Many Yakima residents know Holly Cousens has served as Yakima’s District 7 councilwoman since 2016, but they may not realize she has been an educator much longer.
“My students are the reason I ran for City Council,” said the Pensacola, Fla., native who’s been a business technology instructor at Yakima Valley College since 2010.
With the 2015 local election approaching, Holly talked with her students about what they thought would make a good council member. The list they created — based on what they wanted to see improved in Yakima — included someone with a college degree, a business background and a knowledge of finance. When the list was composed, one of the students pointed out that she had all the qualifications and suggested she run.
Holly, who turned 38 on Monday, was one of four women elected two years ago and, she says, the first woman of Jewish descent elected to the council.
These are a few of her favorite things:
1. “My keys to YVC,” Holly says.
To her, the keys — to her office and the business classrooms where she teaches — are a symbol of her purpose. They’re tangible objects that give her a sense of pride, representing the fact that she wakes up every day and is able to get to know her students and to watch them grow.
2. The Star of David, which Holly wears on a chain around her neck. It represents her Jewish faith and reminds her of where she comes from, she said.
“To always have faith, love and compassion,” Holly said. “This is how I live every day — as a leader, teacher and as a friend.”
Growing up, she went to Hebrew school three days a week to learn the language. She also speaks Yiddish.
Holly’s father was killed in 1990 by a drunken driver in Ogden, Utah. After the tragedy, her family moved to Yakima. The star she wears was given to her by her dad’s older sister, who bought it in Delray Beach, Fla. It makes her feel closer to him.
3. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t talk to my mom,” Holly said. “I call her on my way to work every morning — she inspires me.”
Holly’s mom — Marlene — was an educator for more than 40 years. She was one of four white teachers who left all-white schools in Pensacola, Fla., to teach in all-black schools as integration was in its formative years.
Along with her father, Holly said her mother marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later taught at Yakima Valley College for many years. In retirement, she takes care of abused children in and around Yakima. She goes to hospitals, houses and receives some in her home to help as a reading specialist, with parenting classes and in any other capacity she’s needed, Holly said.
4. Her dog, Kassi, an 11-year-old rescue and Holly’s best friend. Every morning, Holly says, Kassi — half Shar Pei and half Wirehaired Pointer — has to cuddle with both her and her fiance, Pete, or neither of their days are complete.
“She cries if she doesn’t get cuddle time,” Holly said. “She knows what time I’m supposed to get home every day and she’s on the couch looking out the window, waiting for me.”
In fact, no matter how many dog beds she has, Kassi always wants to sleep in the bed with Holly.
“When I get home, she is always happy to see me,” Holly said.
Holly got Kassi from the Humane Society when the dog was only 2 weeks old.
“Instantly, she and I had this connection,” Holly said. If you’re interested in adopting a best friend like Kassi, the Yakima Humane Society is at 2405 W. Birchfield Road. Call them for adoption details at 509-457-6854.
5. And to treat herself, it’s all about a little retail therapy at a place Holly really loves.
“It’s a little known secret that my car has an autopilot button for Chico’s,” Holly jokes. “On special occasions, I hit that button and my car just drives me there.”
For Holly, it’s a place where she can talk to everyone about most any topic — politics or fashion or the weather. She’s also impressed with their community efforts, including when they fill the dressing rooms with clothing donations for those in need throughout the community.
“The people in Chico’s are absolutely fantastic,” Holly said. “You can be in a bad mood and the ladies in Chico’s are just there to laugh with you and have fun.”
Chico’s offers a variety of women’s wear at its location in the Valley Mall at 2529 Main St. in Union Gap. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.