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Kathy Thamm retires from Community-Minded Enterprises

Kathy Thamm, Community-Minded Enterprises’ retiring executive director, poses for a photo on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at CME in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Kathy Thamm, Community-Minded Enterprises’ retiring executive director, poses for a photo on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at CME in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Kathy Thamm has two major passions: connecting families to safe, affordable, quality child care and helping those battling addiction find a pathway to recovery.

For the past 14 years, six of them as executive director, she’s found an outlet for those passions at Community-Minded Enterprises.

Formed as a grassroots organization in the early 1990s and incorporated in 1997, the Spokane nonprofit’s mission is to improve the long-term well-being of communities through outreach, access and training.

As Thamm, 70, prepares to retire this month, she spent some time reflecting on her career at CME.

Her focus on safe child care and helping those struggling with substance abuse stems from personal tragedy.

“My stepdaughter had been abused by a baby sitter which later led to substance abuse,” she said. “We lost her to suicide and four years later her daughter ended up overdosing.”

Thamm channeled her pain into helping parents ensure they had access to safe child care.

She ran the Childcare Resource and Referral program and built a database of safe child care facilities.

When that program ended, she joined CME in 2004 as the Early Learning Initiative director. In that role, Thamm was instrumental in the formation of a statewide quality ratings improvement system for child care.

The ratings system later became Early Achievers. Thamm led that work, expanding the program from Spokane County to all of Eastern Washington. She also saw the need to bring financial stability to child care and established business training specifically for child care facilities. At the federal, state and local level, Thamm reached out to lawmakers to advance early learning legislation.

“We have 30 coaches who help get child care centers rated and that information is readily available to the public,” Thamm said.

She smiled.

“It’s exciting work,” she said. “This wasn’t available 25 years ago. It’s hard for parents to find and evaluate child care. What we’ve done over the years is make it easier for them to navigate the system.”

Thamm still sees plenty that concerns her.

“In Spokane right now, it’s hard because we have very few openings, especially for infants,” she said.

And the cost is a harsh reality for parents.

“Right now, child care for an infant and a toddler costs the same as attending Eastern Washington University,” Thamm said. “It’s something that will need to be addressed at the national level.”

Another program birthed under Thamm’s watch is the Recovery Cafe, a peer-to-peer support for people recovering from addiction.

Launched February 2017, Recovery Cafe in Peaceful Valley offers support and social connections for those struggling with addiction issues. People who go to Recovery Cafe agree to become members, which means a person must be at least 24 hours substance-free and attend an orientation session, along with regularly attending a weekly small group recovery circle. The circles are led by a trained recovery coach.

“It’s going strong. We’ve served a tremendous amount of folks. We average 100 active members,” Thamm said. “The recovery world has changed – it’s no longer hidden. I found it exciting to see everyone is embracing this.”

She’s also excited about the growth of Community-Minded Television. This state-of-the-art television studio in downtown Spokane provides a place to share community stories.

“The equipment is funded by Comcast,” she said. “It’s actually part of your Comcast bill. But we have to raise the operating dollars. Our goal is to train the public how to use the sound, editing and camera equipment. So far 250 individuals have taken our classes.”

After taking a class, people can check out the equipment and film their stories, come back to the studio and edit them, and then have the program aired on the 24/7 public-access channel.

CMTV14 also helps share nonprofit stories.

“We cover Ham on Regal and produce their DVD,” Thamm said. “We just purchased a van that can haul the equipment around.”

Thamm is also proud of Plan to Work, a program that assists individuals on disability who are hoping to get a job or return to work.

“If you’re on Social Security disability and want to get off and get a job, it can be very difficult,” said Thamm. “We have trained Community Work Incentive counselors who help individuals go back to work without losing their SSDI benefits.”

The organization’s newest program is Better Health Together, a program for men, ages 18 to 34, who are just coming out of jail and are at high risk to reoffend. CME provides community health workers who serve as coaches for the young men and ensure they have access and support to whatever services they may need.

Under Thamm’s leadership Community-Minded Enterprises staff has grown from 20 to more than 50, and the organization recently was cited as one of the Best Places to Work in the Inland Northwest.

“The staff itself is the power of CME,” Thamm said. “We firmly believe your work isn’t your life.”

Her retirement plans include revisiting her love of photography and helping her husband artist, John Thamm, launch his second book.

She’s most proud of the Early Achievers program and the Recovery Cafe.

“If I can connect society with programs that help people, then I feel like I’ve done something,” she said. “Anything that can transform or change a mindset is what I’m passionate about. I can leave feeling like everything is funded here. I’ve had a lot of fun in this job.”

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