Driving from the heart

Ninus and Kathy Hopkins represent everything that is good about Solid Ground. Our longest-tenured Access bus operators, they are a mixed-race couple who have endured a lifetime of prejudice and racism, yet what shines through in their work is the clearest manifestation of building community that you will ever see.

Kathy Hopkins, circa 1989

Kathy Hopkins, circa 1989

When Ninus and Kathy started, Seattle Personal Transit was a small paratransit service launched by one-time Jesuit Volunteer John Rochford, who pioneered special transportation services for people living with disabilities who can’t access the fixed-route system.

In 1987, the program combined two small independent services in North Seattle. Renamed Solid Ground Transportation in 2013, it is the only nonprofit service provider of Metro Access Transportation.

Last year, Solid Ground’s Access buses provided over 330,000 rides to link people to essential resources, enabling them to continue to live independently. Even more than rides, Solid Ground’s transportation provides connection and compassion for its customers.

 

Northwest Children’s Fund & Solid Ground aim to help children in need

Next year, Northwest Children’s Fund (NWCF) celebrates three decades of helping at-risk youth, healing abused children, and strengthening fragile families. In 1985, the organization started with two goals: helping children in need and growing social service philanthropy in the community. In the 30 years since, NWCF has evolved into one of the Northwest’s premier grant-making organizations, igniting the philanthropic spirit and granting nearly 14 million donor dollars to effective agencies who share its mission of ending child abuse and neglect.NWCF 30th Anniv Partner seal

Their pursuit to end violence against children includes finding and investing in the most effective prevention and intervention programs in the Northwest. They also seek out organizations that impact different points in the complex cycle of abuse and neglect and give them the resources they need to keep children safe.

As part of their milestone celebration, NWCF has designated 30 past grant recipients as “NWCF Anniversary Partners.” Solid Ground is one of those agencies, selected for its longstanding partnership with NWCF in the fight for better lives for all of our community’s children.

What does it take to be selected as an Anniversary Partner? “First and foremost, we looked for agencies with whom we have had long, consistent and significant relationships as grant recipients. Collectively, these 30 agencies had received over 300 NWCF grants, representing approximately one-third of the funds we have distributed to date,” says NWCF’s Catherine Beard. “It is important to us that we can say with confidence that the designated organizations are current partners with NWCF in the fight against child abuse and neglect.” Many of the other partners are long-time collaborators with Solid Ground, including:

NWCF has granted over $175,000 to Solid Ground since 1993, primarily supporting programs that help families navigate through homelessness and back to stability. Since 2002, they have focused on the Broadview Shelter & Transitional Housing program. The Broadview Shelter provides a safe haven for homeless women and children in a secure, confidential facility. Most Broadview residents are domestic violence survivors, and two-thirds are children. To help restore a sense of safety, normalcy and structure, Broadview offers specialized services for children including health screenings, school enrollment, computer access, homework groups, tutors, recreational outings and age-appropriate social groups.

“Since this program addresses the special needs of children who have experienced homelessness and domestic violence, we feel this really fits in with our mission – to end the cycle of child abuse and neglect,” says Catherine. Broadview’s commitment to provide safe housing and help families surviving domestic violence cope with the trauma of displacement and abuse is part of why NWCF has continuously supported this vital program over the years – because every child deserves to be safe, healthy and loved.

Solid Ground endorses Prop 1B for Universal Pre-K

quality-preschool-logoRecognizing the importance of providing equitable access to quality affordable early childhood education, Solid Ground’s Board of Directors endorses the City of Seattle Preschool Program Initiative, Proposition 1B, on Seattle’s November 2014 ballot (as proposed by the Seattle City Council and endorsed by the Mayor of Seattle). Solid Ground acknowledges the importance of childcare workers being trained, fairly compensated and having ongoing access to professional development opportunities.

Through more than 40 developing community responses to poverty, Solid Ground seeks to identify and work on root, or structural, causes of poverty. Identifying effective strategies to undo generational poverty, we are increasingly focused on the education achievement gap and equity issues.

Today’s best research says that early childhood education is one of the cornerstones of future educational and life success. All children in our community should have the opportunity to begin their schooling with a high-quality education that is delivered by well-trained, well-paid educators in a sustainable system with long-term capacity.

The measure being promoted by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council will create a pilot program for affordable pre-K that ramps up over time, emphasizes educational quality, and is priced on a sliding scale for low- and middle-income families. It will be funded by a property tax levy. Solid Ground supports this initiative and looks forward to working with the newly-forming City Department of Education & Early Learning.

While we are endorsing the City proposal, we are sensitive to concerns raised by the competing Initiative. The high cost of early childhood education has created class barriers to access. And the typical low-paying salaries belie the critical role early childhood professionals play in growing healthy communities. The bottom line: All children in Seattle should have equal access to high-quality early childhood education.

Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

In 1985, with Dr. King’s words ringing in their ears, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) launched a VISTA program to develop community leadership and fight poverty through National Service. In 1989, the program was christened the Martin Luther King VISTA Corps.

“The brilliant thing about the program,” remembers Lynn Livesley, one of the initial corps members and current Executive Director of Literacy Source, “was always the attitude that ‘We can do this.’ The glass was always half full. It was always very positive and we got things done. … The idea of bringing literally hundreds of people into this work is ‘power in numbers,’ and working towards social justice by working with the passion and commitment of people who want to see change in our community. It was an exciting time.”

In subsequent years, Solid Ground developed National Service programs to effectively address literacy, develop community-based violence prevention, and support anti-poverty capacity building throughout King County. At one time, we managed the state’s largest group of National Service programs, with 150 AmeriCorps & VISTA members. Backed up by a deep anti-oppression training program, Solid Ground’s National Service programs developed a strong reputation in the community.

 

AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985. Lynn was later program manager and director of the agency's national service programs

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985; Lynn later became Program Manager and Director of the agency’s suite of National Service programs

MLK Corps member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

MLK VISTA member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

On August 31, 2014, we ended the MLK VISTA program, marking the end of an era. The Washington Reading Corps, JustServe AmeriCorps and Pathway to Career Corps had closed in recent years. All were afflicted by variations of the same fatal challenge: changing priorities and practices mandated by the federal contracts that funded them.

For instance, changes in the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) meant that “for the first time in our long history of partnering, (we) were not in agreement (with CNCS) around creating leaders who understood the connection of racism and poverty,” noted former MLK Program Supervisor, Edna Sadberry.

For over 25 years, these programs helped develop countless resources, organizations and leaders in the fight against poverty. More than 2,500 corps members graduated, and former members now hold leadership positions in many innovative and effective organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Literacy Source, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others.

“It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow,” stated former MLK team leader Nicole Dufva. “You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.”

Our sadness at closing the program is leavened by our pride in its accomplishments and enduring contributions to our community. Edna, Nicole and Julz Ignacio were the last in a long line of incredibly talented and dedicated staff of our National Service programs. Please join me in honoring their work, the many great leaders who preceded them, and the lessons this agency has learned through their service.

And we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1989_MLK-edited

Kids learn how to get healthy & have fun in the kitchen

This school year, Solid Ground’s Apple Corps program will begin using the Cooking Matters for Kids curricula for students attending Concord and Emerson Elementary Schools. This nutrition education will be taught throughout the entire school year by Apple Corps AmeriCorps members serving one-year terms as well as one Solid Ground Nutrition Education Coordinator. Every classroom will receive a weekly 30- to 45-minute hands-on cooking class that promotes nutrition and culturally-relevant healthy cooking.

Curriculum for Cooking Matters for Kids classes includes lessons focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, smart snacking and even smarter shopping. It also ties in grade-appropriate literacy and geography components of the Washington state Common Core standards to cooking. The program also seeks to serve the whole school through both classroom lessons and school-wide health promotions, such as Healthy Halloween and Healthy Heart (Valentine’s) Day.

One of the first things explained in the Cooking Matters for Kids curriculum myplate_greenis the MyPlate diagram. The diagram emphasizes the amount of each food group you should have on your plate at meal time – from fruits, vegetables and dairy to whole grains and protein. When it comes time to choose the food to put on your plate, some of the tips that are provided in these classes are as practical as freezing bread or fruit before it spoils to use it at a later time.

Another wise shopping tip for kids is that fruits and vegetables at the front of the produce section at the grocery store usually represent what is in season. More often than not, this means it is going to taste more fresh and cost less than other fruits and vegetables. For those who are not yet ingredient-savvy, “brown bread” is not always whole grain. (Anything containing enriched flour, bran or wheat germ is not considered whole grain.) Also, cereals at eye level for kids are usually the ones highest in sugar and are packaged with bright colors and cartoon characters to appeal to children.

The Cooking Matters for Kids lessons take many things into account given the diverse audience that they are designed to teach. For instance, some recipes initially call for certain kitchen gadgets that may not be readily available or affordable for all households, so alternative methods of preparation are given (e.g., instead of using a blender, mash all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon). Some students and their families may have dietary restrictions (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance), so alternate choices are given in those instances as well.

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

As expected, the recipes offered in the workbooks are very “kid-friendly.” If any particular step in a recipe is potentially unsafe and requires adult supervision or assistance, it is notated with a symbol (although safe knife skills are taught as well!). Ingredient substitutions for more exotic or expensive ingredients are also provided for families on a budget.

