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Lynnwood Times’ 2022 Persons of the Year: Jesse Hayes, Olympia Edwards, Karina Gasperin

Each year the Lynnwood Times selects one outstanding Snohomish County resident as Person of the Year to celebrate their achievements, ongoing community service, and unrivaled contributions to our community.

After careful deliberation, The Lynnwood Times is proud to award three residents as 2022 Persons of the Year for the first time since this title’s inception: Jesse Hayes for his work in diversifying the aerospace industry through his Mukilteo-based flying club; Olympia Edwards, for mentoring young women of color to be empowered and have a voice; and Karina Gasperin for her continued work in Snohomish County’s Latin community and instructing women how to start their own business.

2022 Persons of the Year: Jesse Hayes

At the 50th annual Operation Skyhook flying competition, held this year at Grider Field, Arkansas, that the Red-Tailed Hawkes took second place overall. Pictured (L-R) Dr. Jesse Hayes (2022 Persons of the Year) and Jaylen Palmer. Photo courtesy of Jesse Hayes.

Hundreds of students have been soaring through the skies over Mukilteo with the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club since Jesse Hayes found it in 2013. The club, which serves underrepresented communities in the area, has ignited a passion for aerospace in many of its young students.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Hayes told the Lynnwood Times when notified of his selection as Person of the Year. “I’m hopeful that others will lead by whatever example I’m leading to inspire others to give to the community wherever they can.”

The flying club operates under the Black Pilots of America (BPA), Inc., a non-profit organization established in 1997. As the first BPA chapter in Washington, the “Red-Tailed Hawks” title is a reference to the Red Tail Tuskegee Airmen and the Seattle Seahawks football team, according to founder Jesse Hayes.

An arm of the BPA, the Red-Tailed Hawks Club follows a larger goal of empowering people of color to pursue aviation and other STEM opportunities, but their inclusive message remains – all are welcome.

“You know, this industry is one that is diverse and inclusive,” Hayes told the Lynnwood Times. “We do have an affinity for Black people. But we but we are very diverse.”

persons of the year
Founder Jesse Hayes (center) explains flaps to students.

Hayes, also a U.S. Air Force Vet, grew up around airplanes, the son of a pilot who flew in the mid 1960’s and started the Bronze Eagle Flying Club in 1968 in Houston, Texas, a chapter of Black Pilots of America that still exists today.

When Hayes moved to Washington, he left the Bronze Eagles and started the Red Tailed Hawkes to better reach underrepresented youth.

Currently less than 2% of the pilots in America are Black, and less than 6% of the pilots in America are women. While Hayes was working for the Boeing Company he could count on one hand the number of Black engineers working for major aerospace companies, he said, and “didn’t even need a hand” to count the one Black pilot he knew. Whenever he would bring this up to employers, he mentioned they always had the same answer: They couldn’t find qualified Black people to fill these roles. In that moment he decided he wasn’t going to let them have that excuse.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure the pool of qualified people is bigger, not that there wasn’t a pool of qualified people to begin with, so people who want the opportunity have the opportunity,” Hayes said.

Since founding the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club ten years ago Hayes has helped over 5,000 underrepresented kids find their wings with no plan of slowing down.

“I’m trying to build something that will be around long after me so this is, prayerfully, a long-term, longstanding institution in the Pacific Northwest,” said Hayes. 

2022 Persons of the Year: Olympia Edwards

persons of the year
Olympia Edwards (2022 Persons of the Year), Founder and CEO of Project Girl Mentoring Program.

Olympia Edwards founded Project Girl where young women of color are provided a safe place to feel appreciated and connected. Through various resources including mentorship, counseling, life-skill coaching, and even working with courts to get troubled teens’ lives back on track. At Project Girl, young women of color are empowered to be proud of themselves.

“Historically and systemically women of color aren’t represented,” Edwards, Founder and CEO, told the Lynnwood Times. “Here we’re providing a space where their life story and their life journey doesn’t have to be what society thinks of them. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. They’re entitled to a comfortable life; they’re entitled to a fruitful life. We’re trying to change that narrative and that’s why it’s important for Project Girl to be here.”

It all started with a vision Edwards had when she was working with teens in crises shelters. She noticed a lot of the girls she helped, lacked coping skills and a safe community space.

“I gotta do something,” she told herself.

Edwards began partnering with school districts around the area in 2012, offering an after-school mentorship program for women of color a place to hang out, do their homework, and talk about whatever’s on their mind. But all of that changed when the pandemic shut down in 2020.

persons of the year
Photo courtesy of Project Girl.

While Edwards continued offering mentorship to girls remotely, she realized a lot of them still needed a safe place to build a sisterhood, to have a fresh meal, or whatever else they needed in their personal or family life. She began searching for a facility and opened her first Project Girl location in Lynnwood at 4114 198th St SW Suite 4.

Edwards tremendous impact on her community is not limited to the walls of Project Girl, however, including partnering with Nubian Jam, her Level Up Program, and holding speaking engagements at the Students of Color Career Conference. Most recently she adopted a street in Lynnwood for Martin Luther King Day where she, with the help of several volunteers, helped beautify Alderwood Boulevard by collecting approximately 15 bags of trash.

When she’s not engaging in her community and giving young women of color a voice, Edwards enjoys gardening, biking, painting, and hanging out with her friends and family.

“Know that you are loved and there are people out there that care for you,” Edwards wished to impart on youths in her community. “Seek out those partnerships and those relationships and go into that.”

2022 Persons of the Year: Karina Gasperin

persons of the year
Karina Gasperin (2022 Persons of the Year). Photo courtesy of Karina Gasperin.

Karina Gasperin, a Lynnwood resident of over 21 years, was born in the city of Cordoba, Veracruz, Mexico. She studied Communication Sciences at the University of Valle de Orizaba and is the third generation of radio broadcasters in her family founding Oye Producciones with her husband, Jorge Vazquez, in 1996.

“I feel really excited [to be selected as Person of the Year],” Gasperin told the Lynnwood Times after hearing the news. “I’m so used to work, work, and doing things for the community that I wasn’t expecting anything in return.”

Currently Gasperin is the Executive Producer and the main Host of Actidud Latina Seattle (a local TV show broadcast by Azteca America and Latino Alternative TV), Co-Founder of Washington Hispanic Media Association (WAHMA), and Co-Founder/Executive Director/Producer of the AfroLatino Festival, which takes place in Lynnwood each year.

persons of the year
Afrolatino Festival in Lynnwood on August 7, 2021. Source: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

Statewide, Karina has received several awards for her valuable contribution to the Community and for her dedication and inspiration to new generations including the Molina Health Care Champions Award,  the 2010 U.S. Census Campaign, and recognition from the Shoreline Police Department.

“If you change the life of one person you change five people at the same time,” Gasperin told the Lynnwood Times.

She enjoys providing services with educational topics to the Hispanic Community in the State of Washington most recently through workshops for women, instructing them how to start their own business and be their own providers. Her next focus will be on improving her community’s mental health through similar workshops.

persons of the year
(L-R) Lynnwood Councilwoman Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, Mayor Nicola Smith, Karina Gasperin, Soledad, and Jeanne Crevier at Silver Creek Family Church attending rehearsal for Sunday’s traditional Mexican folk dance event with Concepción Bello Nava (Conchita), the artistic director for the renowned Chilpancingo dance troupe Campañiade Danza Folklórica Xochicalli,. Source: Lynnwood Times/Mario Lotmore.

Gasperin’s community service began over 20 years ago but really took off when COVID hit, she said, opening her own food bank on Saturdays where she served more than 9,000 food insecure families.

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