A few weeks ago, I was honored to be part of Centralia’s first Founders’ Day celebration, a party in George Washington Park in celebration of its namesake donor and his partner in creating Centralia, Mary Jane.
It was a great event put on by the Centralia Downtown Association. One of the highlights was the chance to hear from the two recipients of this year’s George & Mary Jane Washington Scholarship.
This is a scholarship created five years ago as part of Centralia’s big bicentennial bash for George. Our community’s huge fundraising effort to cast a statue of the founders (and their happy dog, Rockwood) was so successful that we had extra money left over, which we used to endow a scholarship at Centralia College for students who show the same kind of industrious community-minded spirit that the town’s founders brought to this area and the new neighbors they welcomed to their town. We usually give out one scholarship, but this year we were able to give out two.
We had so many worthy applicants. Our final recipients were truly extraordinary. I reached out to them and said that if they could attend Founders’ Day, they would be honored guests. At the last minute, I said if they wanted to say a few words, we’d love to hear from them.
Well, they came, they spoke, and they blew us away with their life experiences and perspective.
Both are women who are going back to college after getting degrees in their youth and raising families.
Liliane Sidibe is a native of the Ivory Coast (on the west coast of Africa). She is the mother of two children, one 3 years old and one 19 (he is also attending Centralia College). She is also the mother of four adopted children. She now lives in Chehalis. English is her third language, but the crowd was hanging on her every eloquent word.
She talked about coming to America in her 20s, becoming a missionary and moving to Washington because her husband (also an immigrant) is going to Centralia College.
“It is possible to be somebody in this county, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter your obstacles,” Sidibe told the crowd. “It’s possible for anybody to achieve something if they put their mind into it. I’m pretty sure George Washington had that in mind. He did not stay in his bubble, saying, ‘Ooh, everybody is being racist to me.’ He knew his values and he put it to work and I want to do the same thing. I am very inspired by his story ... I love this town. I love this country and I am very proud to be here.”
Lakeda Sullivan, like Centralia’s founding mother, Mary Jane Washington, was born in Louisiana. Sullivan came to Washington because her husband was stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord. He is now serving in South Korea. They settled near Onalaska.
Sullivan opened a day care center in her home, after being encouraged by the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP) to help address the community’s status as a “child care desert.”
She wants to open a bigger child care facility, but to do this outside her home she needs early childhood education college credits. And so, despite already having a bachelor’s degree, she is going to Centralia College.
She is an active foster mother and runs a nonprofit, Touched By One, Touched By All, that offers health education and a mobile diaper bank.
“One thing I love about this state is the togetherness,” Sullivan said. “People come with one common cause. No matter what you believe in, it’s because it’s for the social good of the world.”
We would love to be able to give more scholarships to Centralia College students who show the community-minded fortitude of these women and Centralia’s founders.
You can donate at www.centralia.edu/foundation/donate.aspx — be sure to note in the “gift details and other funds” box that your (tax-deductible) gift is for the George & Mary Jane Washington Scholarship.
Brian Mittge can be reached at email@example.com.