Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video] | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]

Stories of women doing great things—and that includes our Woman of the Year, Community Hero, Young Hero and more. Meet these incredible change-makers in Central Oregon

A note from our editor:

Last year, the Source Weekly—which has long had a Women's Issue coinciding with International Women's Day—joined forces with the Bend Chamber's Women of the Year awards, for one giant event. Quite literally the night of the awards banquet, I arrived a little late due to the fact that I'd written a breaking news story about the arrival of COVID-19 in Oregon. Little did we know that the Women of the Year awards would be the last time many of us would be in a room with that many people, and just how royally COVID-19 would upend all of our lives.

This year, with the Chamber focused on supporting businesses through this time, the Source has taken on the Women of the Year awards on its own once again—but not without the support and buy-in of the community. The first step came through a nomination process that anyone in the community could take part in. Then, the honorees from the past four years were invited to help narrow down the nominees—and finally, the past two Source Women of the Year, Jesse Durham (2020) and Erika McCalpine (2019) stood by me to decide the winners. It was truly a community effort, and I thank everyone who took part. Our winner this year may come as no surprise to those who know her. In the same way that none of us knew what havoc 2020 would bring, I don't think Morgan Schmidt had any idea of how her "little idea" to create an online space for pandemic support would change her, and so many others' lives. Enjoy the issue, and congrats to all the honorees!

Woman of the Year: Morgan Schmidt

Pay attention to issues around local social justice, pandemic support, activism or homelessness issues this year and very likely you'll see at least one name repeated in all those spheres: Morgan Schmidt. A pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Schmidt made a name for herself in 2020 by founding Pandemic Partners, a Facebook group aimed at supporting those who needed help and offering a place for those who wanted to help to do so.

That alone was enough for at least a dozen community members to nominate her for the Source's Woman of the Year award—but Schmidt has also done much more. During the summer of wildfires, Schmidt helped organize a "smoke shelter" at her church, allowing those who live outdoors or in temporary dwellings some relief. The site later served as a temporary winter warming shelter when freezing weather arrived earlier than the planned space was ready for.

Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]
Darris Hurst

Schmidt was also resident cheerleader and crowd organizer during the summer's impromptu protest that surrounded two buses containing Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees—where you might have seen her among those on the front line, facing off against federal agents. All of these activities made Schmidt a natural choice for Woman of the Year—and our panel of past Woman of the Year honorees agreed.

Learn more about Morgan Schmidt, in her own words:

"Pandemic Partners started of course in response to realizing coronavirus would be a reality for us here in the United States about mid-March of 2020. It kind of came out of a desire to not just worry about what happens to worship on Sundays, but how do we continue to be a presence of love and to serve our neighbors. And kind of on a whim I thought, maybe if we start a Facebook group where people can connect and help each other, that could be kind of a cool platform. And so Pandemic Partners was born, and it was this really simple premise of, if you need help, make a post and ask for help. And if you can help, comment and connect with that person in a safe way and help them out.

I couldn't really believe the way that we kind of grew overnight—3,000 people joined this movement of kindness in the first 24 hours, I think. And a year later, we have about 12,000 members that are continuing to just practice this radical kindness toward their neighbors. And we started to call it "crowdsourcing kindness," where someone can ask, and you know, we can't fix huge systemic issues, but we can do what neighbors are meant to do and look out for each other.

That kind of surprise growth—I mean, I'm not a Facebook connoisseur or social-media savvy, but I didn't realize the power that kind of energy for love and kindness—that kind of community buy-in—and so really started opening doors for Pandemic Partners as a group and myself as kind of the curator of that space to be involved in some other advocacy work here in Bend. I was shocked to be invited to some pretty big tables; to have conversation around equality and social justice on a grander scale not specific to COVID, but we know that the COVID pandemic has highlighted things that have kind of been in the mix in our community for a very long time—pandemics of poverty, epidemics of racism and the mix of climate change, you can say. So it's been such an honor to be in the position where, in the last year, I have met just some of the most amazing human beings in our community who are doing incredible work. I feel like a child in their presence, just learning from them and becoming aware of some of these people who have been working hard for so long for justice, and so that our whole community flourishes. And for whatever reason, Pandemic Partners has given me a platform to not only connect with these people, but highlight, elevate their work and try to get them some more support.

WATCH: Morgan Schmidt talking about her work with Pandemic Partners and much more.

