First Step Family Support Center announced the retirement of its long-term Executive Director, Venita “Nita” Lynn, recently and is now inviting the entire community to a party in her honor, a celebration of Lynn’s 39 years at the helm of First Step.
Born in Shelton and raised in Poulsbo, Nita Lynn attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, graduating with a degree in Sociology. The studies, she would say, “put research, approaches, and solutions to a passion for service I seemed to be born with”. Upon her return to the Northwest she settled into Clallam County where she has been practicing that mix of research and passion-fueled service to local families ever since.
Lynn began her work with what would become First Step Family Support Center in 1983, as a home visitor to new moms and dads, teaching parenting classes, and facilitating mutual support groups for young parents. Early successes inspired her to expand First Step to reach an increasingly wider portion of the community.
In a recent note of thanks to First Step and Lynn, a parent who was visited regularly by Lynn in the late 1980’s, then living with her two babies in a decaying garage wrote “[y]our kindness and caring made me see that my children deserve the world, and that I was capable of giving that to them. You were so supportive when I had no one on my side.” After sharing a determined journey to self-sufficiency, the mom, now working in information technologies in a community bank, with children thriving in their own life journeys, closed her note saying “I just wanted to say thank you because you laid the foundation for my success, as a mother and an individual, and I can never repay you for that. At least I can tell you, what you do for a living changed my life and the life of my children.”
By the late ‘90s her work here in Clallam County was known around the State for its innovation and dedication to developing the range of resources to strengthen local families that is characteristic of a vital family support center, and known to be powerful in preventing neglect and abuse at home; in 1997 she was awarded the prestigious Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Award.
Valued locally, as well as across the state, in 1999 and again in 2009, Lynn was honored with the Soroptimists’ Women of Distinction Award. In 1998 the Sequim Gazette spotlighted Lynn as one of its “Unsung Heroes”, and in 2001, the Peninsula Daily News reported on Lynn’s expansive work in a feature story, celebrating “the house that Nita built”. In 2018, she was honored by the United Way of Clallam County for her leadership at First Step, the wider human services profession, and the community at large.
Mid-career, Lynn earned the Masters degree in adult education and administration from the Woodring College at Western Washington University in 1995, an opportunity to take her organization-building skills to the next level for her local community. In fact, within two years, First Step began a long, exponential growth trajectory it enjoys to this day. Under Lynn’s leadership, First Step was able to add evidence-based family-support programs, services, and staff at a rapid, consistent rate, drawing funds from outside of Clallam County to the community, generating local job growth that has not stopped, year over year since 2000.
In fact, when asked about her most treasured accomplishments, Lynn is quick to note that “I’m so proud that many of our former clients are now First Step staff members—one of the hallmarks of empowering family support centers. And they’re also successful professionals in our community, running medical programs, human service organizations, tribal programs; they’re nurses, retail managers, teachers, small business owners, bankers, and more—the very fabric of our community”.
First Step now offers a range of two-generation-focused services from prenatal support, to home visiting for pregnant and parenting moms and dads, from critical support for new parents struggling with substance use disorder, to school readiness day camps for kindergarten-bound kids, and much more.
In a recent dinner in her honor, long-term First Step Board Member, Orville Campbell, called Lynn the “founder and director of our local treasure, our beloved First Step Family Support Center”, congratulating her for “nearly 40 years of innovative service to the families of Clallam County, and now Jefferson County”. Everyone in the community will have a chance to thank and celebrate Nita Lynn at a community party in her honor on June 30th, from 4:00 to 6:30, at Vern Burton Center, 308 E 4th Ave, in Port Angeles. All are welcome.