DSHS Honors Champions of Equity: Recognizing the 2nd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — DSHS Beloved Community Award Recipients

Pictured left to right: DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses, DSHS Employee Kelly Lerner, DSHS Facilities, Finance and Analytics Deputy Assitant Secretary Harvey Perez, and Finance and Analytics Assitant Secretary Rich Pannkuk.

In recognition of the enduring legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Department of Social and Health Services proudly announced the second annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — DSHS Beloved Community Award. This prestigious accolade pays homage to Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to advocating for the rights and equality of Black Americans and marginalized communities.

Assistant secretaries from each DSHS administration were invited to nominate outstanding individuals and partners who have demonstrated and made remarkable contributions to advancing antiracism and the elimination of white supremacy through acts of service.

In the Employee Category, the award went to Kelly Lerner from the Facilities, Finance and Analytics Administration. She actively spearheads equity initiatives, sponsors participation in the EDAI Communities of Practice workgroup, and reorganized her team structure to increase opportunities for diverse hiring.

“Kelly’s authenticity promoting growth and learning that foster inclusivity, belonging, eliminating bias, and promoting cultural competence help FFA on this pathway of transformative change. She is a relentless leader, ensures those around her feel welcomed and acknowledged, and empowers her staff daily to seek opportunities to advance equity within their scope,” said Harvey Perez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Facilities, Finance and Analytics Administration.

For the Community Partner Category, the honor was bestowed upon Warren Gohl. Warren, a spiritual leader, and dedicated community partner, volunteers his time to actively engage and inspire residents in building self-esteem and confidence through reflective activities, notably leading the sweat lodge at the DSHS Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Pictured right to left: DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses, SCC Deputy Chief Executive Officer Candice Yi, SCC CEO Keith Devos, Behavioral Health Administration Assistant Secretary Kevin Bovenkamp and Warren Gohl.

“Warren is a remarkable man who is truly dedicated to supporting our residents through difficult change and in many cases trauma that has affected their lives. He still travels up from Mexico regularly to engage with residents and to participate in the sweat lodge,” said Keith Devos, chief executive officer at the SCC.

In the Business Category, the accolade went to Direct Interactions of Seattle. Direct Interactions president Matt Storey accepted the award on behalf of the company. Their commitment to inclusivity by actively prioritizing the hiring of individuals with disabilities, contributes to a workplace that embraces diversity and fosters excellence in customer service through support, compassion, and effective communication with all employees.

From left to right: DVR Interim Secretary Dana Phelps; Jonas Nicholson, Direct Interactions CEO; Matt Storey, Direct Interactions, president and founder; and DSHSSecretary Jilma Meneses (right).

“Vocational rehabilitation is all about supporting people with disabilities as they identify what their dream job is and providing resources and support to help achieve those dreams. This would not be possible without organizations and business partners like Direct Interactions who hire people with disabilities. We thank them for their commitment to and leadership in providing employment opportunities for all the people we serve,” said Dana Phelps, Interim Director, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Congratulations to all the nominees and the award recipients. Through their commitment to service and social justice, they are truly transforming lives, advancing Dr. King’s vision for the Beloved Community. DSHS is excited to continue the awards in 2024, as we persist in recognizing our staff and partners for their pro-equity and anti-racism efforts.