We’ve  always known some pretty special people work at King County Metro , and sometimes, the larger world affirms that big time. Such is the case with planner Penny Lara, who just won  a national transportation award for diversity, equity and inclusion. Lara received the award from the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), which recognizes and honors outstanding achievements that improve transportation options.

“Penny is a dedicated professional who has been a strong and consistent voice for equity and social justice,” said Transit Supervisor Ina Percival, Lara’s manager. “We are lucky and proud to have her on our team!”

Lara has dedicated more than 25 years to working with and advocating for diverse and immigrant populations on issues such as health, social justice and access to transportation. Every day, she advances and shapes Metro’s services by applying an equity lens to complex challenges.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful that the work of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in King County is being recognized through this award,” said Lara. “Even though the award from ACT has my name on it, it is truly a recognition of a team effort with my colleagues from Public Health Seattle-King County and Metro. These teams shaped this work and to see it recognized is validating and motivating to continue our daily efforts to advance equity. This is an important milestone for me and our agency. We are looking forward to doing even more in the name of equity as we move forward together.”

Contributions Lara has made at Metro include:

 Advancing the practice of partnering with community-based organizations and trusted liaisons to understand community needs for and barriers to transportation, an approach rooted in her background in public health.

  • Developing in-language and culturally relevant and appropriate information – for agency materials, transforming access to information about programs and mobility options for diverse communities, including shift and low-wage workers.
  • B ringing the voices of diverse communities to the table, such as immigrant communities and youth, to ensure their perspectives are included in the creation of programs and policies developed to meet their needs.
  • Co-leading the development of an ethnic media guide and an in-Spanish materials guide, including a Spanish glossary that is now being used by Metro and other departments across King County.
  • Identifying barriers that inhibit access to transit and alternative modes and recommending improvements to Metro’s practices and operations.
  • Respectfully reinforcing cultural differences within and outside of Metro, modeling cultural knowledge and competency for transit.
  • Elevating the Hispanic and Latinx community within King County by leading opportunities and celebrations related to Hispanic Heritage Month and International Woman’s Month to build a culture of inclusion and connection to Hispanic communities.

Many who work with Lara say her superpower is relationship building–her exceptional ability to understand, emphasize and connect with people from diverse backgrounds based on her own experiences. She brings a warmness, joy for life, love of family, and pride in her heritage and culture to everything she does.

Lara, born in San Mateo, Calif., moved to Mexico when she was 5. She returned to the United States at age 19. In her words, that meant being an “immigrant twice,” first when she moved to Mexico and learned Spanish as a child, and then when she moved to Washington and re-learned English as an adult.

She shares her talents outside of Metro, too. Lara serves as co-chair of the King County Mobility Coalition, which informs special needs transportation services in King County and develops strategies, tools and projects to improve mobility for people with limited transportation options due to age, income, disability, limited English proficiency or other limiting factors.

Congratulations, Penny!  Your friends and colleagues at Metro couldn’t be prouder.

Lea el artículo en español.