Something unshakable shines in Geneva Wiki’s striking blue-green eyes.
Maybe it’s a belief that positive change is possible.
The executive director for the Wild Rivers Community Foundation and Yurok Tribal member was recently honored for her work to that end, as a recipient of the “Native American 40 Under 40” honor awarded by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.
The award recognizes 40 Native American leaders nationwide between the ages of 18 to 39 “who have demonstrated leadership, initiative and dedication to achieve significant contributions in business, communities and Indian country.”
“We’re extremely proud of this achievement not only for Geneva personally, but because it validates that the work we are doing locally also resonates nationally,” said foundation Board Chair Dr. Kevin Caldwell in a press release.
The foundation serves both Curry and Del Norte counties.
In collaboration with the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, Wiki also manages the Del Norte part of a state-wide initiative known as Building Healthy Communities, funded by the California Endowment.
“One of the organizing principles we use is that the further you are from the problem the more you can philosophize about it,” Wiki said of the Building Healthy Communities plan, sitting in the foundation’s office on J Street in Crescent City on a recent sunny morning.
As “hub” manager, her job is to connect people and non-profit organizations around a plan that takes the long view, starting with a decade of grassroots organizing in 14 sites across California, coupled with broader policy goals and advocacy in Sacramento and Washington, D.C..
The project is two years under way. The end goal is for children to grow up healthy and safe, and be able to stay that way. The means are considerable: well over $1 million in annual grants to Del Norte organizations alone. But the methodology isn’t about money suddenly changing incredibly complex, long-rooted social norms, Wiki explained, it’s about bringing local residents together, identifying common problems and working out ways to address them, while there’s funding to keep good ideas moving. Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands, or DNATL, is one of the initiative’s sites. And for Wiki, it’s “home on every spiritual, possible level of my being.”
Her earliest memories are of visiting grandparents and great-grandparents in Requa, where she and husband Reweti Wiki now own the Requa Inn and live with their two daughters.
Wiki credited educational opportunities for making her achievements possible.
“To me it’s about creating an educated workforce that has more access to opportunity and has more doors open. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that this would be my life,” she said.
Wiki said she was nominated for the “40 under 40” award by her aunt, Susan Masten, a vice chair of the awarding organization and fellow founding director of the Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, which gives high-schoolers the opportunity to earn college credits and this year opened a second campus in Crescent City.
The Wild Rivers Community Foundation is a locally based affiliate of the Humboldt Area Foundation.
Its mission “is to inspire people and communities by facilitating dialogue and encouraging charitable giving to support the region now and forever.”