SWAN 2019

SWAN recognized Joan Penney (left), Dorothy Elsner (center), and Veronica Lopez as 2019 Women of the Year at an awards ceremony Thursday night at the Swinomish Casino & Lodge in Anacortes.

ANACORTES — The 35th annual Skagit Women’s Alliance and Network awards Thursday night put a spotlight on professional women in Skagit County and their work as business owners, leaders of nonprofits and mentors.

In a keynote address, life coach Mari Wuellner said girls often grow up believing they’re too loud, bossy or shy, and keep themselves at the back of the line.

She said the SWAN founders helped defy that belief when they started the organization 35 years ago.

Three women were honored as SWAN Women of the Year.

Joan Penney of Community Action of Skagit County received the award for professional achievement. Penney has led a capital campaign for Community Action and other fundraising projects in Skagit County.

She noted that many of this year’s honorees represent nonprofits, which make up just over 6% of wages in Skagit County.

Penney noted that the 2020 election will mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which was achieved through the work of nonprofits.

“We stand on their shoulders every day,” Penney said. “The work we do now is more critical than ever because of social and economic issues — to own a home and to pass wealth on.”

Veronica Lopez, coordinator of the Skagit County Children’s Advocacy Center through the Brigid Collins Family Center, won the SWAN award for community engagement.

An undocumented immigrant until she was 9, Lopez said she grew up believing she wasn’t supposed to exist.

“(SWAN) gave me a gift,” she said. “And the gift is I’m visible.”

She encouraged those of all ages to make a difference in each other’s lives by serving as mentors.

The final Woman of the Year award was given to Dorothy Elsner, who was recognized for mentorship of other women.

Elsner is the 4-H program coordinator for the Washington State University Skagit County Extension, and works with kids to help them raise animals and learn leadership skills and confidence.

Elsner said in her role, she is used to celebrating the work of others.

“It’s really hard to be the person being celebrated,” she said.

Pat Grenfell, who co-owned City Bakery in Mount Vernon, earned a lifetime achievement award.

Rising Swans were Randi Breuer, former youth development director for Skagit Valley YMCA and new street advocate for Cocoon House, and Yuliya Rybalka, donor development manager at Community Action of Skagit County. The award recognizes up-and-coming professional women.

Five women were awarded $1,500 SWAN scholarships. They are Shawna Blue, Becky Everhart-Venner, Lianna Neyens, Devyn Weidert and Ana Casillas.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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