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

Each year, the Lynnwood Times selects an outstanding Snohomish County resident as Person of the Year to celebrate their accomplishments, continued service to the community, and unparalleled contribution to our community.

After careful consideration, the Lynnwood Times is proud to recognize three residents as 2022 Persons of the Year for the first time since the inception of the title: Jesse Hayes for his work in diversifying the aerospace industry through his Mukilteo-based flight club; Olympia Edwards for mentoring young women of color to be empowered and have a voice; and Karina Gasperin for her continued work in the Snohomish County Latin American community and guiding women on how to start their own businesses.

People of 2022: Jesse Hayes

The Red-Tailed Hawkes placed second overall at the 50th Annual Operation Skyhook Flight Competition, held this year at Grider Field, Arkansas. Pictured (L-R) Dr. Jesse Hayes (2022 People of the Year) and Jaylen Palmer. Photo courtesy of Jesse Hayes.

Hundreds of students have flown the skies over Mukilteo with the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club since Jesse Hayes founded it in 2013. Serving underrepresented communities in the area, the club has instilled a passion for aerospace in many of its young students.

“It’s definitely an honour,” Hayes told the Lynnwood Times when told he was named Person of the Year. “I hope others will follow my example to inspire others to help the community in any way they can.”

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

The Red-Tailed Hawks Club, a branch of BPA, has 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 diverse and inclusive,” Hayes told the Lynnwood Times. “We have an affinity for black people. But we, but we are very diverse.”

People of the Year
Founder Jesse Hayes (middle) explains flaps to students.

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

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

Currently, less than 2% of pilots in America are black and less than 6% of pilots in America are women. While Hayes worked 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 who he knew. Whenever he raised this with employers, he mentioned that they always had the same answer: They couldn’t find qualified black people to fill those roles. In that moment, he decided he wouldn’t allow them that apology.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that the talent pool grows, not that there wasn’t a talent pool to begin with, so those who want the opportunity can have the opportunity.” said Hayes.

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

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

Persons of the year 2022: Olympia Edwards

People of the Year
Olympia Edwards (2022 Person of the Year), Founder and CEO of the Project Girl Mentoring Program.

Olympia Edwards founded Project Girl, which provides a safe place for young women of color to feel valued and connected. Through various resources including mentoring, counseling, life skills coaching and even working with courts to get the lives of troubled teenagers back on track. At Project Girl, young black women can be proud of themselves.

“Historically and systematically, women of color are not represented,” Edwards, founder and CEO, told the Lynnwood Times. “Here we offer a space where their life story and life path need not be what society thinks of them. It doesn’t have to be a fight. You are entitled to a comfortable life; they are entitled to a fruitful life. We’re trying to change that narrative, and that’s why it’s important that Project Girl is here.”

It all started with a vision Edwards had while working with teenagers in shelters. She noted that many of the girls she helped lacked coping skills and a safe common space.

“I have to do something,” she said to herself.

Edwards began working with local school districts in 2012, offering an after-school mentorship program for women of color to hang out, do their homework, and talk about anything that’s on their mind. But all that changed when the 2020 pandemic ground to a halt.

People of the Year
Photo courtesy of Project Girl.

While Edward’s girls continued to offer mentoring remotely, she recognized that many of them still needed a safe place to build a sisterhood, grab 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.

However, Edward’s tremendous impact on her community is not limited to the walls of Project Girl, including her partnership with Nubian Jam, her Level Up Program, and her speech at the Students of Color Career Conference. Most recently, she adopted a street in Lynnwood for Martin Luther King Day, where, with the help of several volunteers, she helped beautify Alderwood Boulevard by collecting about 15 bags of trash.

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

“Know that you are loved and that there are people out there who care about you,” Edwards wanted to convey to the youth in her community. “Find those partnerships and those relationships and go into that.”

Persons of the year 2022: Karina Gasperin

People of the Year
Karina Gasperin (People of the Year 2022). Photo courtesy of Karina Gasperin.

Karina Gasperin, who has lived in Lynnwood for 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, having founded Oye Producciones in 1996 with her husband Jorge Vazquez.

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

Currently, Gasperin is Executive Producer and Main Host of Actidud Latina Seattle (a local TV show aired by Azteca America and Latino Alternative TV), Co-Founder of the Washington Hispanic Media Association (WAHMA) and Co-Founder/Executive Director/Producer of the AfroLatino Festival, held annually in Lynnwood.

People of the Year
Afrolatino Festival in Lynnwood on August 7, 2021. Credit: Lynnwood Times/Kienan Briscoe.

Nationwide, Karina has received multiple awards for her valuable contribution to the community and for her commitment and inspiration to new generations, including the Molina Health Care Champions Award, the 2010 US Census Campaign, and recognition from the Shoreline Police Department.

“When you change one person’s life, you change five people at the same time,” Gasperin told the Lynnwood Times.

She enjoys providing educational services to the Hispanic community in Washington state, most recently through workshops for women teaching them how to start their own businesses and be their own providers. Her next focus will be improving the mental health of her community through similar workshops.

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

Gasperin’s community service began over 20 years ago but really picked up speed when COVID struck, she said, opening her own food bank on Saturdays, where she provided food security to more than 9,000 families.

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