Sealund leaves a legacy at community network
Lia Sealund is looking forward to a little down time. After 11 years with the Wahkiakum Community Network (WCN), she is stepping down as Executive Director to take some time for herself and let newcomer Ginger Hake take the reins.
WCN hired Sealund in 2003. It started out as a part time position but soon grew into full time work. The same thing happened with her part time job at the PUD. Before she knew it she was working 60 to 80 hours a week, committed to two jobs that brought her a lot of joy.
“When I interviewed for the position, I was taken back by what the WCN was all about,” Sealund said. “I thought, ‘if you don’t hire me, I want to be a board member.’ It was a way for me to serve the older students and still be relevant in my kids’ lives.”
Three years earlier, Sealund had been living in Longview with her husband Don and her children, Alec and Michanne. Alec was taking the leap to middle school in the fall and Sealund was having misgivings.
“They always walked to school together. My son was going to get on a school bus to attend a larger school. They were going to be separated,” she said. “I didn’t like where Longview was going. It was too big and I didn’t want my kids to disappear. I wanted the teachers to know them by name.”
Her mom was living in Cathlamet at the time and during one visit, Sealund stopped by the school.
“I loved it,” she said. “I thought, ‘that’s where I need to bring my kids. That’s where they need to grow up.’”
The farmhouse they rented on Puget Island was perfect. While she checked out the house, the kids ran around and played in the yard. That vision was all the impetus she needed to sign the lease right then and there.
Sealund is proud of the work that WCN has done and will continue to do and is grateful to have been part of some of its success.
“I think that WCN has been successful because of the vision and the commitment of the people who founded it,” she said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the value and energy that they invested. It was an honor to step into the organization and I feel good about passing it on to those that are there now. It’s a living, breathing, evolving organization and it still holds true to some of the vision that they had in the beginning.”
According to Sealund, WCN has brought $1.1 million in funding into the community in the last 10 years. In that same amount of time, community members have volunteered 10,000 plus hours.
“It doesn’t take money from the county,” Sealund said. “Instead of draining funds, it’s bringing in money.”
There are a couple accomplishments that stand out for Sealund when she thinks of her tenure.
One success was bringing student leadership on board.
“My view,” Sealund said, “was how can we as a community look at our data, look at the social problems that we’ve got and sit down and work out a strategic approach to improving our students’ lives when the students aren’t at the table themselves?”
WCN began a youth initiative and now students from all over Wahkiakum County and Naselle make up 40 percent of the board.
“It’s very unique to Wahkiakum County,” Sealund said. “A lot of other board members from across the state express how impressed they are with our youth engagement. I think I’m most proud of that. I think it’s a phenomenal tool to help strengthen teens’ lives.“
Another accomplishment she is excited about is the community center that will soon open downtown and will bring a public face to the network name.
“I think the community center is just a huge example of the culmination of strengthened partnerships and collaboration in the area,” said Sealund. “WCN is about networking and ensuring that one entity doesn’t have to do it all by themselves. The partnership allows us to strengthen the fabric of the community overall.”
“The Town of Cathlamet really believed in the concept of WCN and the role it plays in the community and it shows with their donation: the use of their building,” she said. “By them investing their time and energy and taxpayer dollars to improve that building, they believed that ultimately it’s going to benefit the entire community and it’s going to bring opportunities. Health and Human Services have committed staff, and Wahkiakum County will be overseeing the liability insurance for it. More Power Computers in Rainier donated 50 hours of technology to get the place wired. Washington State University put in the technology to have a big screen television so we could teleconference. Lower Columbia College stepped up and donated a bank of computers for online learning. Southwest Washington Worksource Development has done the same.
“It’s a huge project that makes me feel good and I wanted to see it through to its final stages. All that is left is some polishing.”
Truth be told, she’d rather not talk about herself. She’ll gladly tell you about the Wahkiakum Community Network or the people who are working quietly and consistently to make a difference in our community. Or she’ll tell you about her kids, whose young lives were the catalyst for many of the decisions that made her who she is today.
What is she going to do with all this free time now that she is down to one job?
“I have no hobbies,” Sealund said. “I’m working on a clean slate.” Still the long hours made her a sedentary creature and she has already begun to spend time in her new home gym to turn that around. She’s also using an immersion program to study Spanish because she’s always wanted to be bilingual.
“I think it would be a valuable tool for my job at the PUD but we also love to vacation in Mexico,” she said. “I love the food. I’d really like to be immersed in that.”
She’s also looking forward to having free time to be spontaneous.
“I can take up canning or mow my mom’s yard,” Sealund joked.
Alec and Michanne are now seniors in college. He’s in Los Angeles getting a degree in art and entering into a prestigious three-year apprenticeship with a world-renowned tattoo artist. She’s at Portland State, finishing a bachelor of arts in letters, combining her love for communications, media and writing which she hopes will lead to a job in the music field.
“I’m very proud of my children,” she said. “They’re just good people. I love being around them.”
As for WCN, she’s not worried.
“Next year may be different from last year, but that is a sign of growth. It means it’s evolving and responding to the needs of the community.”
“I think Ginger Hake will do well,” Sealund said. “She’s got character, a great presence, and she’s smart. I feel good passing it on to her.”