Hindsight is 2020

SPU alumni reflect on how the year behind us might shape the years ahead

As the year draws to a close, everyone has a story of how 2020 has impacted them — from the coronavirus pandemic to discussions of racial inequity following the death of George Floyd. Response wanted to know how people have survived and met the challenges of 2020, and, in the face of an uncertain future, what they thought would permanently change as a result of this turbulent year. These alumni (and an SPU student) work in sectors such as technology, education, the arts, health care, and nonprofits. They have quickly transitioned to online platforms, spearheaded COVID-19 test sites, led anti-racism initiatives, and found ways to meet the rising needs of some of the most vulnerable people.

Lillian Sherman | photo by Charlie Cotugno

Lillian Sherman

Pike Place Market Foundation

On any ordinary day, iconic Pike Place Market is bustling with tourists, locals, artists, farmers, and merchants. More than 15 million visitors per year eat at the Market’s 80 restaurants, buy produce and flowers, and take in the creativity of the Market’s artisans.

But Pike Place Market, like Seattle itself, felt the pandemic’s impact. The daily swarths of tourists dwindled in the spring and early summer. Shops closed. Some restaurants transitioned to online ordering or delivery.

Lillian Sherman ’91 is executive director of the Pike Place Market Foundation, the nonprofit that helps to support a food bank, a preschool, a health center, and a senior center. The foundation has awarded $36 million in grants to businesses and low-income families living in the area.

What has the Pike Place Market Foundation done to meet the challenges of 2020?

Sherman: The Market’s artist vendors have been wildly creative in pivoting to online sales and helping each other figure out this new reality. Restaurants and food vendors have gotten creative, making food that’s grab-and-go, freezer-ready, or available for delivery. Daisley Gordon, owner and chef at the French restaurant Café Campagne, bought an electric bike and started making meals he could deliver by bike!

The Pike Place Market Foundation provides a community safety net fund for Market residents and workers who experience sudden financial crisis. Traditionally, we serve about a hundred people a year. This year, in just three months, we have already issued a year’s worth of support.

We also created a separate fund in July specifically aimed at helping the Market’s small businesses recover and navigate this new economy.

The foundation had to completely rethink how we fundraise, since we couldn’t host our three annual fundraising events in person. We adapted our May event to a livestream format, so what was usually a relatively small event was suddenly able to reach a whole new audience. We totally exceeded our fundraising goals; half of the donations were from first-time donors.

In the future, we will continue to think of our wider, online audience when we plan fundraising events. This experience reminded us there are people all over the world who love the Market and want to support it. We’ve been having great one-on-one conversations with our donors. People have more time for it. We take the time to check in with people and let them know how they can make the greatest impact.

Nowadays, whenever I wander through the Market, everyone is eager to talk. There is a greater sense of community now that we’re going through a common experience and figuring this out together.

Much of the Market is open again, at least on the weekends. We sometimes laugh because whenever the media reports something happening in Seattle, there’s often a picture of the Market. And it’s true. We’re a barometer to how Seattle’s feeling and doing and what downtown looks like. There is a long road ahead, but we’re figuring out how to adapt to the new climate.

Luke Davis | photo by Luke Rutan

Luke Davis

Seattle Pacific University

Colleges across the nation had to shift classes to online formats in the spring. They wrestled with changing visa requirements for foreign students. They reconfigured classroom spaces for adequate social distancing, anticipating a time when students would be allowed to be back on campuses. And they had to figure out how to recruit new students to their universities.

Luke Davis ’14 has a front row seat to the recent shifts in college admissions as the assistant director of freshman recruitment at Seattle Pacific University. He leads the team of admissions counselors serving incoming freshman and prospective students. Davis helps students navigate the college application and decision process from as early as middle school to the day they arrive on campus as new SPU students.

How have things changed this year for college admissions teams and prospective students?

Davis: Typically, admissions counselors connect with students visiting campus or spend weeks and weeks on the road, visiting high schools and college fairs to connect with students. This year, almost all of that was canceled due to COVID-19.

Our team quickly adapted by creating webinars, virtual visit events, a virtual campus tour, and a few weeklong virtual visit events just for admitted students.

