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Reno’s Champions: Every day heroes in 2020


There are countless people who make Reno a better place. With such a difficult year behind us, we thought some of our community champions deserved recognition for rising above dire circumstances. Here are a few groups and individuals we believe made 2020 better for others.

Empower Nevada Teachers 

Armed with professional degrees and passion for education, our local teachers have been brow-beaten by the pandemic. Their administration waffled on re-opening plans.  They were stymied during legislative hearings at the two special sessions last summer. They had to adjust teaching styles for in-person and distance learners, and their profession remains underfunded statewide.

Worse, their efforts have been criticized and ridiculed by some who believe, oddly, that teachers are somehow a scourge because they advocate for their profession.

We’ve had teachers call us petrified of returning to the classroom. One was in tears. Another was frightened to speak out publicly, citing cases like Trina Olsen’s, where Washoe County School District officials have gone after employees with a vengeance.

The group Empower Nevada Teachers and its members, however, continue to rise to the occasion by maintaining focus on uplifting Nevada’s public education. They held rallies, organized at grassroots levels and have been fierce about advocating for better funding and working conditions statewide. They also made themselves available to the news media.

They deserve recognition for their work, which ultimately is for the greater community good. Repeated studies show that well-funded education leads to greater civic participation, more affluence, increased workplace productivity and a reduction in criminal activity.

We look forward to what ENT does next.

Frontline healthcare workers 

Our frontline nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers are miracle workers, and  yet their work is frequently undercut by those stoking conspiracies and minimizing their work. There is perhaps no greater insult to those trying to save lives day in and day out than to have their efforts ridiculed, dismissed and lied about by the American president and those viciously repeating false claims and factually incorrect information.

They deserve better. Even from their own employers. The nurses at St. Mary’s protested twice this year, and what they were asking for was not unreasonable: PPE, fair pay and better staffing – in the middle of a global pandemic, no less. Local hospitals were hit with complaints by employees about unsafe working conditions. The complaints appeared to have been brushed off, as the area’s largest hospitals were both cited as hotspots for contracting the coronavirus disease.

Nurses picket outside of Saint Mary's in Reno over staffing and insufficient PPE. Image: Jeri Davis
Nurses picket outside of Saint Mary’s in Reno over staffing and insufficient PPE. Image: Jeri Davis

Hospital PR responses were shockingly uninspiring.

“Saint Mary’s communicates frequently with all staff and providers on the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts Saint Mary’s practices and protocols, including any changing policies around PPE use,” that hospital told us in May.

If you know a doctor, nurse or other healthcare employee, please show them gratitude.  Especially the ones, like Dr. John Hess, who regularly pens critical information, from a doctor’s perspective, for the community to better manage its responses to COVID-19. These workers are literally saving lives to the best of their abilities, and they are doing so under forces most of us cannot understand or will ever know.

Artists, actors and musicians

Art is so often overlooked or, worse yet, dismissed as something that exists purely within the realm of avocation. Spending on art is often the first thing on the chopping block when it comes to budgets, be they personal or governmental. But where would we be without art and the people who create it?

Many of us – mainly those of us who are consumers rather than creators of art – got a glimpse of what an artless hellscape might look like early on in the pandemic. Sure, we had our Netflix and our Spotify. But we didn’t have live music at the local bars or plays from our myriad local theater companies.

Thankfully, our local artists stepped up to the plate and adapted to use online platforms to bring their works and some much-needed joy into our homes. What’s more, a good many of them did so for more than their own financial benefit or even just catharsis. Artists have hosted charitable events, and some have regularly donated portions of their tips to things like nonprofits and individuals and businesses in need.  

There are too many amazing musicians in this town to mention each one who has used a livestreaming show to contribute to keeping our spirits up and funding good works.

Some standouts have included a virtual benefit show with local bands organized by promoter MoMo Mendoza to support Shades of Queening, emergency Marianarchy events featuring local bands put on by Nick Ramirez and the Worst Little Podcast crew, and recent holiday shows done solo by Eric Andersen of the Novelists—the most recent of which benefited United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra. We were fortunate to host semi-live events with Nick Eng and So Sol during the pandemic.

Thank you to all of the local musicians who’ve livestreamed shows for us this year.

And, of course, one can’t forget the local theater companies. Their doors have remained closed throughout the pandemic, but they’ve not gone away. In fact, they’ve come together to support one another in a really beautiful way—all the while continuing to provide us entertainment.

Reno Little Theater, Brüka and Good Luck Macbeth teamed up for the “I Saved Theatre” initiative to encourage locals to donate to keep theater companies intact. They’re also behind Ghost Light TV, via which they’ve brought us streaming shows throughout the pandemic. These can be rewatched on their YouTube channel.

Thanks, thespians, for all that you do.

Advocates for the unsheltered

It seems like everyone is looking to do something “good” for someone less fortunate around the holidays, looking to manifest the “spirit of giving.” That is wonderful. But when the majority of us go back to our day-to-day lives following the holidays, there will remain a small network of people who’ve dedicated their lives to doing good—not just giving a handout but giving a hand up to others in our community.

The nonprofit Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE) has been helping people for the better part of a decade. What began as an effort to provide warm, home cooked food to those in need has expanded into much more. Earlier this year, RISE was unanimously approved by the Washoe County Commission to be in charge of operating a 114-bed women’s shelter called Our Place. The organization has also been fundraising for a program it calls Living Room, a housing voucher and support program for those who do not qualify for other local services. Recently, RISE was selected by the Human Services Network as the Agency of the Year.