Other great tips the lessons provide are ways to use up the rest of a recipe that produced a large yield. For example, if there happens to be any leftovers from the Homemade Granola recipe, suggestions for future use are to eat it like cereal, use it to top a fruit salad or mix into yogurt parfaits. Or, if there are leftover rolled oats, one could use them to make oatmeal for breakfast or oatmeal cookies.

There is even a “label lingo” handout that students receive about halfway through the course to guide healthier food choices. Reading the nutritional facts and ingredients on any product is vital to ensuring that what kids put in their bodies is healthy, safe and tasty!

Do you remember cooking a lot as a kid? Did you think about things like nutrition, food groups or sugar content if/when you did cook? Let us know in the comments below!

September 2014 Groundviews: ‘Sharing in the goodness’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the September 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

When you step through the front gate of Stacy Davison’s Maple Leaf home in North Seattle, you enter a lush gardening wonderland. Ornamentals and flowers commingle happily with edible crops. Trellises tower over raised beds – one bordered festively with partially-buried wine bottles – and many labeled with creative hand-painted signs. Wind your way down the flagstone path to the backyard, and you’ll find more verdant richness, plus treasures such as a bunny hutch, a chicken coop with a “living” roof covered in succulent plants, and a former garage converted into a cozy teaching space: Stacy’s one-room Seattle Urban Farm School.

Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program makes it easy for backyard and P-Patch gardeners like Stacy to donate their extra produce to local food banks and meals programs, getting fresh vegetables onto the tables of families who need them. For about three years now, Stacy has donated 10% of her harvests from her bountiful garden to her neighborhood food bank. Then about two years ago, she says, “I got inspired to teach a class, posted it on my blog, and it sold out.” Initially holding classes in her living room and garden, last winter she transformed her “junky old garage” into her schoolhouse. And keeping in tradition with her commitment to donate 10% of her harvests, she decided to donate 10% of class proceeds to Lettuce Link as well – a natural next step for her.

Setting down roots

When you see her garden, it’s hard to believe that Stacy, a 5th grade teacher by profession, previously “had no idea what a giving garden was.” But when a friend invited her to a fundraising harvest party in the backyard giving garden of former Lettuce Link Farm Coordinator Sue McGann, she says, “I was enthralled with Sue’s garden, and mine was just taking off. And I remember distinctly coming home and being inspired to start a giving garden of my own as a way of giving back. I was excited!” She immediately wrote a blog post announcing it: “I’m going to be a giving gardener!” Then she began to plot out which beds she’d use to grow extra food to donate to her local food bank via Lettuce Link.

Stacy says that as a kid, her family moved around so much that she knew she wanted to have a home, and she literally ‘set down roots’ as soon as she could. She describes her personal journey with gardening: “My dad was a musician; we were on food stamps. As kids, we thought that that was cool money! But later, I understood what that meant: not having money. We ate a lot of cereal for school lunch – and a lot of pancakes for dinner – foods you end up eating when you can’t really afford to buy food. I remember being hungry a lot.” Also, she says, “I work with students who don’t have access to food that I would like them to be eating. So personally it kind of tugs at me.”

Even now, she says, “Donating food can be challenging. When you spend a lot of time growing it, there’s a tendency to want to…” she hesitates a moment, “…not hoard it, but enjoy it. But I’m fortunate to be in this place now, and to have a space where I can grow my own food. This is my passion and love in life.

“My mission is to grow as much food in my yard as possible to provide food for myself – and I want to share the food as my gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy. And it feels good! I always feel so proud of what I’m donating, and being able to contribute in that way. I’m sharing in the goodness that I’m enjoying for myself.”

When she started teaching classes, Stacy says, “I realized my teaching skills plus my passion for gardening came together, and I came alive more than I have in a long time.” In her first year as a giving gardener, “I donated about 10% of the total pounds that I grew. So that’s been my mark: 10% of Farm School proceeds go to Lettuce Link – money and food to people who need it. Setting a goal for myself, it’s sort of like making a direct deposit.

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

From giving gardener to donor

“If you make a commitment and be really clear about what the commitment’s going to be, then it’s easier to stick to, or it becomes a habit. For me, the percentage has been a fun challenge, and I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just what I committed to, and I feel good about it. It’s like a bill. A feel-good bill!”

Making the transition from volunteering to also being a donor “felt really manageable to me. I believe in the organization. Donating monetarily has allowed me to feel like I’m still contributing, even when my harvests aren’t strong or I’m not able to participate as actively because of time. I want to do my part to support it in whatever way I can,” she says.

“My work with Lettuce Link has been a way of making my gardening activity even more proactive and connected with the community than it was before. I’m not just playing in the dirt – even though that’s great and it is my therapy. It’s less a solitary thing, less just about me and what I’m eating, and more about what I’m eating plus what I’m able to share. I feel immense gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to contribute. So that’s been amazing, and it feels good.”

