Director of Mid-Columbia
Meals on Wheels
Senior Life Resources Northwest
What are you currently binging on TV?
My playlists are an eclectic blend of folk, jazz, 90s rap and hip-hop, and 2000s emo. It works.
A battery-powered pink Barbie Corvette. I was 3.
First thing you check on your phone?
The weather. I always know the forecast.
Current city of residence: Richland
How long have you lived in the Tri-Cities?
My entire life, save for when I was in college and graduate school.
Briefly describe your company:
Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels is a 501(c)(3) that provides meals at no cost to those who are 60 and over. Eligibility is based solely on age and residing within our service area. We do not verify income or citizenship status. We serve meals at eight dining sites throughout Benton and Franklin counties, as well as provide home delivery to those unable to leave home.
We have several annual programs, such as the Holiday Wish List, Pet Pantry, Celebrate Your Pet, an annual fundraiser 5K, and a phone buddies program, and we are always looking for ways to connect with the seniors in our area. We are a program of Senior Life Resources Northwest, which has been around since 1974 providing services to aging adults. Our funding comes from the Older Americans Act, grants, fundraising and donors. Meals on Wheels also relies on its volunteer community and is always looking for individuals looking to brighten the days of our area seniors.
Education: Please list any degrees and professional certifications.
Bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy, with a focus in aging studies from Eastern Washington University.
Master's degree in social work, with a focus in palliative care and end of life from EWU.
Certificate in nonprofit management from University of Washington School of Business.
Licensed clinical social worker.
Clinical social worker in gerontology.
Briefly describe your job and how you got into it:
I am the director for Meals on Wheels, which entails oversight of the local program in line with state nutrition guidelines. We provide home-delivered meals and congregate dining in Benton and Franklin counties for individuals age 60 and older. My role includes myriad functions, as most nonprofit roles do. One minute I'm writing a grant request, and the next we are coordinating emergency food distributions, trying to locate a stolen van and speaking with media to outreach regarding our new programs. I get the joy of interacting with our clients regularly, whether at the dining site or on the phone.
Meals on Wheels is an incredible team of people, which includes over 400 dedicated volunteers and 30 staff; each person shows up every day motivated to serve our mission and our clients. Meals on Wheels served around 213,000 meals last year to adults age 60 and older, and our kitchen team of staff and volunteers prepared and packaged each one of those meals. Our program offers a holistic approach to preserving and enhancing the quality of life with dignity and care. My grandparents were recipients of Meals on Wheels when I was away for grad school, and it was nice to know they were receiving a hot meal each day and that someone had their eyes on them when I couldn't. It's an incredible program.
As for how I got into the role, I have focused my educational and professional endeavors in gerontology and end of life. From a young age, I was connected with our aging neighbors and spent my free time with my grandparents. I joke that I have been 85 since the age of 3. I have worked with aging adults in each of my professional roles, so upon completion of a nonprofit management program, I was excited to hear about an opening with Meals on Wheels.
How did you earn your first dollar?
As a kid, I would mow lawns and shovel sidewalks in my neighborhood. I also babysat almost every weekend once I was old enough.
What advice would you give to your younger self about achieving success?
Your road to adulthood and career is not going to be as clear and defined as you think it will and that's OK, so make sure your goal is what you want; don't be afraid to put yourself out there to ask questions and make mistakes; and it's OK if your journey is different than those around you. Please have fun along the way; take a break, enjoy the process. The most important thing is to ensure what you're doing works for you, and it doesn't matter what others think or say, we all have our own path and that's what's so exciting about it all.
What was your dream job as a child?
At a young age, my job interests vacillated between becoming a Subway sandwich artist or a veterinarian to save all the puppies. I soon learned that saving the puppies meant also putting them down, so I quickly abandoned that dream. I can't say I don't enjoy making a good sub sandwich, though, so there's still time there.
What would make our community a better place to live?
I'd love to see our community infrastructure and attitudes become more focused on creating safety nets for neglected and abused animals, aging residents, and other vulnerable and minority populations. I would also love to see community growth consider bikes and pedestrians.
What would be your top 3 priorities to make our community a better place?
Additional community awareness of DEIA considerations and language; promoting inclusivity, learning opportunities and growth.
Bike- and pedestrian-considerate infrastructure and attitudes.
A few more vegan spots to eat or food festivals, but those are purely self-serving goals.
If you had unlimited time, what volunteer work would you be interested in doing?
If I had unlimited time, I would walk shelter dogs in the morning, serve as an 11th hour volunteer as needed, and work away at creating an animal rescue sanctuary that hosts programs for older adults. I would also foster dogs with behavioral issues and spend quality time rehabbing their spirits and behaviors and find their forever home. I'd also love to be involved in post-disaster and international animal rescue. My brother helped after Hurricane Katrina and shared some great experiences, and I've been interested in doing something similar. I love to serve; I've put a lot of thought into this.
Currently, I walk shelter dogs when we are around on the weekends, sit on the President's Hispanic Advisory Committee for EWU, serve on the EWU Alumni Association Board of Directors, and the Richland Public Library Board of Directors.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
Ah, I don't know that I do… it's becoming increasingly more difficult with advancements in technology to truly walk away at the end of the work day. I do my best not to answer work-related texts or emails after hours or on the weekends, but having continuous access to a communication device has sort of removed those work/life boundaries in society as a whole.
To offset some of that, I engage in hobbies that help clear my mind and increase time spent relaxing or exhausting myself.
My husband and I enjoy cycling (set to ride my first in-person STP this year!), traveling, cooking, spending time with friends and hiking. I love walking my dog, traveling, and we really enjoy spending time in mountain towns and finding new trails and roads to explore. Ask us anytime you need a recommendation for a difficult trail and the best post-summit food and beer. So, while it isn't balanced, we do our best to enjoy our free time, which helps me to bring renewed energy into my work.
Do you have family? Pets?
I married my husband, David Billetdeaux, in 2020 at the Fremont Fire Lookout on Mount Tahoma during a sunrise elopement with the shadow of a full moon from the night before. Together, we own an energetic and adventurous rescue dog, Dottie, and a chunky, food-obsessed rescue cat, Simon.
What brought you to the Tri-Cities?
Did you grow up here?
I grew up in the Tri-Cities. I was born in Richland and attended Richland High. Upon graduating, I moved to the Cheney and Spokane area. As mentioned earlier, I was extremely close with my grandparents, so when their calls asking for help became more and more frequent, I moved back to the Tri-Cities to help them age. I am fortunate that I was with them at the time of their passing, about a year apart.
Editor's note: Since the time of her Young Professional nomination, Cara Hernandez has accepted the position of director of community care with Chaplaincy Health Care in Richland.
Her first day is Aug. 14.
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