessness is a compelling enough story. You may have read about it in the Statesman or heard it whispered about. The narrative leaves out an important name who made this partnership possible: Kendra Lutes.
Lutes serves as the clinical supervisor of homeless services for Terry Reilly, an organization that served over 35,000 diverse patients last year through its integrated health care model. In addition to a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in counseling from Gonzaga University, Lutes has a diploma in narrative therapy. “Life and identity are multistoried,” she told me. “Certain stories become dominant in a person’s life – or a city’s, an idea’s, a program’s.”
The stories we share about ourselves inform our identity. It’s as true for our city: The stories we internalize about people experiencing homelessness shape if and how we house our community’s most vulnerable neighbors. Kendra has seen these narratives affect her work. “We battle those stories when we want to create a culture of taking care of people. The false story that everyone has the same opportunity in life — the story that erases racism, sexism.”
I am fortunate to work in the trenches with Kendra through my role at CATCH, an organization striving to end homelessness in the Treasure Valley. It’s inspiring to watch her mind at work. Her philosophy of clinical care puts personhood first and admits that our society traumatizes people, sometimes in the name of helping.
Like many counselors I work with, Kendra shuns the limelight, preferring to hold up our clients as the protagonists. But Kendra deserves healthy credit in pulling together one of our state’s greatest efforts to end homelessness, New Path Community Housing.
While there are successes, Kendra is not naïve about how difficult large-scale change can be: “People are threatened by talk of systems change.” In light of the obstacles, Kendra recognizes that no story is born in isolation.
“What sustains alternative stories is what they call, in narrative therapy, a ‘club of life’” she says. “It takes community. I’m hopeful, because I’m not the only person working towards change.”
Soon, the door will open at New Path Community Housing. Kendra will be there that day to welcome the 40 new residents. Even though our city may share myriad stories about people experiencing homelessness, Kendra will listen attentively, taking note how each plot point informs how people want to be seen.
2. These 3 women lead hundreds of volunteers to provide books to children who lack them
By Jill Aldape, Saint Alphonsus Foundation
Over the three days of April 17-19, a swarm of activity by donors and volunteers generated 88,003 books for young people in our community who have little or no access to books.
These books had been gathered by businesses small and large in preceding weeks and dropped off to be cleaned, repaired, sorted and then distributed to 60 locations within the Treasure Valley.
This Herculean effort was made possible by 500 volunteers, thousands of donors, the backing of the United Way, and leaders – the shapers and influencers in our community: Terri Garabedian, Diane Schwarz and Julie Manning.
It started five years ago when Diane and Julie attended a reading summit at Boise State and learned that in middle and high-income homes, there are about 50 books per child, but in low-income homes, there is one book for every 300 children.
They were moved to do more research and found that reading proficiently by the end of third grade is the single-most important factor for a child’s success in school and later in life. Until third grade, a child is learning to read; after that, a child is reading to learn.
If a child cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade, he/she will fall behind not only in reading but also in all other subjects. That often leads to getting in trouble in and outside of school, and subsequently with the law.
They decided to act. They gathered up books in their own homes, called some friends, and donated the 700 books to the P-16 program at the YMCA. When they put out the books for the students to choose at the preschool graduation, the books were gone in minutes.
“It was like breadcrumbs,” Teri said. “The kids wanted the books. They were so excited, and so were we. We wanted to continue to share enthusiasm for reading.” The organization Book it Forward was born.
Since then, Terri, Diane, Julie and many other individuals and organizations have banded together with the goal of providing gently used reading material in the homes of those who wouldn’t likely have them. In five years, they have collected and distributed nearly 450,000 books. Terri is looking forward to hitting the half-million “bookmark” next year.
Saint Alphonsus Foundation is proud to recognize these shapers and influencers who are responding to the facts that: (1) 85 percent of those in the juvenile-justice system are functionally illiterate, meaning there is a direct link between literacy and both academic and lifetime success; and (2)) 62 percent of Idaho’s fourth graders are not reading at or above proficiency level.
Thank you, Terri, Diane, Julie and all the supporters of Book it Forward, including The Cabin and Idaho Voices for Children, who make possible the sharing of books with dozens of local organizations including Title 1 schools in Ada and Canyon Counties, the YMCA, health clinics, reading programs, learning centers and nonprofit organizations serving young people.
