Honoring Unsung Heroes of the Inland Northwest Pandemic

During the pandemic, we've had many reminders to thank our health care workers, our teachers, and the people whose work mandates in-person labor.

For 60 students at Spokane Valley High School who are working on their project-based curriculum virtually, the thanks for 10 unsung heroes will come in the form of carefully curated gift baskets featuring gift cards and treats purchased from and donated by local stores.

Led by the teaching team of Joni Chambers, Eric Sanchez and Seth Robertson, the class worked in teams to gather nominees, create a website where the public can vote on a winner who will receive an extra special prize, and gather the ideas for the basket items funded by a small grant.

"Part of our mission is to be very community oriented at this school," Chambers says. "It's been an eye opener for the students to think about what other people have donated to our community and what really runs a community. It's not all big business, it's boots on the ground keeping people fed."

Indeed, the nominees come from a variety of service areas instrumental to helping people throughout the past year.

There's Doug Beane, a Meals on Wheels driver who delivers meals to seniors in need, and Marion Hill, who at more than 80 years old has spent the last quarter of a century volunteering at the Cheney emergency food bank.

Christine Duncan makes medical house calls with Dispatch Health, while Ben Preiss, an ER doctor at Sacred Heart, told students the best part of being a doctor is getting to be there for people on their best and worst days. Fellow health-related nominee Lin Preiss is a chaplain at Sacred Heart who's provided counseling and spiritual guidance to patients who are isolated as COVID-19 not only puts people in the hospital but prevents many visits.

Sharon Grant has helped seniors learn new ways to stay in touch with their loved ones while living at Canterbury Court, where she's director, and Tennille O'Blenness worked quickly to ensure inpatients getting substance abuse treatment at Isabella House could get connected digitally with resources they needed.

Demetrius Palmer, a life coach at Excelsior Wellness Center, created daily motivational YouTube videos for his students, and Calvetta Phair provided low-income students with computers for virtual learning through her foundation, "On It." Meanwhile, Mel Luedders, a preschool teacher and director at Plum Tree, revamped and built outdoor structures to enable in-person learning to continue for the youngest students in the community.

The students ask that you vote for your favorite hero on the list at bit.ly/3sKiaIL. ♦