Available in Marshallese.
Washington kids and families recently lost a joyful, compassionate advocate who brought her gifts and spirit to our shared work for equity and for kids.
Irene Jorkan Kimura, of Auburn and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, began advocating with Children’s Alliance in 2011 for basic services lawmakers cut during the Great Recession. She was among the many dedicated parents and community-based leaders who led that campaign. Irene had a beautiful gift to connect with others, including lawmakers, through a thoughtful comment, steady smile, or a lighthearted, song-filled moment. Irene was motivated in her advocacy as a mother, grandmother, and aunt.
After winning the full restoration of State Food Assistance benefits, Irene helped organize members of Washington’s Pacific Islander community to continue speaking up for families like hers: migrants living in Washington due to a Compact of Free Association (COFA), a diplomatic agreement with the federal government. COFA migrants live, work, and go to school legally in Washington and other U.S. states. They hail from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Marshall Islands: three countries with whom the U.S. government has longstanding military and diplomatic ties.
Irene helped bring people together. She encouraged her friends, family, and community, including women and kids, to speak up to lawmakers. She was brave. With her family and friends in support, she offered testimony at the capitol that was instrumental in the creation of COFA Islander Health Care in 2018, and the addition of dental coverage to COFA Health Care in 2019.
She brought her love for kids and community to Washington, D.C., in 2017. With her friend and fellow advocate Jiji Jally and Children’s Alliance Health Policy Director Litonya Lester, she joined the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum conference, meeting with U.S Rep. Adam Smith and with staff from the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell.
We at Children’s Alliance are keeping Irene’s family, friends, and community in our hearts. She is survived by many who knew and loved her here in Washington state, in Arkansas, elsewhere in the U.S., and in the Marshall Islands. We are grateful for the laughter, spirit, and song that she brought to civic engagement. Each of us can honor Irene’s legacy by bringing a little more joy into our own advocacy.
Watch Irene and many in the Washington state Marshallese and COFA communities perform a song of thanks addressing State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos and State Senator Bob Hasegawa, who championed COFA dental coverage in 2019.
Photo: Irene Jorkan Kimura (left), with Children’s Alliance community engagement manager Emijah Smith (right), speaks at a victory celebration following the restoration of food benefits for hungry families in 2015.