Sand Point’s Got Talent! A joyful noise

What do you get when you combine the following ingredients: a balmy summer evening, live music, about 25 kids dancing as if no one was watching, watermelon, cupcakes and a talent show? A delicious recipe for BIG fun!

800 Watts of Bass

800 Watts of Bass

Residents and staff of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing (SPH) campus came together last week for a unique event: the first performance of the jazz fusion band 800 Watts of Bass – fronted by bassist and SPH resident Luke Jackson – followed by a talent show for anyone brave enough to step up and share. Let it be known: SPH residents stepped UP!

When the band first started, the mood was pretty mellow. A handful of families and teens trickled in. Little girls in princess outfits (later dubbed the “Let It Go” girls) giggled and huddled together on a blanket. Moms and siblings with babies in strollers found spots on the lawn. But as soon as the band started grooving, the Let It Go girls did just that, leaping into joyful dancing which hardly stopped all evening.

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

Luke says his mom got him into music as a kid, and it kept him out of trouble and gave him a positive community to be part of. He’s played in various bands over the years but had to stop performing about three years ago when his kidneys began to fail. He’s still in dialysis three times a week and on a transplant waiting list, but thanks to regular exercise, his energy has returned enough to allow him to pick up his passion again and start gigging. His current goal is to complete an album by 2016.

Luke says, “I loved seeing the kids come out; it was basically for the kids. Music doesn’t have an age on it.” With a beaming smile, Jasmine Johnson danced with her two girls, Kenya and Niylah – and then with any other kids who got drawn into her circle of energy.

The band played for about an hour, and then the true joy exploded when about 10 resident kids and youth – and a few adults – put their talents out into the world. From drumming to poetry readings to solo and group songs (cue the Let It Go girls) to dancing to gymnastics to lip syncing, the night was filled with laughter and support and parental pride.

There was real budding talent on display. Niylah owned the mic as she belted out The Greatest Love of All. Kids who initially hesitated to start their acts were bolstered by supportive cheers from the crowd and soon dropped any sign of nervousness. Even some adults got into the act: Resident Joy Sparks moved seamlessly from cuddling her infant to rocking out, surrounded by a cheering crowd of devoted young dancers.

For me, trying to be a fly on the wall and soak it all in, I was in awe of the community Sand Point Housing residents have created for themselves. And when the program officially ended, the fun didn’t stop: Jasmine says, “We danced and danced, and then when the talent show ended, we danced some more.” It was a magical, joy-filled night we’ll remember for a long time.

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Bold changes needed to create equitable opportunities to thrive

Our Solid Ground Vision articulates a future where our community is one that has evolved to a place “…where all people have equitable opportunities to thrive.” I’m concerned that for the majority of our King County community, ‘thriving’ is an aspiration that may not be achievable in our lifetimes without bold and dramatic changes.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Last year I participated in a bold step to strengthen the wage structure for those who work in Seattle. The success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee has sparked a remarkable movement to increase the minimum wage in cities across the United States. Yet an even more difficult challenge to achieving thriving exists: our complex and profound regional housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing, for rent or ownership, has been developing for many years. The majority of King County residents are now feeling the adverse effects of the housing crisis, which are a form of oppression for those who live on low and moderate incomes.

We are a community challenged by the dilemma of growth. The attractiveness of Seattle/King County as a place to live, work and retire plus growth has made Seattle and several other municipalities in King County unaffordable for most residents. Building upon the success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray created a 28-member cross-sector advisory committee to support Seattle in developing a plan to address our housing crisis. This group was charged with engaging the public and using their experience and expertise to guide the process.

In late July, after over 10 months of collaborative work, the Seattle Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee published its recommendations to Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council. Reflecting the depth of this crisis, the HALA Advisory Committee report is 75 pages in length and contains 65 recommendations. These recommendations were developed from the perspective that “Seattle seeks to be a diverse, prosperous, and equitable community where individuals and families can build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods. Housing costs rising faster than incomes threaten to make that aspiration unattainable.” (HALA Advisory Committee Mission Statement)

In addition to HALA’s work, we are also looking at the alternatives proposed in the City Council’s candidate-led Progressive-Plan-Seattle-Housing, the Community Housing Caucus Report and the Committee to End Homelessness Strategic Plan, and engaging with other stakeholders.

