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Business and Nonprofit Leaders To Watch in the Inland Northwest

One perk of my job is getting to connect with and learn from countless local professionals in a wide variety of fields. With so much growth and change happening in our region, it is exciting to see unique voices in our community take on the big issues with a fresh perspective.

We compiled this list to share ten dynamic people we will be watching in this new year and beyond because of their creativity, professionalism, and capacity to make meaningful change with their expertise.

Gwyn Pevonka of 33 Artists Market

Supporting the arts is more than just a sentiment; it’s a way of living. For local makers, it is also their way of making a living, and it can be very challenging to sustain their businesses. That’s where markets come into play, but locally owned and operated markets aren’t all created equally.

Lauded local artist Gwyn Pevonka has been a professional artist since 2011, and she saw the need for a different kind of family-friendly market experience with a beautifully curated collection of artists from various backgrounds from established to emerging.

After moving to Spokane from Nashville, Tennessee (named the “Maker City” by Etsy in 2016), she discovered an absence of connection within the artistic community and consistent opportunities for artists to show their work and make a living in the Northwest that she wanted to help foster.

Now, she hosts quarterly markets at venues like The Wonder Building and The Hive, where local artists are able to sell their work and connect with the community and with each other.

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Dr. Melissa Mace – Discovery Counseling

Dr. Melissa Mace has vast practice knowledge and established Discovery Counseling 14 years ago. She earned her doctorate this year after defending her dissertation, “Black Women in Leadership – A Multidimensional Experience.” She feels she has to serve the community’s expanding mental health care services needs. She has developed an experienced, professional team to help individuals and families in Spokane. They contract with various insurance programs and local and national agencies that connect individuals and families with the necessary care.

Discovery Counseling provides grief counseling, individual and family counseling, marriage and relationship therapy, group therapy, and mental health assessments to point you in the right direction for your care.

When asked what she recommends to people just starting their therapy journey, she said, “Be open. It is your journey. We can’t force you to do anything that you’re not ready to. If you’re not ready to do the work, maybe we should take a pause. Being introspective is difficult, because we don’t do it often. We are very busy. It’s very easy to just be “very busy” than to take a moment and realize, “Oh, I’m a problem. I have some things I need to work on. You can’t read the map and drive, so we are your navigation.” 

Molly Sandhu of the Spokane Club

In an era where people struggle to find meaningful connections, the Spokane Club is where “everybody knows your name” and helps you become even more rooted in the community.

Under the leadership of General Manager Molly Sandhu, the Spokane Club has made significant membership growth, as well as important steps toward inclusivity and being a hub of the community for all through special events, classes, workshops, awards ceremonies, wine tastings and dinners, club meetings, athletic camps, enjoying birthday parties, dining at the private restaurant and so much more.

Molly’s mission is to create a facility that provides consistent, best-in-class service to its members and helps build integral connections with the Spokane community as a whole. He relocated to Spokane with his family and has made a significant impact on the club’s operations and growth in its membership, specifically with families and young professionals who have made Spokane home. He views the newest members as the future stewards of the building and culture, and is dedicated to making the experiences they have match what they expect from a dynamic, forward-thinking social club.

Lisa Gardner – NAACP

As the owner of MQG Consulting, Lisa Gardner brings her marketing and communications experience to various roles. In a previous role, she was contracted through the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development, collaborating with diverse local small businesses. Currently, she serves as Spokane City Council Spokesperson, and more recently, has added her expertise to the Spokane NAACP as President of the historic local organization.

Lisa’s beloved grandmother proudly served as a board member and youth director in this chapter, where she was a participant at just 10 years old. As a salon owner in East Central Spokane, and cosmetology teacher at Spokane Community College, Lisa’s grandmother served as a beacon of leadership before her life was tragically cut short in an unsolved crime when she ran for Spokane City Council in 1987.

Her legacy continues to guide Lisa to develop a richly connected community she remembers experiencing during her youth at her grandmother’s side. She hopes to continue to move the mission forward of making our city and our region more equitable for the underserved, and we are here for it.

Louise Joss – Independent Retirement

With a solid background in retirement planning, Louise Joss brings a wealth of knowledge to her role at Independent Retirement. Her experience enables her to navigate the complexities of retirement planning, including investments, tax strategies, and wealth preservation. By understanding each client’s unique circumstances, Louise can develop tailored retirement plans that align with their goals, risk tolerance, and long-term aspirations.

One of Louise’s greatest strengths is her ability to establish meaningful connections with her clients. She understands retirement planning is a personal and sensitive matter, requiring trust and open communication. Louise takes the time to listen attentively to her clients’ aspirations, concerns, and dreams, ensuring that their retirement plans reflect their individual needs and desires. Her compassionate approach creates a supportive environment that instills confidence and peace of mind.

By providing expert guidance, she helps individuals navigate the intricacies of retirement planning and empowers them to make informed decisions about their financial futures.

