Chester Curtis

Chester Curtis

He helps veterans achieve their educational and career goals

Chester Curtis helped raise money to open a center that serves veterans and their families.

This is one of 12 finalists for the Herald Business Journal’s annual Emerging Leaders award, which highlights and celebrates people who are doing good work in Snohomish County. The winner is to be announced during an online event on Thursday. Meet the other finalists.

Chester Curtis, 32

Purchasing manager, McKinstry

One of Chester Curtis’ favorite proverbs goes like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

That means tapping everyone for their best ideas, he said.

During the day, Curtis is a purchasing manager at McKinstry, a nationwide construction business. He oversees fire protection in the company’s shops.

After hours, Curtis is the director of veterans affairs at Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies, a lobbying and consulting group.

“I spend most of my free time working with various issues that affect veterans,” he said.

Curtis was once a hesitant first-generation college student at Edmonds College.

But when he saw the opportunity to help fellow veterans, he stepped forward and helped raise $1 million to open a campus center serving veterans and their families.

For his efforts, he received the 2014 Transforming Lives award from the Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges.

In 2013, he graduated from Edmonds College with an associate’s degree in energy management.

“Chester has been a veteran advocate in Snohomish County like no other. He is driven. He works harder than anyone I know,” a nominator said.

For Curtis, it’s personal.

“I came from a pretty rough background, I didn’t have people to look up to,” he said. “There were people I didn’t want to be like.”

Curtis, who grew up in Florida, joined the military when he was 19 years old.

His was stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma.

He spent a year in Afghanistan. When he completed military service, he moved to Lynnwood to attend Edmonds College.

“I know first hand what veterans face,” Curtis said.

For one thing, veterans who want to better themselves and get an education can sometimes run into red tape that can turn their quest into an unnecessary struggle.

“The way Veterans Administration funding works, you can sometimes go a month or two without receiving your funds,” he said.

The lag can put veterans in a bind when it comes to paying for housing, food or textbooks, he said.

With the right resources in place, that doesn’t have to happen.

Curtis is the proud father of a six-year-old boy, Ryker. He’s teaching his son to give back.

“We make up little Ziploc bags with a couple pairs of socks and some fruit bars and give them out to the homeless,” Curtis said.

“We can pack those together.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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