Lynsey Gagnon, executive director of Community Resource Centers for Volunteers of America. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lynsey Gagnon, executive director of Community Resource Centers for Volunteers of America. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lynsey Gagnon: She quickly organized a cold weather shelter

This social services director was once homeless herself, utilizing the services she now refers others to every day.

This is one of 12 finalists for The Herald Business Journal’s annual Emerging Leaders awards for 2022. The winner will be named at an event on April 27.

Lynsey Gagnon, 34

Executive director, Community Resource Centers, Volunteers of America

Until two years ago, Lynsey Gagnon had never worked at a homeless shelter, let alone run one.

But when Volunteers of America was asked by Snohomish County officials to take over management of east Snohomish County’s cold weather shelters, Gagnon rolled up her sleeves and got it running in less than a month.

“”I knew I had to step in because if we didn’t, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Gagnon, executive director of the Volunteers of America Community Resource Centers.

“It was challenging, but I knew it had to be done,” Gagnon said. “It means making sure people don’t die on the streets during the coldest months of the year.”

The crisis arose when the previous shelter manager was unable to continue.

The city of Monroe and Snohomish County began searching for another organization to host the cold weather shelter.

Gagnon located a new site for the shelter and worked tirelessly to ensure it was staffed.

She created a collaboration between Monroe, the Snohomish County Human Services Division and the Medical Reserve Corps to “address this crisis,” an Emerging Leaders nominator wrote.

”Together with this multi-agency team, Lynsey secured a new location for the cold weather shelter at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, providing a space with sufficient social distancing to accommodate both volunteers and shelter guests,” the nominator said. “She successfully advertised and secured enough volunteers to staff the shelter when it was open.”

“What is most remarkable about Lynsey’s efforts is that she accomplished this work within several weeks, rather than the usual months-long planning process,” the nominator added. “Due to Lynsey’s leadership, the cold weather shelter operated 52 nights serving 64 individuals during the 2020-21 season.”

Gagnon hired a former homeless person to manage the cold weather shelter, “giving him the confidence to continue his outreach work and create his own non-profit organization serving the homeless. She inspires leadership in other people, growing our area’s capacity to bring services to more people in need,” the nominator concluded.

Gagnon’s personal experience informs her work.

At one point, she experienced homelessness herself.

“I did end up having to live out of my car for a while and had to utilize the services that I refer people to every day,” Gagnon said. It was a “difficult, humbling experience.”

“I had to figure out, how do you get to the next day? How do you get gas in your car to get to work? How do you keep that smile on your face and act like nothing is going on? That really taught me grit,” she said.

Gagnon grew up in the Everett and Mukilteo area and graduated from Kamiak High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

Among other volunteer activities, she serves on the Monroe Human Services Advisory Board and the EvergreenHealth Monroe Community Advisory Board.

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

The annual Emerging Leaders award by The Herald Business Journal seeks to highlight and celebrate people who are doing good work in Snohomish County. This year’s partners in the award are HeraldMedia, Leadership Snohomish County, Leadership Launch and Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Co-sponsors are Gaffney Construction, Inflection Wealth Management and the Port of Everett.

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