We made ourselves available for video chat sessions with students and constantly had to come up with new ideas to help high school students see what it would be like to attend SPU.

Seattle’s colleges and universities were some of the first in the nation to close due to the pandemic. This meant we had to figure out a lot from scratch, but it also gave us a head start compared to other colleges in the country.

“The virtual model for college admissions and remote learning of some kind is here to stay.” — Luke Davis

Even when in-person visits and events open back up, I think the virtual model for college admissions and remote learning of some kind is here to stay. It can’t totally replace an in-person experience, but the access and flexibility options are powerful. Many students who never would have been able to attend an on-campus visit due to distance have attended our online virtual visits.

High school students obviously have lots of questions and are dealing with new financial and personal challenges due to the pandemic and lockdown. Some are choosing to postpone college, but the majority of students I’ve talked with are still ready to start college. Especially during a time like this, they want to be part of a community. They’re saying things like, “I want to commit to this community. We may not know exactly what it’s going to look like, but I’m excited to start.”

Leslie Hill | photo by Charlie Cotugno
photo by Charlie Cotugno

Leslie Hill

Providence Supportive Housing

The pandemic impacted many people, but those experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable. During the lockdown, food and shelter providers throughout the country cut hours and services. Spaces people depended on for daytime shelter and basic hygiene, like libraries and public restrooms, shut down.

For nine years, Leslie Hill ’91 has served as director of compliance, quality, and innovation at Providence Supportive Housing. Providence provides permanent, affordable housing to elderly or disabled individuals and families who qualify, many of whom were previously homeless or at risk of homelessness. Providence owns and manages 16 affordable housing programs, with 750 apartments in Washington, Oregon, and California.

In her role, Hill ensures the housing programs at Providence are in compliance with federal, state, and local regulations, identifies best practices, and develops new, innovative housing programs to meet emerging needs.

Art by Brad Cuzen

How has the pandemic affected people who are homeless?

Hill: When public health authorities declared a pandemic in early March, I began developing operating guidelines for our housing programs. We started to see coronavirus cases rise across the country, with especially large outbreaks in nursing homes. While our department does not operate nursing homes, we do operate housing for seniors and people with disabilities, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

This year, I’ve been developing a new model of supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness who are also high utilizers of health care services. Hospitals across the nation often end up housing patients because they have nowhere else to go, and the cost of keeping someone in a hospital is significant.

“We know health is adversely affected when people don’t have permanent housing, but this pandemic create a new awareness of our national housing crisis.” — Leslie Hill

Recently, we applied for state funding in California to purchase a building that we will convert into 48 housing units for people who are chronically homeless and high utilizers of health care services. The program will include up to 12 beds for people who are released from the hospital with no place to live but still need to recover with some health monitoring.

Health is adversely affected when people don’t have permanent housing, but this pandemic has created a new awareness of our national housing crisis. Local and state governments recognize our unhoused community members are at tremendous risk for COVID-19, and many have been working to secure housing in hotels or other locations for people who are homeless to slow the spread of COVID-19. When people have a stable place to live, they can better manage their underlying conditions, get better rest, maintain stability, and utilize fewer health care services.

Matt Garcia | photo by Noah/Snappr
photo by Noah/Snappr

Matt Garcia


When state governors around the nation banned social and religious gatherings to curb the transmission of the coronavirus, churches and other places of worship had to come up with solutions for their congregations to gather virtually.

Matt Garcia ’14 works as a senior risk and compliance analyst at Subsplash, a Seattle-based company that provides technical solutions to churches and other nonprofit organizations. Primarily, Subsplash offers software that allows churches to engage their congregations through livestream services, apps, donation platforms, and more.

What has life been like for Subsplash in 2020?

Garcia: As soon as COVID-19 restrictions on church services and in-person meetings began, many churches had to pivot to stay connected with their communities. Our team here at Subsplash feels humbled to serve thousands of churches around the world during this time.

