Venita “Nita” Lynn, executive director of First Step Family Support Center in Port Angeles, is retiring after nearly 40 years of service in Clallam County. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Venita “Nita” Lynn, executive director of First Step Family Support Center in Port Angeles, is retiring after nearly 40 years of service in Clallam County. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Builder of First Step to step down

Retirement party set for Thursday

PORT ANGELES — The longtime leader of the First Step Family Support Center, who helped expand programs greatly over her 39 years at the helm, is retiring and the public is invited to her going-away party.

Venita “Nita” Lynn’s last day as executive director of the nonprofit is Thursday. A party to wish her well is set from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. that day at the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles. After a social hour and refreshments, a presentation is planned at 5 p.m.

“I feel very fortunate because I was able to work in a place where I could live out my passion for kids and families to help them thrive,” said Lynn, 67, on Tuesday.

“I’ve been able to do that, and that’s incredible.”

Lynn’s duties will be taken over by Elisia Anderson, who was hired two years ago when Lynn began to consider retirement. After running several of the agency’s programs during that time, she was hired as Lynn’s replacement.

“Not only does she know all the programs and all the systems, but also she has been a major part of our team now for the past two years,” Lynn said.

“I feel very comfortable handing over the helm of this agency over to her.”

The initial part of a combined group that eventually became First Step was started in 1972 by people who wanted a program for families with children who had developmental delays, Lynn said.

Originally called Clallam County Day Training, it later was named First Step Child Development Center.

In 1983, Lynn was hired to start the Perinatal Project, which offered pre-natal classes and parenting classes for pregnant and parenting teens. She knocked on doors to introduce herself and the classes to people she found through referrals, Lynn said.

The program was a collaborative effort by Peninsula College, the county health department and Family Planning, a local agency that provided women’s health care and which eventually was taken over by Planned Parenthood. It was funded by a $20,000 grant from the March of Dimes, Lynn said.

The two were combined a few years later.

After operating out of several rental properties in Port Angeles, the board of First Step Family Support Center decided to buy, and it sought a home for the organization that looked like a home for its clients.

It bought two buildings in the 300 block of East Sixth Street in 2000 or 2001, Lynn said. Seven years later, the nonprofit purchased the next door lot and built another structure. The main office is at 323 E. Sixth St.

Over the years, its program have expanded into five major home visiting programs, a drop-in center with a free clothing bank, a program for safe sleep — parents get free cribs with training about keeping babies safe in them — a free car seat program, summer Adventure Camps for prepare 5-year-olds for school, parenting classes and more perinatal support groups, including one in Forks for Spanish speakers.

Programs are in both Clallam and Jefferson counties, although First Step has no office in East Jefferson County, operating out of schools and the Jefferson County Family YMCA. Diaper banks are operated in both counties. Play groups for children and their parents are offered in both Clallam County and in Port Townsend, Chimacum and Brinnon.

Other services are provided by the nonprofit, including help with food and with repairing cars to allow parents to get to work, Lynn said.

Lynn said a staffer recently compiled statistics that showed that total wages paid to all staff from January 2012 to May 2022 was $8,647,385. Over the past 39 years, the agency has served more than 17,500 adults and some 33,250 children, she said.

“We serve all these folks in so many ways and also add to the success of the economy,” Lynn said.

“Nonprofits create jobs, often for people who were unemployed in the past.”

Former clients have come back, after getting the appropriate degrees, to work with First Step, Lynn said, adding that she has been told, “I always wanted to come back and do what you had done for me.”

She sees others who succeeded in other areas such as healthcare, management and retail.

“I have gotten to watch the progression of people’s lives over time,” she said.

“We even had the kids of parents who we served several years ago come back and work here.

“I got to watch people move up and out of poverty,” Lynn said.

Born in Shelton and raised in Poulsbo, Nita Lynn attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and graduated with a degree in sociology. Mid-career, Lynn earned the master’s degree in adult education and administration from the Woodring College at Western Washington University in 1995.

Lynn has won a multitude of awards for her work.

In 1997 she was awarded the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Award. In 1999 and again in 2009, she was honored with the Soroptimists’ Women of Distinction Award. In 1998, the Sequim Gazette spotlighted Lynn as one of its “Unsung Heroes,” and in 2001, the Peninsula Daily News reported on Lynn’s expansive work in a feature story, celebrating “the house that Nita built.”

In 2018, she was honored by the United Way of Clallam County for her leadership at First Step, the wider human services profession, and the community at large.

In a recent dinner in her honor, long-term First Step Board Member, Orville Campbell, called Lynn the “founder and director of our local treasure, our beloved First Step Family Support Center,” congratulating her for “nearly 40 years of innovative service to the families of Clallam County, and now Jefferson County.”

Retirement for Lynn will first mean sleeping in, then traveling, and then, maybe, starting a new business.

“I also have a big interest in textiles, especially older Japanese textiles, so I’ll probably have a business around that,” she said, “but right now, I just want to play for awhile and feel what it’s like to not go to work every day.”

________

Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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