One of the local kitchens featured during the Walla Walla Chapter American Association of University Women-sponsored Kitchen Tour fundraiser in fall 2020.

The Walla Walla Chapter of American Association of University Women has met the requirements for AAUW’s National Five-Star Recognition Program during its inaugural run in 2020.

Five-Star rewards affiliates (states, branches and other organizations) for aligning their work with the national AAUW strategic plan and other initiatives that foster the organization’s mission to advance gender equity for women and girls, said Tracii Hickman, chapter board member and past president.

The certification is done over a two-year span, 2020-2021, and Walla Walla AAUW got it accomplished despite the challenges of a shutdown and quarantine due to the pandemic. “It’s kind of a heavy lift, but it was all done in 2019 and 2020,” she said

COVID-19 limitations meant adjusting practices, Tracii said. They’ve held board meetings via Zoom and online monthly socials with members. They completed one of their biggest fundraisers, the annual book sale, just before the lockdown. That involves crowds of people indoors, shoulder to shoulder while browsing books, impossible with the current COVID-19 situation.

They will continue the book sale in some fashion where they warehouse the books at the former Ice Chalet at First Avenue and Birch Street, Tracii said. It will be limited with COVID-19 protocols and good circulation. Members continue to sort books that are coming in by donation.

Chapter organizers canceled the 2020 summer science camp for middle school girls and are considering a virtual camp. However, being there in person has its merits. “Half the fun is meeting new friends and sharing the same interests,” Tracii said.

They will continue their scholarships program as applicants are continuing to go to school. They adjusted their budget because of challenges to their fundraisers. The annual Kitchen Tour was done online and got quite a bit of support. “We’re trying to adapt and homeowners whose kitchens were featured were generous,” Tracii said.

Donna Murray, Kitchen Tour chairwoman, said it’s her first year to chair the fundraiser solo, “and COVID-19 happened. It was quite a surprise, and I came up with this pie-eyed idea” to make it virtual.

She said Jayne DiDario and husband Gene Conley provided 360 video for the tour, photographer Donna Lasater provided still photos, and an intern from Whitman College worked with the images and presentation of sponsors and advertisers.

She expects the fundraiser will net more than $7,500. Funding is still coming in and there are expenses to account for.

“Normally we would do between $10,00 to $12,000 and 2019 was banner year with $15,000. It was an amazing year and we were hoping to build on that.” With the pandemic came Plan B and the tour ran online for three months. “We had never done anything like this before. I learned a lot.”

AAUW did mini grants, which going forward will be modified to determine needs, Tracii said.

Addressing the importance of the Five-Star program, chapter President Kathy Jones said, “Our organization is stronger and we can achieve so much more when we work together nationally on a common set of goals while still understanding and meeting the needs of our local community.”

With 210 current, active dues-paying members, Walla Walla AAUW is the largest and one of the most active chapters in the state, Tracii said.

In 2020 the chapter awarded seven $2,500 scholarships to women returning to college after a break in their college attendance or majoring in the fields of science and technology; eight $950 scholarships for middle school aged girls to attend the summer science camp that was postponed); $17,000 in small grants to local groups in support of the AAUW mission; and $5,000 to the Blue Mountain Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund.

The five stars recognize efforts in programs, advancement, communication and external relations, public policy and research and governance and sustainability.

The Walla Walla AAUW branch completed each of the components during the past year or in 2019. Some actions involved events that are well known in the Walla Walla Valley, such as co-sponsoring candidate forums before elections and Big Idea talks, Tracii said. Others were more administrative, such as formalizing the Walla Walla AAUW succession plan and developing a strategic plan in alignment with the AAUW national plan.

Some of the individual requirements are found at wallawalla-wa.aauw.net in links to the Two Minute Activist, Start Smart and Work Smart salary negotiation websites and the Strategic Plan.

Applications for membership are on the group’s web page. Kathy is serving with other elected officers who include President-elect Mary Cleveland, Treasurer Lisa Johnson, Vice-President Membership Helen Brownell and Vice-President Programs Karen Fuller.

AAUW strives to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at 509-526-8313 or annieeveland@wwub.com.

Annie joined the U-B news staff in 1979 and since 1990 has written Etcetera, a daily community column. She was promoted to a copy editing post in 2007. She edits copy, designs and lays out pages, including the weekly arts and entertainment guide Marquee,