Your work is positively shaping the future for our children.
3. Nick Crabbs is taking Boise from analog to a digital
By Ryan DeLuca, cofounder, Black Box VR
It’s time for a public intervention. It’s getting out of control and somebody needs to say something. Here goes…
Nick Crabbs is a hoarder.
Well, he’s a hoarder when it comes to movie tickets at least. Since 2005, Nick has saved every paper ticket stub from the movies that he went to see. That may not seem like a big deal, but Nick’s entire professional life deals with the digital, and it’s time for him to let go of these little analog mementos of days gone by.
Nick has been a part of the Boise tech scene since he started developing web sites and software when he was 11 years old. That passion for code soon turned into career aspirations when he attended the Meridian Technical Charter High School.
Nick is now a partner at Vynyl, a software development firm with offices in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Orange County, and here in Boise. Vynyl’s technologists and designers have worked on hundreds of projects for clients that include high-visibility brands, major universities, government institutions, leading digital advertising agencies, and a few venture-backed private companies.
Vynyl is important to Boise companies that need a digital transformation with service that only an Idaho company can give. Its intense focus on bleeding-edge technologies like AR, VR, mobile apps, blockchain and cloud services gives local companies a chance to compete against companies around the world.
But that’s just his day job. Nick has been relentlessly supporting Boise’s tech and startup scene in his volunteer roles as the co-chair of Boise Startup Week, a board member for the Meridian Technical Charter High School, member of the Idaho Virtual Reality Council, Treefort augmented-reality app developer, and much more. Nick is just one of those guys who says yes when organizations need help, even if that means sacrificing countless nights and weekends to make things happen for our local community.
He still finds time to go out to the movies. Nowadays, most movie theaters are switching to digital tickets that are scanned from a smartphone. That sounds like the kind of app that his team could have created. It might be time to let go of that movie ticket collection, Nick, or at least 3D scan them where you can revisit them in virtual reality. Even digital movie tickets can show up there.
4. How this Boise CEO, whose name you don’t see, has made Boise and Idaho better
By Bob Kustra, Boise State University
To walk across Boise State University’s bustling riverside campus is to get a quick but thorough history of our city and the people who have built it into what it is today.
Companies like Micron Technology, Norco and the J.R. Simplot Co. have stamped an indelible mark on our academic programs just as they have the city’s economy. The presence of individuals like Harry and Velma Morrison, Steve Appleton and Joe Albertson are felt as strongly today as when they were titans of industry and civic leadership in Idaho.
But there is one name you don’t see, though he has helped some 40 students attend Boise State by supporting them through scholarships and has been instrumental in one of the most visible and valuable partnerships in Boise State history. That is Bob Miller, the one-time grocery store bottle-sorter who worked his way to CEO of Albertsons.
Perhaps his message to Boise State’s Class of 2018 this spring offers some insight as to why that is.
“There is no limit to what you can accomplish,” he told the graduating students, “if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
If you ask me, I’d say Bob should get credit for a great many accomplishments. He has restored Albertsons to a thriving business with some 2,300 stores under 20 banners operating in 35 states and the District of Columbia. By focusing on his strong vision, on taking risks, and encouraging exceptional customer service, he has allowed thousands and thousands of individuals to flourish under his leadership.
Bob will tell you he is “just a grocer,” but without his genius and leadership skills, Albertsons may not have remained one of the largest and most influential companies in our city and state. He is quick to honor and recognize the philanthropy of the Albertson family and his company predecessors like Warren McCain, but it is Miller himself who has contributed $250,000 toward Boise State scholarships through the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
I was fortunate to have had the chance to bestow an honorary doctorate degree on Bob earlier this month. I could do no better in describing what has made him such a remarkable leader for that company and our community than to share the cornerstones for success that he shared with our graduates: Work hard, tell the truth, treat people as you hope to be treated, believe in others, and find and share your passion.
It is fortunate that Bob found his passion more than half a century ago, in the messy job of sorting returned recyclable bottles in the back of a grocery store that would later be bought by the company he now runs. All of us in Boise and the state of Idaho are better off because he did.