A lot of churches that were formerly resistant to adopting new technology suddenly didn’t have many other options. The church I attend had never done a livestream before the lockdown. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to engage their congregations without meeting in a physical building, even people with zero technical expertise. We also provide a platform for churches to accept tithes and donations digitally, and many churches have actually seen an increase in giving.

Church is about community, and this has caused churches to consider, How do we foster that community when in-person services and potlucks aren’t a good idea? Livestreaming and Zoom calls are not ideal. I’d much rather be in person with my church, but I think churches will need to learn how to continue digital engagement on some level. Even when there’s not a pandemic, there will inevitably be high-risk people who can’t attend an in-person church service.

Aimee Miner | photo by Noah/Snappr
photo by Noah/Snappr

Aimee Miner

Lake Forest Park Elementary School

Aimee Miner MEd ’97 never anticipated the challenges, changes, and creativity ahead of her as she entered her 11th year as principal of Lake Forest Park Elementary School in Lake Forest Park, Washington, and her 20th year working in the Shoreline School District.

As principal, Miner said her primary job is to make sure her students and staff are emotionally and physically safe, and to help build an educational community of love and respect where students’ individual learning needs are met.

Tell us about what this year was like for you as an elementary school principal?

Miner: On March 11 at 2:30 p.m., we received orders to shut down the school with no real warning due to COVID. We had to quickly pivot as a staff to online learning and providing services to students remotely.

I have viewed this whole time as an opportunity to focus on keeping students and staff physically safe and to make sure kids have what they need to continue their learning. After the school shut down, we made sure every child had a laptop, access to the internet, pencils, paper, and environments where they could do their schoolwork. Our district did an incredible job of providing meals daily to children. This gave us the opportunity to be laser-focused on the well-being of our students, families, and staff while at the same time addressing the existing inequities.

Our staff focused on race and equity for the past three years and received a substantial amount of professional development around that, so when George Floyd died, we met first as a staff via Zoom to process what happened.

Every staff member agreed they were going to have a conversation with their class about the death of George Floyd and how we have systems of oppression in the U.S. that continue to hurt our Black families. We have had conversations with our students in class before about race and equity, but this time we were literally in people’s living rooms via Zoom having these discussions. Parents started asking for more resources to keep the conversation going with their kids, so we created a huge collaborative list of materials and resources to share. We are also making goals and taking action to address inequities in our school community.

“During school closures in the United States, our society is seeing how dependent families are on provisions from schools.” — Aimee Miner

This situation has highlighted the needs in our community. Twelve families at our school do not have stable housing. About 11% of students are learning English as a second language, and we have about 30 students who require special education services to address social, emotional, behavioral, or academic challenges. One in four of our students are dependent on our school for breakfast and lunch every day. During school closures in the United States, our society is seeing how dependent families are on provisions from schools.

I think education will become more individualized from here on. If I have a teacher and para-educator checking in with my neediest students every day and getting them extra support while they are learning at home, we can do a lot more for kids than when they were in a classroom of 31 students at school.

I also think it will be quite some time before we are able to enjoy assemblies, sports, and some after-school programs together, so we will need to figure out other ways to give students a sense of belonging and community. The closing of schools has brought our staff together in myriad ways, as we are all learning creative ways to teach our students and provide services remotely while addressing inequities. We have an incredible opportunity right now to revamp how we have always educated students and to ensure that we are lifting up our students who need us the most.

Scott Nolte | photo by Charlie Cotugno
photo by Charlie Cotugno

Scott Nolte

Taproot Theatre

Scott Nolte ’76 is the artistic director of Seattle’s Taproot Theatre. Taproot has been bringing stories to life and making theater accessible to a variety of audiences since 1976. Nolte is the theater’s version of a CEO, leading a team that manages development, marketing, production, and education. He’s also involved with selecting the plays for upcoming seasons, hiring, and donor relations.

In a typical year, about 30,000 audience members attend more than 150 individual performances at Taproot Theatre’s mainstage. The theater produces five plays and a holiday production each year. Seeking to make theater accessible to everyone, Taproot offers affordable acting classes for children and adults and touring productions to churches and schools that reach more than 140,000 children a year.

