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Community Youth Services leader honored for outstanding work

Charles Shelan came to Thurston County more than 30 years ago because Saint Martin's University hired his wife, Norma, to serve on the school faculty.

Now, after 31 years at the helm of Community Youth Services, another university is honoring Shelan for his lifetime achievements. The University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business has named the 61-year-old its 2010 Nonprofit Business Leader of the Year. He’ll receive the award April 21 during a dinner at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.

Shelan took over the once struggling agency dedicated to empowering at-risk youth in 1979, after serving in the Peace Corps and with Volunteers in Service to America, and earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington.

At the time, CYS was a small drop-in center with four employees. In 1970, a group of civic-minded citizens — Carl Reder, Bob Macleod, Paul Zach, Jody Veatch and the late Rev. Howard Perry — founded what was then called the Thurston Youth Services Society. They wanted to reverse a growing trend of criminal activity among young people.

The organization had four different executive directors during those first nine years, but only one since. Shelan is now into his fourth decade and showing no signs of slowing down.

During his tenure, CYS has grown into a $6 million enterprise, with 75 employees running 19 different programs for more than 3,000 young people and families. CYS owns the 20,000-square-foot building where most of the programs operate, as well as other facilities, including Haven House, a teen shelter.

Shelan, a West Texas native, has dedicated his life to building the largest child welfare agency in southwest Washington. He thinks of himself as social service entrepreneur, and others say he runs CYS like a strong CEO.

The Milgard award will be special for Shelan, but it’s not the first recognizing the work CYS does in Thurston County. The Greater Olympia Chamber of Commerce’s leadership division named Community Youth Services the Organization of the Year in 2006, and it was voted the top nonprofit workplace within five counties in 2007.

The most meaningful reward, Shelan would probably say, is knowing that he has helped improve the lives of thousands of kids and young adults. And he’s made the greater Olympia area a better place for so many. It’s a well-deserved honor.


Oil up those bicycles and get ready to start riding to work. Intercity Transit is kicking off its Bicycle Commuter Contest on Saturday with its Earth Day Ride from 10 a.m. until noon. Riders from around the city will converge at the Heritage Park Fountain around 11 a.m. and ride to the Farmers Market. It’s a great way to celebrate Earth Day (April 22). ... The Lucky Eagle Casino is reassuring the surrounding Rochester community that its new club, called Mystique at Main Street, is not a stripper bar. Casino marketing director Duncan MacLeod said the new club that opened Friday night features female dealers at new blackjack tables who will occasionally jump up and dance, while other women take over the games. The Lucky Eagle news release says “Mystique will combine blackjack, great music and beautiful women to create a memorable experience.” They seem to be aiming for the same market that attracts crowds to the Cowgirls Inc. bars in major cities, including one in Seattle. ... Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, says her organization is organizing another downtown cleanup to make the city look fantastic for the spring Arts Walk XL. You can help Saturday, from 8.30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and enjoy a lunch with the all the other volunteers. Call the ODA at 360-357-8948 to reserve a spot.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or at