I keep expecting us to run out of steam. I keep expecting it to just be like a fleeting run—do people really want to help? I don't think that energy ever goes away. I think we just sometimes run out of ideas, or don't know how to help, and so through Pandemic Partners we've got a really cool way of saying, hey, you still got that energy? Here's where you could put it. Here's tangible ways you can actually help your neighbor.

There's part of me that sometimes worries that it'll become less glamorous to care. There's part of me that worries, as we go back to whatever we're going to use for "The New Normal," that we'll start to forget this magic that we tended to, of caring for one another, this going out of our way to advocate, practice radical kindness. I think we all know that in the grand scheme of "normal life," it can move fast, be really insular. We can be more and more separated—which is ironic in a COVID time, where we're told to physically distance, in a way I think that's made us more connected and care for one another. And it's been an experience of solidarity—not one I would wish on any of us. But I think as we get caught back up in the normalcy of life and the everyday freedoms that we all miss desperately, that it is easy to kind of forget that this work needs to continue. It's easy to forget that there's not an on-off switch; it's just always on. The work of justice, the need for kindness continues.

The whole reason I was at First Pres in the first place is that they have been in Bend a long time, advocating for justice for a long time, and they're willing to try crazy ideas around that. So I've really been so honored to have the support of our church, of our board, of the community at large for the most part—you know, can't speak for everybody—but by and large, I think it's been a really powerful way for folks even within our church community, but then of course beyond who might be stuck at home, who might be limited in how much they could physically go out and do to help somebody, they have ways of now connecting and making some things happening. It's really exciting. I think it's been energizing and life-giving.

There's a group of us that formed Clergy for Justice of Central Oregon this past summer. That's a group of us from all over the place within Central Oregon denominations who—many of us have experienced being a clergy presence in protest environments, and knowing that that's more of a new thing for Bend this past year. It's happened before, but certainly not to the extent that I think we've seen last year. It just became really important to us to accompany those leaders as activists and those folks who might be new and coming out for the first time. So, you know, we had conversations around, 'What does it mean for us to model non-violence, to model that peacemaking posture, to model kindness and love that we hope we're showing up to give support to you?"

Community Hero: Carrie McGuigan

Carrie McGuigan, nominated by a co-worker, is a Family Nurse Practitioner working at Planned Parenthood's Bend Health Center. Carrie worked at Deschutes County reproductive health and sexually transmitted infections clinic for seven years before joining the Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette Bend Health Center Team in 2018. Carrie's passion and advocacy for nonjudgmental health care in underrepresented communities made her a great fit at Planned Parenthood. It was this passion coupled with organizational support that allowed the Bend Health Center, under Carrie's leadership, to launch Gender-Affirming Care for the first time ever.

Here's what McGuigan had to say about her life and her work, in her own words.

Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]
Darris Hurst

Editor's note: The online version of McGuigan's "in her own words" has been edited from the print version.

"I decided to go into nursing after I spent three years in West Africa living in Ivory Coast doing health education work with the Peace Corps. The world opened up for me during that time and I realized how diverse and rich the human experience is. I had been working with International Planned Parenthood there doing a lot of work helping women get access to birth control and promoting HIV/AIDS education among many other projects. I came back to the US and decided to go into nursing in order to combine my love of public health with hands-on skills in health care.

After 8 years of nursing in the hospital setting working in acute care, emergency and intensive care settings, I realized I needed to get back to my love of public health. I earned my nurse practitioner degree in 2010 and moved to Bend soon after. I was hoping to find a job at Planned Parenthood but there were no openings. I was lucky to land my first nurse practitioner job at our Deschutes County Health Department in the reproductive and sexual health clinic where I spent 7 years learning about the needs of our community with an amazing team. In 2018, our county clinic was going to close (but thankfully didn't!) due to a reallocation of reproductive health funding. Planned Parenthood happened to have a clinician opening that I was able to secure for myself. I'd come full circle and found myself in the position I'd set my sights on almost 20 years prior. Working with Planned Parenthood has really helped me to expand my reach and ability to do the clinical and public health work that I am passionate about.

Planned Parenthood's mission is to provide, promote, and protect access to sexual and reproductive health care and keep this definition broad to include a vast array of services from annual exams, cervical cancer screenings, birth control methods, vasectomies, pregnancy options/support, screening and management of sexually transmitted infections, gynecological and breast services, PrEP. We launched gender affirming care services in our Portland area clinics in 2016. In 2018, I eagerly accepted the offer to take on the role of launching our gender affirming hormone services in Bend. We weren’t sure what the need and the numbers were going to look like in Central Oregon but it's been well-utilized.