Since April, however, Taproot Theatre’s stage has gone dark, with its 2020 season postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

How has Taproot Theatre handled the challenges of this past year?

Nolte: When COVID-19 closures began, Taproot was preparing to open a mainstage production of Babette’s Feast. We had to send the cast and crew home the night before dress rehearsal. We then had to lay off a couple hundred actors, technicians, and teachers.

The acting studio continued with summer acting classes, and moved from live, on-site classes to the Zoom platform. That proved successful.Taproot Theatre | art by Brad Cuzen

When we closed, there was an immediate outpouring of really kind letters, cards, and emails, and financial donations that came in. It was enormously affirming that our constituency wanted us to survive because they needed us to be part of their social life, their intellectual life, their spiritual life.

It’s a challenging time for actors. Many of the actors we work with cobbled together a livelihood by teaching, doing voice recordings, working in the hospitality industry — all of which are closed right now. Most of the actors I know are leaning on unemployment.

This year, we have seen that theater is needed more than ever. Theater plays an important role in the call for social justice. It can help us recognize past wrongs and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. It can help us develop empathy. But it takes proximity, not just academic space or intellectual communication online, to develop that level of empathy. I think we’re sitting on a powder keg of desire to reconnect, and avenues like theater will be needed.

Mara Cardenas | photo by Charlie Cotugno
photo by Charlie Cotugno

Mara Cardenas

King County Government Human Resources

Mara Cardenas ’05 has worked in human resources for King County for 17 years, beginning as a work-study intern while still a student at SPU. In her current role as senior talent advisor, she leads a team of recruiters and oversees hiring processes. In 2018, she merged her expertise in human resources with her passion for promoting racial equity by founding Your Best You. Her business provides consulting services, content development, and training around diversity, equity, inclusion, and development to organizations and individuals.

How have conversations around racial inequity changed this year?

Cardenas: Before, the conversations around racial injustice were happening in certain places, but now we’re having the conversations on a broader scale. Black lives have always mattered. The mistreatment is not new. But now people are actually videotaping it.

We’ve also seen how the effects of COVID are hitting Black communities harder. People are more inclined to talk about it, and that’s good. When I speak or do trainings, I talk about changing systems via policies and procedures, so the change is more long-standing. Yes, we should help individuals, but we have to look at what systems are in place that are creating these inequities for people of color.

In the past few months, I have been tapped often to speak and train on diversity, equity, and inclusion as these issues come to the forefront for organizations. There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m glad the conversations have started.

I hope the conversations continue. I hope that organizations put resources behind these issues related to inequities, and I hope that it doesn’t get put on the back burner. Even in the midst of COVID, it’s important; in fact, it’s more important, because if you look at who’s being laid off at higher rates, you find it’s the people who have been historically marginalized. And so I hope that this isn’t just a phase. I hope there are resources put behind this work because we need it.

Blake Dahlin | photo by Charlie Cotugno
photo by Charlie Cotugno

Blake Dahlin

SPU student and The Falcon photo editor (2019–20)

Along with everyone else in the country, college students have had to add phrases like “shelter-inplace” and “flatten the curve” to their lexicon as they’ve been forced into an abridged life of online classes and social distancing. But the year’s events have been especially transformative for students.

Blake Dahlin, a senior theology major, transferred to SPU his junior year and joined TheFalcon staff as its photo editor. When Black Lives Matter demonstrations began in Seattle in the spring, Dahlin debated whether he should photograph the marches.

What made you decide to photograph the protests for The Falcon?

Dahlin: I was really torn up for several days about whether I should go. I’m new to the Seattle area. I’m white, and I’m a male. I figured my voice probably wouldn’t be the best voice, but with the COVID-19 situation, The Falcon didn’t have any other photographers in the area.

Since students were going to protest, I saw it as my responsibility to try and document it because this was such a historic moment for the SPU community and for many students. On Saturday, my first day at the protests, there were Seattle Police Department vehicles burning a block away from Westlake Park, but at the park, there were hundreds of people listening to community speakers calling for reform and being educated and learning.

Sunday was mostly peaceful. I started in Westlake Park, just wandering the streets, getting photos of people cleaning up. Then demonstrators started to gather in Westlake Park. No one had really planned on being there.