5. Under Wyatt Schroeder, CATCH proves that homeless families can become self-sufficient
By Sophie Sestero, Boise Young Professionals
The city of Boise has been making tremendous strides with housing and homelessness. With Cooper Court as a not-too-distant memory, the city broke ground on the community’s new “housing first” development for those experiencing chronic homelessness —New Path Community Housing.
As Boise continues to grow and attract new residents, the housing market is steadily getting more competitive. Because of this, it’s an excellent time to plan ahead and ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have assistance now and in the future.
Housing First is an innovative model that has seen national success. Traditionally, someone who is experiencing homelessness would need to go from shelter to shelter while they try to get back on their feet. Instead, this method begins with a home for those who are chronically homeless and surrounds residents with the care needed to address their challenges. For instance, Terry Reilly Health Services will provide on-site social services, medical treatment and life-skills training.
New Path, a building with 41 one-bedroom apartments going up on Fairview Avenue between 22nd and 23rd streets, is going to be an essential resource for members of our community — not only for its residents, but also to other community members. New Path will bring tremendous cost savings to the community because of reductions associated with homelessness, such as ambulance trips, hospital visits and incarceration, to name a few.
There are many notable partners collaborating with the city to make this happen. One of note within this important project is Wyatt Schroeder, executive director of CATCH (Charitable Assistance To Community’s Homeless).
CATCH has been an advocate for housing first since it was founded. CATCH has results to demonstrate the method’s effectiveness. By placing families directly in homes and helping them address the challenges contributing to their homelessness, CATCH has earned an 85 percent success rate of leading participating families into self-sufficiency.
Through Schroeder’s leadership, the organization has seen deeper community involvement, collaboration and broader success throughout the Treasure Valley.
CATCH is the linchpin that’s bringing local government, faith-based organizations, charitable organizations and local businesses together to help move Boise forward.
6. Hard work appears to have gotten Medicaid expansion on Idaho’s ballot
By Rick Johnson, Idaho Conservation League
My public policy work has brought me to the Oval Office of the White House. I have worked on elections ranging from the president and Congress to city ballot measures. I’ve run the Idaho Conservation League for over 22 years, and before that often spent 100 days a year shuttling into the nation’s capital.
I say this only to suggest I’m fascinated by politics and public policy. I’m a daily practitioner of the craft of working to build majority support that can be demonstrated through votes in legislatures, Congress, the ballot box and more. It’s fun yet often wildly frustrating work.
My career has taught me to appreciate similar work as practiced by others. My experience allows me to see and appreciate the nuance and craft that others apply. While I’ve not been a part of it, I am truly impressed by the just-completed effort on Idaho Medicaid expansion. Hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers joined Reclaim Idaho’s effort to collect — and it appears to surpass — the required 56,192 signatures of registered voters. This was a huge feat.
My admiration is heightened by the fact that Reclaim Idaho crossed the bar set by the Idaho Legislature in 2013 in a crystal-clear effort to make it much harder for citizens make policy through ballot measures (nearly always attempted because of frustration with the Legislature). Because of the Legislature’s rule change, not only do you need to gather over 56,000 verified signatures, you must gather at least 6 percent of the signatures from each of at least 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts. This is wicked hard, as they say in Maine, one of 32 states that have passed Medicaid expansion measures similar to the one Idahoans may see in November.
Since the 2013 rule change, Idahoans have consistently failed to reach the Idaho ballot.
“Yes, they made it hard,” Sam Sandmire said. “But most things that are important are not easy to do.”
Sandmire and Tracy Olsen, both volunteers, partnered to lead the signature-gathering efforts for Reclaim Idaho in the Treasure Valley. Because of the large population here, Ada and Canyon counties were obviously vital to statewide success.
“People want to help,” Sandmire said. “Cancer doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat.” She continued, “Everyone knows someone who falls through the gap.”
County clerks are counting and validating the signatures. If there are enough, the issue will be on the ballot this November. The measure would cover up to 62,000 Idahoans who make too much to qualify today for Medicaid but too little to purchase health care through the insurance exchange. According to reports, including the Idaho Statesman, “the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost, using tax money that Idahoans already are paying.”
We’ll know by June 30 if Medicaid expansion makes the ballot. Regardless of the vote in November, I am mightily impressed by the effort to bring the issue this far and grateful to the hundreds of fellow Idahoans who worked their tail off to use this important tool for citizen democracy.