We are an informed consent provider which helps to limit barriers to care which are often many for folks seeking gender affirming care. Informed consent means we review the risks/benefits/pros/cons of using gender affirming hormones with our patients who are able to ask questions but often come more well informed than our consent form and ready for this step in their journey. We’ve been able to serve our local community, and with the pandemic, we rapidly launched our telehealth capabilities which have opened up our services to the entire state. People are calling us for gender-affirming care services from all over the state of Oregon exposing the overall lack of this essential health care service that has been missing from our healthcare system.

We know that humanity is extremely diverse but our society seeks to restrict and confine the human experience. We’ve got this social structure that promotes a very binary way of looking at human beings. This structure marginalizes, especially people who are transgender, non-binary, gender diverse or expansive who don’t fit into strict binary social constructs. People seek gender affirmation to align their outward expression with their true, authentic selves. This can be done with clothing, name changes, pronouns preferences. People can also do it by initiating hormones, and that’s where we step in with gender affirming hormone therapy with testosterone or estrogen treatments and a few other medications. There are also surgeries available that people may choose or not choose to pursue. There is no set formula for gender affirmation, only countless unique journeys.

My favorite part of my clinical day is being with a person during their initial gender affirming hormone visit when, after we talk about their journey, goals of care, review health history, social support system, discuss the informed consent process and then I say, ‘OK, well, what pharmacy would you like me to send these prescriptions to?" and they say, "What? Are you kidding me? This is happening today?’ People break down in tears, smiles light up the room, the joy is palpable. This is essential healthcare. It’s such a gift in my life to play a small part in the gender journey of my fellow Oregonians as they seek to become their most authentic selves.

The LGBTQI+ services in Central Oregon have been expanding. Mosaic Medical is an amazing community partner who went through a very purposeful shift several years ago to ensure that their services were LGBTQI+ friendly. There are now many mental health, primary care, voice therapy, surgical partners to help support gender affirming care access in our community. There are also several social/community organizations including Out Central Oregon, Central Oregon Trans Health Coalition, and PFLAG to name a few. Collectively we're working to create a safety net for all LGBTQI+ folks in our community.

The qualities I admire in leadership are humility and empathy. These traits lead to self-reflection and an ability to connect with the richness of the people, cultures, and history all around us. A great leader can recognize the value of empowering the marginalized and underrepresented voices of our communities while creating spaces for these voices to be heard and incorporated into our systems and social fabric."

Young Hero: Rya Hickey

Nominated by two community members, Rya Hickey is a college student at Oregon State University-Cascades who keeps busy supporting youth and animals. As one of her nominators said, "Rya is an advocate for LGBTQ issues as well as the environment. She has made the Dean's list three years in a row and works. She also makes time to mentor high school students in mock trial competitions. We are lucky to have her in Bend."

Here's more about Rya Hickey, in her own words.

Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]
Darris Hurst

"My name is Rya Hickey. I'm 21. I live in Deschutes River Woods in Bend. I'm a student at OSU-Cascades, studying—I did a create-your-own major, but it's focused on communication and culture. I'm working on an honor's thesis focused on social media and the Black Lives Matter movement. I also work at a trail company and equestrian center in Sunriver, and I work in the winters at Cascades Academy coaching the Mock Trial team.

As I was watching this (Black Lives Matter) go down over social media, I was stuck in my house, I had the spare time and I was watching different people with different interpretations of what was happening. And there's folks on both sides supporting and not supporting the movement, and one thing that I found particularly frustrating from my own personal experience was that there was very clearly a binary there. There were two sides to this; you were for it or you were against it, and it was just butting heads constantly. If you believed one side you were wrong by the other side, and there wasn't any discussion.

So, what I'm trying to research is, can we have conversations via social media about these types of things—BLM is one of the bigger ones, but any political thing, there's just such a binary. And so what I want to do is look into, under what circumstances can we actually talk about it? Is it even possible or are we so focused on our own narratives and don't even care about the other side, that's not a possibility. And if that's the case, how do we appropriately handle that?

Outside of the animals I work with—they've been a part of my life forever and it's something that I've always been really passionate about. Music is another one for me. And the natural world; I'm very passionate about the environment and doing what I can to do my part toward offsetting some of the damages we're doing.

