Peirone Prize from The Inlander is just the latest step in a remarkable climb for the Center’s outreach coordinator.
In a sunlit room surrounded by her family, her colleagues from the Center for Justice, and a large contingent of friends, Virla Spencer received a Peirone Prize Thursday afternoon.
The prize is given annually by Spokane’s weekly newspaper, the Pacific Northwest Inlander, to recognize young people in the inland Northwest who’ve chosen a life of service and made valuable contributions to their communities.
The prize not only comes with a cash honorarium but, for Virla, there was an added surprise. Her photograph is on this week’s cover of the newspaper. Inside is a feature story about her by staff writer Heidi Groover.
As he prepared to introduce her, Inlander publisher Ted McGregor relayed how Virla had chided him for not telling her she was going to be on the cover.
“But that’s the way we roll,” McGregor joked. He then summarized the story of Virla’s extraordinary journey over the past five years, from being a prisoner in the Franklin County jail to a single-mother dauntlessly working to help people free themselves from poverty and rebuild their lives, much in the way she’s rebuilt hers. She’s become a fixture at the Center for Justice, a board member for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP), and was recently appointed to a state-wide committee, created by the state supreme court, to evaluate the legal services needs for low income Washingtonians.
Said McGregor: “When we went through the nominees this year, and we dig deep, we put out queries to people, about who’s really tearing it up. And the word ‘dynamo’ came out of a lot people’s mouths when they described Virla.”
“I’ve worked hard to be recognized,” Virla said after McGregor presented her the award. “But it’s not even for the recognition, it’s for the better of the community and changing peoples’ lives. And for all the people who’ve helped me along the way, I thank you so much for this.”
The two other recipients of the Peirone Prize this year are West Central neighborhood activist Keith Kelley, and Keirsten Hess, the Armed Forces director for the American Red Cross in Spokane.
–Tim Connor for the Center for Justice