This one guy, Carl, just emerged as a leader. It went from maybe a dozen people in Westlake Park to hundreds of people. Carl led a march through the city, and the entire way, he was urging protestors to be peaceful. I shot one photo where he was speaking with police officers about where the march could go and was trying to negotiate with them. It stood out to me to see him calmly talking to a police officer, and this police officer was heavily armed with a large baton on his back.

“It impressed upon me how much there is a need for multiple perspectives and multiple stories to be told.” — Blake Dahlin

I ended up spending three days downtown and saw a lot of photographers from freelance publications and news outlets. They were rushing to the scenes of conflict and violence. That wasn’t the angle I wanted. There were many people who were there to stand up and march peacefully. I thought that it matters where I stand as a journalist, as it completely shapes the story that’s told.

It impressed upon me how much there is a need for multiple perspectives and multiple stories to be told. We need people who can stand in the gap and build bridges between sides so that people don’t move farther apart.

With everything going on with COVID-19, with all these protests over racial injustice, I hope people will move closer together and that constructive conversations will happen.

To see Blake Dahlin’s photos of the Seattle protests, visit: spu.edu/dahlinseattle

Pritma Dhillon-Chattha | photo by Aaron/Snappr
photo by Aaron/Snappr

Pritma Dhillon-Chattha

Lavender Online Psychiatry and Therapy Services

For years, people talked about the possibilities of telemedicine, where health care providers consult with patients via videoconferencing tools. The concept never fully caught on until this year, when insurance reimbursement policies changed, and patients, anxious to avoid doctors’ offices and hospitals, embraced video and telephone calls to access their providers. Shortly after the COVID-19 crisis began, Pritma Dhillon-Chattha ’03 and her business partner, Brighid Gannon, co-founded Lavender, a service for New Yorkers to remotely access mental health care from board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioners.

What made you start an online mental health service for New Yorkers?

Dhillon-Chatha: In 2015, I embarked on my DNP (doctorate of nursing practice) at Yale University. My friend, Brighid, and I have kept in touch ever since we met at Yale.

We often talked about how we could support both nurses and patients by doing something in the psychiatry space because Brighid is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. We talked about it, but never put it into action. Then COVID-19 happened. We were getting a lot of calls and texts from friends and colleagues asking how to access mental health care. They were struggling to get in to see psychiatrists and therapists who were booked out for months.

There was also a gap in how to reach providers. They didn’t provide an email. They were not always accessible by phone, so just trying to access care was re-traumatizing patients.

Brighid and I were chatting about this and said, “Wait a minute. We could probably do something about this.” We are complementary to one another. She has the clinical side of the puzzle, and I have more of the tech and the digital side of it. We thought, in the time of COVID-19, we actually don’t need a physical brick-and-mortar practice. We could do all of this online through telehealth.

“In the time of COVID-19, we actually don’t need a physical brick-and-mortar practice. We could do all of this online through telehealth.”

We had experience from past startups and businesses we’ve both worked on, so we were able to move quickly. From the idea on March 24 to actual implementation on May 4, it was 45 days. (Coincidentally, Brighid had registered a professional corporation in case she needed it, so thankfully that was already there; otherwise, it would have delayed our launch.)

During COVID, nurse practitioners who worked for Brighid in her psychiatric consultation business were at home in self-isolation. They wanted to pick up extra shifts, so we were able to redeploy them onto Lavender. We used an Ubertype model where they could control what hours they wanted to be available.

We have a total of five providers, and we’re in the process of onboarding several more. We’ve grown exponentially and are finding that clients are far more receptive to remote psychiatric care. Simply making a call to book an appointment is difficult for some people, much less following through with that appointment. People have to drive to an appointment, go into a waiting room — there are so many potential exit points before they even get to meet with someone. Furthermore, elderly clients who cannot leave their homes because of COVID-19 risks are now able to access care within the safety of their own home.

Maybe the one good news story out of COVID is how the health care system has been forced to embrace telemedicine, and I’m hoping it will continue to do so.