Amanda Cross – Skil’Skin

Amanda Cross is helping to change how communities can provide equitable services and employment for differently abled people, one life at a time. Skil’Skin is a community-based nonprofit organization that provides employment services to adults with disabilities, helping them grow and thrive within the community, serving Washington, Montana, and Wyoming.

Amanda joined their innovative team as a Project Coordinator in January 2013 and was promoted to Vice President of Strategy and Innovation in 2017. Skil’Skin’s primary role is to place individuals with disabilities in jobs in the community that utilize their skills effectively through its comprehensive Employment Services department.

Through these collaborative services, Skil’Skin is able to help individuals with disabilities find meaningful employment and effectively manage their financial resources, promoting integration and, ultimately, enhancing their quality of life in the process. 

Cal Coblentz  – Partners Inland Northwest 

Cal Coblentz, the CEO of Partners Inland Northwest (formerly Spokane Valley Partners), has led the organization for over six years. During that time, Partners Inland Northwest has become the largest food pantry in the county. Partners Inland Northwest strives to prevent hunger and poverty alongside community partners working in tandem.

Founded in 1951 as a grassroots nonprofit, Partners Inland Northwest has grown exponentially, and Cal has spearheaded innovative initiatives like a mobile food bank and a weekend meal backpack program for K-12 students. They serve approximately 9,000 people monthly, operating the largest free clothing bank, distributing 2,000 pounds of clothing each week, and being the sole regional diaper bank, providing 70,000 diapers monthly across 11 counties.

In 2023 alone, Partners served 56,726 households and 143,235 individuals, including 11,550 babies through the diaper bank. Cal states, “As you can see, we mitigate a great deal of need in the community, but our primary mission is to ensure that families, children, the elderly, and at-risk individuals never go hungry.”

Corey and Katie Thomas – Special Deeds for Special Needs Kids 

Corey and Katie Thomas are a creative powerhouse team that has a big heart for children in the disabled community. One of their children was diagnosed with a rare disorder, and they saw the impact that having a special room with all of his favorite things in one space had on his outlook, which gave them an idea. Why not make this happen for other children in our community?

Since 2015, they have worked tirelessly to grow SDSN into an organization that can serve even more children and families. They have completed over a dozen meticulously detailed, kid-centric rooms that have changed the lives of the kids lucky enough to have had this team (and the dozens of friends that Corey enlists to help) come to their homes. Their goal is to make this into a full-time role and to be able to give back all day, every day, to kids and families in the Northwest. That would mean giving a full makeover to two rooms a month, and their creativity and drive provide all of the inspiration they will need to achieve that goal. 

Martha Domitrovich – The Supper Club

Does even the idea of meal planning and prepping overwhelm you? Martha has the solution – she puts together fantastic home-cooked meals that are “mom approved” every day at The Supper Club, her passion project turned into a full-fledged business. She fulfills an important service for the individuals and families she serves – providing nourishing, delicious, and easy-to-prepare meals from scratch in an era where convenience is king.

Martha believes that eating a healthy meal and spending quality time with those you love shouldn’t be stressful, and when you have your meals delivered or pick them up in-store, she includes everything you need to make it quickly and easily, no matter how busy you are. From heat and eat to crock pot selections, everything is simple, accessible, and affordable.

What is remarkable about Martha is her ability to move with such swift intention and action when it comes to individuals and organizations in need. If you’re lucky enough to connect with her, she may have insisted on dropping a meal or two on a tough day out of her heart’s deep, genuine kindness. 

Andrea Kinder Fulks – Hayden Chamber of Commerce

Andrea Fulks is an accomplished business professional and community leader currently serving as President/CEO at the Hayden Chamber of Commerce and has been notably driving innovation during her three-year term. With a wealth of experience spanning numerous sectors, her career of over 25 years has been distinguished by roles in the banking industry.

Andrea’s active involvement in the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce has been extensive, encompassing roles such as Board of Directors, Ambassador Chair, After Hours Events Chair, and Post Falls Business Fair Chair. Recognized for her leadership potential, she was selected for the prestigious River City Leadership Academy, where she held the title of 2019 Class President.

Beyond her professional achievements, Andrea’s altruism is evident in her volunteer work, culminating in her being honored with the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of The Year Award in 2007. Her deep commitment to improving her community has been a source of inspiration for countless local business leaders, and is making great strides in growing a collaborative, connected network of professionals in the North Idaho community.

Erin Peterson, Editor-In-Chief

Erin Peterson grew up in Post Falls, Idaho and became a professionally certified educator – earning the Provost’s Award for academic achievement and community service from Lewis-Clark State College. Now she is an award-winning local influencer, podcaster and digital strategy educator with a passion for equity and inclusion. Erin has been published and featured in a wide variety of local publications including the Spokesman Review, The Inlander, and has served as an editor at Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine. If you want to learn more about how she is making an impact right here in the Northwest, give her a follow on Instagram at @trending.northwest or Trending Northwest on Facebook.

Read all of Erin’s articles on TNW here.

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