Three months after Alycia Hawkins was hired as the campus manager at Charter College in Bellingham, she was informed that the campus would be closing. While this would seem an unfortunate situation for most, this event was the catalyst for her being named a winner of the Top 7 Under 40 Whatcom Young Professional Award for 2018.

Alycia Hawkins, now an HR Generalist at WECU, grew up in Bellingham but soon after graduation she left for the east coast. “I was done with Whatcom County and Bellingham. At that stage in my life, I felt like sticking around where I grew up my opportunities would be too limited,” Hawkins said. She attended school at Syracuse University in New York. After school she returned to the state but stayed in the Seattle area.

“I felt like I needed to experience what the big city had to offer,” she said. She worked in a few different positions around the Seattle Metro area and then, about a decade after leaving Whatcom County, found herself at a crossroads.

“I had two job offers,” she said. “One was in Bellingham and one was in Seattle and I had to decide whether I was going to come back to the place I had vowed never to return to or stick around trying my luck in the big city.”

She chose Bellingham. Three months later she was told she wouldn’t have a job within a year.

“I was asked to shut the school down. That meant graduating our final students and wearing a lot of hats,” Hawkins said. “One of the hats that I absorbed was the retention specialist. This meant that I followed up with students who were struggling. I would call students into my office and sit them down to ask what was going on and how I could help.”

“We had a lot of tough conversations,” she said. “Many of them were going through big life challenges that made balancing their education difficult. I quickly came to realize that quite often it wasn’t just school that was holding them back, it was their circumstances.”

Another role as the Campus Manager, was to be the face of the college in the community. “I started going to networking events all over the county and, as a result, getting to know a lot of amazing people.”

She began to see firsthand the power of non-profits that exist in Whatcom County. Hawkins used this network to connect her students with the resources they needed to get help.

“Growing up in Bellingham I wasn’t aware of the incredible network of people who want to help each other here. I became the connector of the people who needed help, with the organizations that provide help,” she said.

“As my time at Charter ended, I realized that while I could let go of the job itself, I still needed to be really involved in making a difference however I possibly could,” Hawkins said.

She began volunteering- a lot. She started working with Lydia Place (where she’s now on the Board), Skookum House (where she also serves as a respite foster parent), Team WECU (WECU’s employee volunteer organization), and serving as the Philanthropy Chair of Whatcom Young Professionals.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to be told I can’t do something. If I see a need, I want to find a way to help. Through my position at Charter, I discovered the need and learned about the amazing organizations in Whatcom County who are supporting those needs and beyond,” she said. “I am honored to receive this award, but I’m more honored that I’ve had the opportunity to help others. I hope people hear my story and realize that making a difference is easier than they think.”