When Heike Lake first began working at Lutheran Community Services Northwest as a graduate school intern, she had no idea she would stay there for decades, rising to become the chief operating officer of the three-state organization.
In recognition of her advocacy work both in public and behind the scenes, Lake has been awarded the YWCA 2023 Women of Achievement award for business and industry. Lake and other award winners were honored during a luncheon Thursday at the Davenport Grand Hotel.
Lake was raised in Kellogg, Idaho, calling it a great place to grow up. She attended North Idaho College and Lewis and Clark State College to earn a bachelor’s degree in substance-use disorder treatment and social work. With an eye toward social service work, she immediately got her master’s in behavioral health at the University of Idaho in 1996.
Lutheran Community Services Northwest covers Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It offers services and programs for seniors, families, children, foster children, immigrants and refugees. The organization offers English as a Second Language tutoring and citizenship classes, runs a crisis nursery, provides counseling and mental health treatment, among other services.
Lake was an intern at the Lutheran Community Services Northwest office in Coeur d’Alene that offered behavioral health and outpatient mental health services. Though she was only an intern, she quickly realized that she wanted to stay there.
“It’s a wonderful organization and the people who work there tend to be very good people,” she said. “That had not been something I envisioned doing.”
After earning her master’s, she was hired to oversee foster home licensing in the five northern counties of Idaho. At the time the organization held a contract with Idaho’s Child Welfare office to handle all foster care licensing.
“There are a lot of foster homes out in the hills,” Lake said.
When the Coeur d’Alene office closed in 2001, she became the behavioral health team manager in Spokane, and then its director. She was also the associate director and then director of the organization’s child welfare program.
Lake said she never expected to stay with the organization this long.
“Part of what made that possible is I had a bunch of different roles,” she said. “There’s always something new to do, to build. It feels like a great blessing to be in a place long enough to see things grow and bloom.”
She’s been the COO for the past four years and said that she can’t really identify a favorite position that she held in the organization. “When I was in it, that was my favorite,” she said. “I was in a place where I was learning, I was growing, I was challenged in a different way.”
During her tenure she has expanded the Santa for Seniors program in Tacoma, helped open a behavioral health clinic in Pasco and helped develop a crisis nursery in Klamath Falls, Oregon. She’s also increased legal resources for immigrants and refugees.
“People come to this work because they are passionate about service and are mission-driven,” she said.
As her responsibilities have grown, her involvement in other agencies has lessened. She currently sits on the board of the Compass Housing Alliance. “If you do this position, it’s hard to do anything but this position,” she said of her current role.
David Duea, chief executive officer and president of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, said Lake is organized and a hard worker, but also fun to work with and quick to laugh. He said that she’s also known within the organization for her dog, Mr. Higgins.
“After starting with us as an intern, Heike made her mark on our Spokane area offices, but she didn’t stop there,” he said. “She has always been a fierce advocate for families and children in the Inland Northwest. Now she applies her skill set agency wide, and we are better because of it.”
Lake said she had colleagues and mentors along the way who encouraged her to pursue new opportunities. She said those who nominated her were kind and generous to do so and that she’s both uncomfortable with the spotlight and humbled to be nominated.
“That was a shocking phone call,” she said. “It took a while for my brain to catch up. The Y is a close partner with our organization. I have a lot of respect for them and what they do in the community.”