I've had my challenges. I've had difficulties with one of my biological parents that I've gotten through, and you know, just the general difficulties of just growing up, especially during a time when there's a lot of societal stress, environmental stress, political stress. Right now, the world is difficult, but the way I've always got through everything is first of all talk about it. Find someone you trust. Talk about your issues. I know a lot of people like to just hold it deep in their soul and not express it to anyone. Talk about it and seek the positive. It's so easy to get wrapped in negative, especially when it's like all the news puts forward when you turn on the TV. There's a lot of negativity, and it's easy to get into the mindset that that's all there is. It gets stressful, and then you get stuck. There's so much positive.

You're seeing political cultures collide, and so something that worries me is with social media and us being able to put ourselves in this bubble of just only seeing our own perspectives—what other problems is that gonna cause? And are we gonna be able to reach an equal ground with each other? But I'm also seeing so much good happening that is just spreading awareness and attempting to educate.

I was shocked to be nominated, let alone to get this, and so I'm really humbled and honored and excited to let people into my nerdy brain."

Emerging Activist: Kerstin Arias

Kerstin Arias was nominated by a handful of people in two categories: Woman of the Year and Community Hero. While our panel of past honorees ultimately selected other nominees for the three awards we'd set out to give, we couldn't let Arias go unrecognized. Over the past year, Arias has been activated in the community through her initial work with the Central Oregon Diversity Project, and eventually on her own as the year progressed. As an artist and a mother of three, the caring commitment she's extended toward children, families and those struggling with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism this year deserved recognition.

Here's more about Kerstin Arias, in her own words.

Women of the Year 2021 ▶ [With Video]
Courtesy Kerstin Arias

"My name is Kerstin. I will be 25 on Sunday. I was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas. I moved here to help my mom run an opiate addiction recovery clinic where then I started college at COCC. I started a family here, where now I have three boys—one that's 12, one that's five, an 11-month-old and our pet dog.

I consider myself an activist. I love my community. I love working with and for my community and serving my community. And yeah, I want to be a person who can help make change in the world and not sit back and wish that I could have done something and it's really what I work and strive for to make this world a better place for my children.

I was with Central Oregon Diversity Project, but I'm not with that organization anymore. But while with that organization I hosted a school supply drive which was able to help over 45 children. After that I also did a costume Halloween drive, so children could have costumes.

I organized a holiday dinner for families, which was able to help over 120 families. We partnered up with Food 4 Less, and we were able to give out certificates.

After that I did a Christmas toy drive, which was able to help over 100 families with their kids and their parents, which was really awesome. We were able to have the kids take a picture with Santa. It's just really, really cool. It made me really happy while following all precautions and you know, with COVID happening.

I also just started my own business where I sell candles. I make candles and oils, soap bars.

I always tell myself I want to be for others what I needed when I was a child, when I was a teenager. I wanted to be a resource. So, that means... being someone that can inspire others and be a resource for many others.

I hope that they [her children] can live in a world where race, sexual orientation or gender or any of that stuff doesn't even matter. Where they can wake up and ask somebody, 'Hey, what's your name?' And that literally be the only question they should have to ask somebody to get to know somebody and want to be their friend. And just live in a world that is full of peace and love and unity for they no longer have the fight—for any of the things that we as people are still having to fight for as our rights. Yes, and you know, obviously to have a great, successful wonderful life and to use their voices and I hope that that's one of the things that I hope that I can teach them as being their mother is, you know to always stand up for what you believe in. Fight for what you are passionate about."


More info on how winners are decided:

1. Community nominates people—anyone can nominate and the nomination window was open for 10 days.

2. Our panel of past honorees rates the candidates using a scoring sheet, info from the candidate themselves and info supplied by the nominators, and selects a 1st and 2nd choice for each category. Based on those votes, there was a clear winner this year in the Woman of the Year category. There was a three-way tie for Community Hero, but one of them was also the Woman of the Year winner, so we removed her from the running for Community Hero.

3. Our past Women of the Year meet with candidates for awards in which there was a tie (just one category this year), and that group selects based on a combination of factors that include length of time of the person’s service, overall impact, interview presentation and more.

Due to the fact that one of the Community Hero nominees was nominated in two categories but did not win either one, we made the choice to include her in this Women's Issue feature in 2021. 

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