Women guide residents to improve living conditions
By Kaye Hult
Two women with roots in North Idaho are drawing Coeur d'Alene residents together to explore ideas for a long-range plan to improve the area's housing, health, community, education, environment and economy.
Through Connect Kootenai, they are gathering people from its disparate corners to create a positive future for the area, a future open to accepting and celebrating the diversity of people who live there.
Believing "We're all in this together in Kootenai County," they are bringing people together to address issues and improve conditions.
Greta Gissel, speaking to the Coeur d'Alene Regional Chamber's Upbeat Breakfast this spring, revealed the energy that has infused the nonprofit CDA 2030 since she became executive director in the fall of 2022.
"During the winter of 2022-23, it was rebranded Connect Kootenai," she said. "Everything is new. It's like restarting the organization after a year of little community involvement."
Helping Greta promote Connect Kootenai among residents and organizations of the greater Coeur d'Alene area is Tess Reasor.
"When we were talking about helping individuals with substance abuse struggles in detoxing as they sought recovery," Tess said, "we realized we were discussing Connect Kootenai focus areas of health and safety.
"I knew the key people involved in Kootenai Health and the private providers. I worked with them on several boards."
Greta invited Tess to be her executive assistant.
At the Coeur d'Alene Chamber's Upbeat Breakfast, Greta offered one of the presentations they each give regularly to area nonprofits and businesses as they seek to garner enthusiasm for the six key themes of Connect Kootenai's vision and implementation plan.
Focusing on "Housing and Growth" at the breakfast, she said area housing is in a dire crisis now. Affordable housing for local workers is in short supply.
Previously, she had participated in the Regional Housing Growth Issues Partnership of CDA 2030, known as RHGIP. It has been rebranded as Connect Kootenai on Housing and Growth.
That and the other five key themes grew out of public forums, workshops, surveys, opinion polls, interviews, a website and social media that CDA 2030 used to collect and compile data about visions for the future. Residents from greater Coeur d'Alene joined committees and workgroups to create the long-range vision and implementation plan.
The themes are housing and growth, health and safety, community and identity, education and learning, environment and recreation, and jobs and the economy.
Greta and Tess will offer two "Community Conversations" a month to engage people expanding on the focus themes.
"We're the feet on the ground, making this happen. We're connecting people, business community and nonprofits, and bringing cultural heritage back to Coeur d'Alene," Greta said.
In their discussions, the women seek to determine a single focus for implementing visions for each of the themes.
For example, for community and identity, they are helping the Coeur d'Alene Tribe create a Cultural Heritage Day for 2024.
Concern has arisen about food insecurity for students in Post Falls since the school system moved to a four-day school week. As part of the education and learning segment, a group is seeking means to feed students over the longer weekends.
The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is working within the community to put together an "Environmental Futures Summit," part of the vision for the environment and recreation theme.
In 2022, just before accepting the leadership of Connect Kootenai, Greta left teaching and began to work in the mortgage industry.
"That's on hold for now," she said.
Her participation on the boards of North Idaho Building and Contractors and 208 Recovery North allows her to share Connect Kootenai information with them, keeping them up to date on what is transpiring.
Greta, who was born and grew up in Coeur d'Alene, graduated from North Idaho College with an associate of arts degree. Later, she earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Idaho.
"My parents, Norm and Diana Gissel, were involved in the community when I was growing up," she said. "They created a legacy of community service that I am continuing."
Norm served on the board of the Kootenai Library for 12 years. He was instrumental in moving the library from 7th St. to Harrison. When the new building was constructed, he made sure the below-ground children's section was accessible by a ramp.
"I stood beside him, watching tears roll down his cheeks when the first disabled child used the ramp to go downstairs," she said.
Both her parents also helped begin the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and have continued to stay active in it. She has been involved with that group, too.
"My parents taught me that I have a moral obligation to serve the community," she said.
CDA 2030 began in 2013 and became a nonprofit organization in 2014, when Greta first became involved.
"I wrote the focus statement for the education and learning theme," she said. "I served on the board for a year."
About that time, she and fellow teacher Dave Eubanks started Jingle Books, a book drive for children in kindergarten through the third grade.
They organized a collection of nearly 4,000 gently used or new books to be given to children before their winter holiday break. Learning to read by the end of third grade gives children a strong start at reading to learn from then on up, Greta said.
"When I was asked to lead Connect Kootenai, I already had passion for this kind of community service," she said.
Tess, who grew up in Sandpoint in a family who have been in North Idaho six generations, has lived in Coeur d'Alene for 20 years. She was a single mother when she graduated from high school in 1997. She's now been married for 20 years to a husband born and raised in the Silver Valley. They have three children, one grandchild and another grandchild on the way.
"My family connections fuel my passion for community," she said. "What legacy am I leaving for my grandchildren, so they can enjoy the Idaho I know and love? Every day, there are actions I can take to make my home a better home."
Tess worked for such organizations as the Coeur d'Alene Press, some advertising agencies and for Jerm Designs. In 2018, she procured a real estate license.
Recently, she founded 208 Recovery North, an open adult day center where people can access free services. In a time when it takes six months to be able to meet with a counselor, 208 Recovery North offers interim positive engagement projects.
As a state-certified peer recovery coach supervisor and peer support specialist, she actively works within the greater Coeur d'Alene community. She serves on boards of Region 1 Behavioral Health, Idaho Law Enforcement Diversion, CD Aide, the Idaho Homeless Coalition and the Idaho Association of Addiction Professionals.
"I want to sit at every table in our Community Conversations and other presentations as a neutral person," she said. "Let's work together for the greater good, a brighter future which is highly inclusive, and where all perspectives are welcome in open conversation.
"When people sit at the table to hear us, we mostly experience excitement," she said.
Greta agreed. "It's been exciting to come back on board. We've had six months of getting things going through our community meetings and by talking with everyone available. We've had so many balls in the air, and we've experienced a good response to our presentations."