Julieta Altamirano-Crosby | photo by Charlie Cotugno
photo by Charlie Cotugno

Julieta Altamirano-Crosby

Lynnwood City Council

Julieta Altamirano-Crosby MEd ’18 wears many hats in her mission to serve her Latino communities. She is a former commissioner on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs. With her husband, she started a nonprofit called WAGRO, focused on breaking down barriers to education, art, science, and health for Latinos in Washington and in her hometown of Guerrero, Mexico. Altamirano-Crosby serves on the board of the Lynnwood Food Bank. She was appointed by the Washington state governor to Humanities Washington’s board of trustees. And as of Jan. 6, 2020, she serves as a city councilwoman for the city of Lynnwood, Washington.

When COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions hit Washington at the end of March, Altamirano-Crosby jumped to action to serve the most vulnerable populations.

How has the coronavirus impacted your world?

Altamirano-Crosby: I first noticed a barrier in information about the virus and restrictions for Spanish-speaking people. So, I started leading online videos in Spanish to share information of what was happening in the city and state with my Latino community.

I also reached out to several organizations to host COVID-19 testing sites. The first site opened with support from Herrman Law Group, in collaboration with West Care Clinic, and we served around 200 people in the first day. Harborview has committed to sending a staffed mobile van for COVID-19 testing to the Lynnwood Food Bank parking lot every Friday, focusing on reaching underserved communities, communities of color, veterans, those in transitional housing, and the homeless community. Harborview tested around 500 individuals on the site’s first day, and another site hosted by the Snohomish Health District administered around 300 tests on its first day.

“COVID-19 doesn’t respect what race you are, how rich or poor you are. Everybody is vulnerable.” — Julieta Altamirano-Crosby

The Lynnwood Food Bank parking lot has become an amazing, amazing place. People already go there for food, so it feels comfortable and familiar. Around 450 families go there for food each week.

We are living history right now. For me, 2020 included a lot of reflection — reflection and deep thinking about how we are connected, because this is universal. COVID-19 doesn’t respect what race you are, how rich or poor you are. Everybody is vulnerable. And I think that we have to learn a lot, and feel empathy for each other, and feel respect for each other.

What has happened this year has spotlighted racial and ethnic disparities that were always witnessed by some, but now those discrepancies are highlighted. Hopefully, this pandemic helps to develop the appropriate equality, diversity, and inclusion in every single area that will continue to last.

Christina Hernandez | photo by Katie/Snappr
photo by Katie/Snappr

Cristina Hernandez

Graduate student at Boston University

Cristina Hernandez ’12 graduated from SPU with a major in art and a minor in reconciliation studies before earning a master’s degree in social work from Boston University. She recently completed an internship at Believe in Success in Boston, where she led domestic violence support groups and provided case management for program participants. Hernandez is currently working toward a master of divinity degree at Boston University.

You have worked with survivors of domestic violence and immigrant populations. What has this year been like for them?

Hernandez: The issues that impact my clients — immigration, domestic violence, structural racism, economic justice, access to health care, etc. — are not new issues. The pandemic further exposed and amplified these inequities so that people are starting to wake up to these issues that have been there for decades.

The issues all intersect. I worked with domestic violence survivors who are also immigrants or asylum seekers. Maybe they’re with an abusive partner who is using their undocumented status against them, threatening to call ICE. These people ask themselves, “Do I stay in quarantine with my abuser? Or do I leave and risk having no money to support my three kids?” There are many complications which abusers can exploit to control their partners.

We’re also witnessing one of the biggest civil rights movements since the ’60s. There have been protests around the world for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement because racism is everywhere. Part of this national and global awakening is the fact that people are able to share and access live videos right from the streets.

A lot of what I have to say is directed to the Christian church: Racial and economic justice and care for the vulnerable is a responsibility for everyone who claims to follow Jesus. This work isn’t just for people of color, social workers, or activists. It’s something that everyone should commit to living out, not just as a momentary struggle, but as a lifelong effort.

Additional research and reporting: Christina Darden-Hjort, Bob Elmer, Hope Evans, Diane McDougall, Shelly Ngo, and Chris Smith

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