VCS gala celebrates overcoming challenges

Ronda Hardcastle of the Marysville YMCA fetches a delectable dish during the dessert dash portion of the Village Community Services gala fundraiser on May 3. - Kirk Boxleitner
Ronda Hardcastle of the Marysville YMCA fetches a delectable dish during the dessert dash portion of the Village Community Services gala fundraiser on May 3.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

SMOKEY POINT — This year’s Village Community Services gala fundraiser on Saturday, May 3, tied into its theme of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” not only by reflecting on VCS’s significant accomplishments over the years, but also by spotlighting a guest speaker who believes she’s lived a richer life because of her own disability.

Village Community Services Board member Art Hutton again addressed attendees of the annual gala to remind them of how VCS was started in 1963 as Victoria Ranch, whose mission was to serve at-risk youth, before it expanded to provide vocational training and group home living to children and adults with disabilities in Stanwood.

“We’re committed to enriching the lives of people with disabilities through not only vocational training and residential assistance, but also our music programs,” said Hutton, who apologized for the absence of the Voices of the Village ensemble band from that evening’s proceedings. “Voices of the Village will have their own special fundraiser event later in the year, but in the meantime, we miss having them here as much as you do.”

To help those with disabilities address and overcome life challenges in their homes, at their jobs and as they interact with their communities, Hutton noted that VCS employs 75 caretakers and vocational consultants to help serve the needs of its 200-plus clients with disabilities in Snohomish County, not counting their volunteer staff.

Michelle Dietz, director of development for Village Community Services, thanked the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians for donating $5,000 by themselves, while a host of other sponsors donated an additional $5,000, since not only did these contributions allow event organizers to yield a greater profit for VCS’s programs, but they also more than covered the speaking fee for Karen Gaffney, president of the nonprofit Karen Gaffney Foundation, who routinely speaks to groups around the world about how she has dealt with the difficulties posed by her own Down Syndrome.

Gaffney has already lived out her foundation’s stated mission, to achieve full inclusion for people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities, by receiving a regular high school diploma from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, and graduating from Portland Community College with both an Associate of Science degree and a teacher’s aide certificate.

“I meet with media and governments and families of people with Down Syndrome to change their expectations, but I don’t do this work alone,” Gaffney said. “There are all sorts of organizations, like Village Community Services, that bring their communities a vision of hope.”

Joking that she was “born with something extra, and it wasn’t my height,” the petite Gaffney recounted how she became not only the first person with Down Syndrome to complete a relay swim of the English Channel in 2001, but also swam the nine-mile span of Lake Tahoe in 2007 before crossing Boston Harbor’s five miles in 2009, in addition to completing 16 swims across San Francisco Bay.

“I even swam from Alcatraz, and unlike the prisoners who tried, I lived to tell the tale,” Gaffney said. “I owe a great deal to the generations who came before me, and to organizations like Village Community Services, who had the courage to see people like me differently. They paved the way for new possibilities of education, inclusion and independence.”

Village Community Services is still striving to open more doors for those with disabilities, which is why they’ve been seeking to recruit volunteers with expertise in finance, law, facilities management, business and the culinary arts to serve on their Board of Directors. Community members who possess such expertise but can’t commit to Board positions are encouraged to join VCS’s roster of volunteer advisors for special projects. Either way, VCS is looking for people who passionately believe in the rights, talents and potential of people with disabilities, and like Gaffney, want to work toward their full inclusion in the workforce and community.

The Village Community Services Board of Directors meets on the last Tuesday of every month, at 6:30 p.m. VCS’s service area includes all of Snohomish County, with a special emphasis on the North County communities of Arlington, Darrington, Marysville, Tulalip, Everett, Stanwood, Granite Falls and Lake Stevens.

Young people and adults of all musical abilities are invited to the Village Music and Arts Friday music jam sessions, featuring live music by Jon Dalgarn and the Voices of the Village, from 1-3 p.m. at 338 N. MacLeod Ave. in Arlington. Children 16 years or younger must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.

For more information on Village Community Services, please contact Dietz by phone at 360-653-7752, ext. 14, or via email at

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