MLK VISTA program closure means one fewer ‘space for our community leaders to grow’

2013/14 MLK VISTA leaders Julz Ignacio & Nicole Dufva

2013/14 MLK VISTA leaders (l to r) Julz Ignacio & Nicole Dufva

As of August 31, 2014, Solid Ground’s  MLK VISTA program closed its doors due to funding challenges, ending an important chapter in Solid Ground’s history. Since 1989, the program has built strong ties in low-income and communities of color, and its loss will be felt deeply by the Solid Ground community and among some of our most grassroots partners leading the way in social justice work in Seattle/King County. Today, we’d like to honor this work and celebrate some of the achievements and empowerment that MLK VISTA has fostered over the years.

MLK VISTA was a partnership between Solid Ground and the Corporation for National & Community Service. It recruited AmeriCorps*VISTA members, sometimes local (and sometimes not), to perform a year of service in one of around 20 grassroots organizations in our area. “It was a team of AmeriCorps members that focused on leadership development from an anti-racism perspective,” says Nicole Dufva, MLK VISTA Team Leader for the 2013/2014 year. “Members worked in communities doing indirect service,” she explains, meaning members were in charge of large internal projects and also conducted structural evaluations to recommend potential changes (as opposed to engaging in more hands-on direct service activities). This allowed VISTAs to learn more about the how-tos of organizations from an operational standpoint.

The MLK VISTA program’s mission is in direct synchronicity with Solid Ground’s mission to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty:

  1. All people have the right to food, shelter, social justice and opportunity.
  2. Our community has the resources and ability to end poverty.
  3. Racism perpetuates poverty. To end poverty, we must undo racism.
  4. Community interest, input and ownership are key to the development, growth and expansion of the community. True solutions to community issues are found within its citizens.
  5. Power rests within the citizens of each community’s experiences. Therefore, the best evaluators of a community’s true condition lie in the wisdom of its members.

Organizations that participated in this AmeriCorps/VISTA program in the past year included the Kent School District, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), The Queen Anne Food Bank at Sacred Heart, El Centro de la Raza, Express Advantage, Asian Counseling & Referral Service (ACRS), Volunteers of America Food Bank, Jewish Family Service and the University of Washington Foundation – Bothell Youth Court.

Describing some of the specific projects that members worked on while in the program, Nicole says that “one of the VISTAs created a whole mentoring program for LIHI. For El Centro de la Raza, one VISTA provided comprehensive feedback on all of their programs. They also archived their history, looking at all the different pieces of their history. They looked at, ‘How do you save their history for future generations to learn from?’ ”

Members of the 2013/14 MLK VISTA team attend Solid Ground's Stand Against Racism event, 2014.

Members of the 2013/14 MLK VISTA team attend Solid Ground’s Stand Against Racism event, 2014. (l to r): Michelle Jaquish, Nicole Dufva, Edna Sadberry, Meghann Wiedl, Shannon Armstrong & Kate Sedney-Read

With such a wide variety of program focuses, the opportunities for learning and growth while serving their communities were endless. But more than just administrative work, members also “worked on skills on how to address institutional oppression,” says Nicole. In fact, members of the team as well as program staff at Solid Ground would meet weekly for leadership development workshops. During these workshops, she says, topics of discussion ranged from “UIR (Undoing Institutional Racism) trainings, trainings around sexuality and about theRACE: The Power of an Illusion’ video. API Chaya provided training on human trafficking and domestic violence,” Nicole informed me.

After the program’s ending was announced, Nicole took a new position with Solid Ground’s Hunger & Food Resources Department as a Cooking Matters Program Coordinator. When asked what she misses most about MLK VISTA, she says, “I miss the team and the meetings. We always had fun, always had food. The team is like the heart and soul of the program. They really kept me grounded. That learning and growing environment challenged you – your growth with each other and individually. Meetings were a time to unwind with people who were growing in the same way you were.”

In a statement for Solid Ground’s employee newsletter, the “FYI,” former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor Edna Sadberry wrote about the program’s impacts: “This is a program that truly understands the challenges of examining personal biases and prejudices as well as the courage it takes to sit in difficult discussions each week around the sensitive topic of racism and its impact on poverty. You will recognize [former MLK VISTA members] by the probing social justice questions they ask that are uncomfortable to think about.”

MLK VISTAs from 2009/2010

MLK VISTAs from 2009/2010

And MLK VISTA alums really are everywhere. Nicole says, “There are many people in Seattle who have gone through the program. It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow. You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.” And so it was. Former members now hold leadership positions in many different organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others. Given such a strong leadership presence throughout the social justice community in King County and beyond, the absence of this program, although silent, will definitely be heard loud and clear.

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