The Times 

Sherwood Trust presents Everyday Equity and Empathy Community Workshop


Sherwood Trust is presenting free community workshops on equity and empathy. The second in the four-part series is June 16 and will highlight rural leadership.

“We welcome community members to share in a live community learning experience that we hope will inspire and motivate actions to build equity and empathy into your daily routine,” said Sherwood Trust Program Director Julia Leavitt. The free virtual event will take place Wednesday, June 16, from 9-10:30 am PST. To register, visit

Participants will hear from local and national experts in rural leadership. The keynote speaker will be Heidi Khokhar, executive director for Oregon-based Rural Development Initiatives (RDI). Nationally renowned for her pioneering work in rural leadership, Khokhar has, for 20 years, led efforts to develop diverse, skilled, and connected local leaders that support rural economic sustainability.

RDI has produced Sherwood Trust’s Community Leadership program for 17 years. Other RDI programs included WealthWorks economic revitalization initiative and the volunteer Community Ambassador Network.

“The community learning session is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of how strong rural leaders demonstrate empathy and center decision making around equity,” Leavitt says.

Local speakers include Jennie Dickinson, executive director for Port of Columbia; Roger Esparza, Walla Walla real estate broker and nonprofit leader; Steve Irving, council president of Milton Freewater City Council; Mark Kajita, president and CEO of Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla; and Mandy Thompson, chairman of the College Place School Board.

Jennie Dickinson is the Executive Director of the Port of Columbia. Since 2007, Dickinson has coordinated improvements to the Lyons Ferry Marina facility, constructed a new facility for Columbia County Public Transportation, created a plan, and found funding for the development and construction of the Blue Mountain Station Artisan Food Park, and facilitated the re-opening of the Port-owned short line railroad. Dickinson played a significant role in the siting of wind energy generation over the last 15 years and most recently assisted Columbia Pulp as they opened a new cutting-edge wheat straw pulp facility in Columbia County.

Roger Esparza is a real estate broker in Walla Walla with deep experience in regional nonprofits. He currently serves on several boards and is past chair of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Community Council. Esparza, a Sherwood Trust’s Community Leadership Program graduate, has coached youth sports and is an active mentor and volunteer for numerous area organizations.

Steve Irving is an active member of the Milton Freewater City Council for over 17 years, where he currently serves as council president. A Milton Freewater resident for 33 years, Irving is a member of the Chamber Ambassadors and on the boards of the Milton Freewater Community Development Partnership and the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council. A dedicated sports fan, Irving has been involved in youth softball and the Mac-Hi JV Squad.

Mark Kajita is president and CEO of Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla. A Walla Walla native, he started at Baker Boyer Bank in 2003 and worked in various positions before being named CEO in 2014. Kajita is active in the community and serves on multiple boards, including the Blue Mountain Community Foundation, Mill Creek Coalition, and Whitman College Board of Trustees.

Mandy Thompson is board chairman of College Place Public Schools. She has served on the school board since 2015. She notes serving on the school board has been an opportunity for continual change and growth. Thompson, who previously served on the Touchet School Board during its superintendent search and successful Touchet School Renovation bond, has for 23 years worked as a dental hygienist in Walla Walla.

Rural Leadership is the second community workshop in a four-part series titled “Everyday Equity and Empathy.” The last two workshops in the series are Transformation Through Arts and Culture on September 16 and Civic Engagement on November 16. Sherwood Trust workshops are free and open to the community and have live Spanish translation. Registration, available at, is required for the virtual event.


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