In 2016, three teens in Federal Way were lost to gunfire. Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan knew two of the families personally and also saw that there were many community leaders who wanted to help. One big gap was a lack of services for Black and Brown youth who were being affected by gun violence.
Ricks-Maccotan already had a background in providing resources to her community through relationship building, policy and health. She’s now using all of these skills and connections to build up other community members and connect people to resources to reduce violence — and support youth and families who need it most.
Her favorite quote is from Angela Davis and provides just a sliver of insight into the drive and impact she has on this community: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Ricks-Maccotan is the Community Integration Program Manager for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Federal Way and is involved in many other community organizations.
For her dedication to the community of Federal Way, and her work to reduce gun violence and support other community leaders, she is The Mirror’s Hometown Hero this month.
Ricks-Maccotan describes herself as a connector. She focuses her work on providing local community leaders and organizations with the tools they need to support as many people as they can. Her service could be described as focusing on reducing youth violence, but the way she does this is by interrupting systems of harm at every level and connecting people to resources to expand their impact everywhere she goes.
Although her work deals with heavy topics around violence and trauma, she often describes her work as exciting and even fun, especially when she sees the impact on a young person.
“That is a beautiful thing, when a kid walks in … and they’re frustrated, they’re not happy, they’re angry, and then six months later, they’re smiling, they’re laughing, they’re having fun,” she told the Mirror, “and when an incident pops up, they’re able to breathe and react differently and feel good and note that they’ve used a different resource to react to their circumstance. Life is going to be challenging … and what we try to do is to give them the love and the support and increase the tools that they have to respond in a more favorable manner.”
Winston Bell of Game of Life mentoring said his organization is one that Ricks-Maccotan has helped to grow in Federal Way.
“In my years of working with Cynthia, she has been one of the most impactful people in the city of Federal Way and surrounding areas that I could ever hope to meet,” said Bell. “Her ability to walk on both sides of the road, from policy to actually providing the hands-on personal connection is what has made her so valuable to communities of color.”
Ricks-Maccotan also spoke to the importance of finding organizations that have a “cultural niche.” As one example, she described a situation where a gang intervention specialist goes into a community, but doesn’t speak the language. One solution in her network of care would be to connect another resource that can help.
“You might have this African Community Housing Development Organization who’s providing housing and development to certain African communities and they provide a translator,” she explained. Utilizing this community resource as the translation service would mean that “the two are getting connected, so not only are you doing gang intervention and providing translation, but you’re also getting that youth and their family connected to housing and development and other supports that they might need.”
Phenomenal She is another nonprofit that Ricks-Maccotan has helped to grow, and the founder of that organization was the individual that nominated her for Hometown Hero.
“Cynthia is the glue that the community needs. She connects everyone from all walks of life for one common goal,” Carlecia Bell told The Mirror. “She has a heart of gold and is tremendously selfless. She is my ‘SHERO’ and is most definitely a local legend. She’s a wealth of knowledge and continuously pours into those surrounding her by educating, and never looks for anything in return. She wants everyone to succeed.”
“Cynthia has single-handedly helped to birth several nonprofit organizations in South King County and helped them all secure funding. She is personally responsible for helping to create programs for hundreds of young people of color as well as others throughout the school districts and the region,” Winston Bell told The Mirror.
When asked about her proudest accomplishments, this support to community groups is the first thing Ricks-Maccotan shared. She led the initiative to expand the scope of the violence prevention program to “include providing technical assistance to community groups to help them get the funding and the resources and to give them the technical assistance to become a nonprofit.”
Ricks-Maccotan has also been quite successful in advocating for increased allocation of resources to the area — action that is recognized by local political leaders.
“Cynthia is a thoughtful community leader who is deeply connected to residents in Federal Way and greater South King County,” 30th District Rep. Jamila Taylor shared in an email. “She effectively engages with community partners, families, schools, and systems to develop successful solutions that keep young people in our community safe and supported.”
A recent grant that was supported by Taylor and others is providing $3.325 million over the next two years to support youth and reduce violence in South King County, distributed by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. The money comes from WA Department of Commerce, Office of Firearms Safety and Violence Prevention for the Healthy Youth and Violence Prevention Initiative (HYVPI), and “will support the contracts with service providers (CBOs), training and other resources to ensure the CBOs are successful in their programming. Grant funding will cover a two year period, July 2023 to June 2025. The goal of the Initiative is preventing violence, decreasing engagement with the juvenile justice system, and encouraging health and wellbeing for youth and young adults ages 12 to 24 in South King County,” according to a press release from August.
Because of this money, Ricks-Maccotan told The Mirror: “We are able now to have a significant number of those organizations that are addressing youth violence talk about how can we, as a region, provide comprehensive, holistic support, trauma informed care to youth who are experiencing violence or at risk.”
When speaking about gun violence, she said it’s important to think of it as a regional issue: “Somebody might get shot in SeaTac and then that same gun is in an incident in Des Moines and then the same firearm, there’s an incident in Federal Way,” she said.
Ricks-Maccotan doesn’t let much get in her way. At the Federal Way City Council meeting on Oct. 21, she accepted the proclamation bringing attention to domestic violence. She had just gone through gallbladder surgery. When she spoke to The Mirror for this story, she was just three weeks out of brain surgery, but was already thinking about getting back to work.
Fall and winter are typically her busiest seasons when grant applications are due and fundraising is in full swing. Having to take a month off to rest has been challenging for her, but necessary. Looking toward the future, she is energized by the work she does and the community she supports.