For the last several years, Grant Denton—who was formerly unsheltered and drug addicted—has been placing “karma boxes” all around Reno and the surrounding communities. There are dozens of them now, and they’re intended for people to stock with food, toiletries and other goods. The boxes are built by recovering addicts; they’re painted by local artists, and they’re stocked by the community with things for unsheltered individuals.

Hope Springs, which is scheduled to open sometime next month, is a 30-unit complex of individual, small units along with a central facility that includes showers, restrooms, a kitchen and community space. There will even be a garden and dog park. The Hope Springs complex will be operated by Northern Nevada HOPES, which brought it to fruition with support from locals, including Reno City Council members, Abbi Whitaker of the Abbi Agency, Bob Conrad of ThisIsReno.com, Volunteers of America, ACTIONN and RISE.

Lisa Lee helps to serve lunch to people who were forced to move from a camp near Wells Ave. Image: Isaac Hoops

Eddy House is an organization focused on helping young people. Its center for homeless, runaway, foster and other at-risk youth provides access to resources like food, clothing, hygiene items and a safe secure place to be during the day. In January, the Eddy House opened an overnight shelter for youths. And in December, it sought the support of the community to help provide Christmas needs and wants to the kids who rely upon it.

Eddy House also offers counseling services, work force development, life skills groups, health care services and more.

The Reno Ambassadors work for the Downtown Reno Partnership—which operates the city’s downtown business improvement district. They spend their days on the streets helping everyone from tourists to the unsheltered.

Earlier this year, the Ambassadors were recognized by the International Downtown Association for their work with unsheltered people. Through a one-on-one, targeted program started in 2019, the group has helped several dozen unsheltered people move into permanent housing.

Thank you, advocates, for making equity, dignity and access for all local people your lives’ work. Our community is indebted to you.


In the best of times librarians serve as conduits to information, connecting library patrons with resources and information, and giving them the tools to find it on their own in the future. And in a pandemic—they do exactly the same. Of course, the running joke is that they’re experts in shushing those who are too loud in the library and that they spend their days reading books.

But, this year Washoe County’s librarians proved they are loud and proud about books and learning and are willing to stretch their creativity for the benefit of the community.  

Within a week of closing for stay-at-home orders the library system rolled out digital library cards to increase access to online resources for locals. Demand for digital resources soared this year, and data from OverDrive, a digital lending source used by Washoe County Libraries, shows e-book use has increased dramatically, especially for children’s e-books.

In March, librarians mobilized their 3-D printers to print PPE for front line workers and highlighted resources for people to access unemployment or job support resources. They’ve also engaged in months on end of dynamic online programming with virtual story times, online how-to projects and themed activities, Zoom chats and book discussions, video learning sessions, virtual outreach to school classrooms and so much more. National Cookie Day saw librarians hosting at-home baking demonstrations!

Librarians have invited families into their homes as they spiritedly read books, sometimes in costume. And they’ve helped families at their own homes by providing resources for home-schooling and distance learning. They’ve done all of this while also managing online book orders and curbside pickups, and even helping public health officials with contact tracing.  

Most librarians will tell you it hasn’t been easy. Not having the resources and ability to serve those that need the library most has been a struggle. In person services such as helping people to gain computer access, fill out job applications or connect with family and friends–all things that have become so much more important in 2020—have been impossible to provide. Librarians also haven’t been able to provide the same level of educational support to students who may need books or help finding and navigating complex online resources, the same students who’ve lost access to their school libraries as well.

Librarians this year have had a front row seat to witness the expanding of the digital divide, but thanks to their firm grasp of resources and their never-ending creativity there’s hope they’ll help to guide the way to better connectivity for all in the post-pandemic years to come.

Thank you, librarians, for your dedication.

Delivery drivers, postal and logistics workers 

Days before the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders took hold, This Is Reno reported that Reno’s economy was among the top in the U.S. Then many businesses were forced to close their doors, resulting in thousands of jobs lost and economic uncertainty in the region. By November things were starting to bounce back, at least in the logistics sector, a recovery forecasted several months prior with reports of increased air cargo traffic at the airport.

That the logistics sector is leading the area’s recovery shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. After all, online shopping increased dramatically during the pandemic and northern Nevada is home to many of the warehouses and distribution centers that fulfill those orders. Employees at those locations were deemed essential, and, rather than being able to stay at home and social distance, they were asked to hustle a little more–in some cases with limited PPE, getting orders out to the rest of us for things like dog food, toilet paper and whatever else we could find to buy online.

Likewise, long-haul truckers and drivers for shipping services found themselves on the front line delivering essentials to stores and homes. Ditto for gig workers delivering restaurant orders and groceries. Workers who had often been taken for granted—except for perhaps during the annual holiday shopping extravaganza or when their trucks were blocking driveways and traffic—were now vital to many. They delivered toilet paper to store shelves, medications to the elderly, groceries to those quarantined and meals to locals hoping to help keep their favorite restaurants afloat.

Reno residents demonstrate in support of the U.S. Postal Service at the main office on Vassar Street . Image: Ty O’Neil

Add “pandemic” to the U.S. Postal Service’s creed. Postal workers kept delivering the mail, including a landslide of election-related direct mail and hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots for both the primary and general elections. They did this despite policy changes and cost-cutting measures implemented in June that banned overtime and extra trips, decommissioned mail sorting machines, removed mail collection boxes and created a backlog of mail to be delivered.

As the country moves into the vaccination phase of the pandemic, delivery drivers once again show us they’re essential as they move COVID-19 vaccines from manufacturers to health districts and hospitals. Thank you to the truckers and pilots, warehouse workers, drivers and shoppers that stayed at work all year so many of us could stay at home.

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