Members of Solid Ground’s leadership team contributed to efforts that created both the highest minimum wage in the country and HALA. Their input came directly from the lived experiences of our program participants and the increasing difficulty encountered by our housing case managers when trying to find quality affordable housing in greater Seattle. My perspective is that housing affordability in Seattle and King County is one of our most significant social justice issues.

The HALA recommendations are a beginning to the creation, adoption and implementation of much needed public policies. Solid Ground will continue to be an active leader in this fight for housing justice. It will take time, significant struggles and skillful collaborations. And when we are successful, Seattle will be a thriving city that is a diverse, prosperous and equitable community where individuals and families build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods.

The Check Cutter: Solid Ground’s Finance Team saves the day

As Solid Ground’s Communications Intern, Kyle Harvey, rides off into the sunset to his next journey with a NY film producer, he leaves us with an original screenplay.

 

The Check Cutter_Page_1

The Check Cutter_Page_2

Food for thought

Hunger to me means “where’s the nearest Chipotle?” Beyond that, it doesn’t matter where the food came from, or who got it there, as long as it ends up in my stomach. I waited in a parking lot with over 30 employees of various food banks around Seattle, wondering what they saw in food that I didn’t. We were waiting to begin a van tour, organized by Solid Ground’s Food Resources staff, of local organizations committed to alleviating hunger in the community.

I mistook this as a straightforward endeavor. People need to eat, and they can’t afford grocery stores, so let’s give them the food they need to survive. As the tour progressed, I realized that ability to pay is only a secondary and contributing issue to access. Food is fickle: It spoils, it has bad crop years, it needs nutrition expertise for a balanced diet. The economy of food relies on brilliant crop combinations, precise warehousing, and efficient distribution. In the nonprofit food world, innovative logistics are the difference between a family eating dinner or going without.

The tour took us through every gear of the well-oiled food machine, each organization fully aware of the specific role they play in bringing sustenance to people most in need of it. Although each organization wrestles with obstacles unique to their role, they all attempt to answer the fundamental question of how to allocate their limited resources to feed the most people.

Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Around lunchtime, the now bumpy roads brought us to the birthplace of food – the farm. The 39 acres of Seattle Tilth Farm Works swept us into a peaceful quiet. A few men and women in straw hats pulled wheelbarrows of crops across the shifting landscape. I felt close to my food’s roots.

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Seattle Tilth has made it their mission to involve the community in farming by providing education classes, not just on farming techniques, but also on the marketing and business aspects of successful farms. After completing their education, farmers receive subsidized land based on their income, enabling people of all incomes to participate. As farmers gain proficiency with their crops, they are encouraged to scale up their land to eventually generate a livable profit. The community sharing framework helps minimize the overhead infrastructure cost that often prevents beginning farmers from getting started.

There is ingenuity behind a successful crop. One woman plants the Three Sister combination: corn fed by fixed nitrogen from the beans, protected from weeds by the squash. The farm has a similar partnership with local food banks, providing them with fresh produce, and in return, using their stale leftovers as live feed for the pigs!

Northwest Harvest

Storing and distributing foods is perhaps the most undervalued component of the food industry. We walked into the squeaky clean Northwest Harvest distribution and warehouse center. The open rooms and slanted floors are all designed to facilitate transporting mass quantities of food. As the tour guide said, the goal of the distribution center is essentially to “fill up, empty out” – referring to the millions of pounds of food they store and then distribute to more than 370 food banks every year.

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

Northwest Harvest is deliberate in how they organize their space. Huge, automatic doors open and close in under 90 seconds, maintaining freezing storage temperatures, and saving countless dollars of electricity and spoiled food. Towering shelves of various food products are organized in an XYZ grid to find and methodically transport items. Northwest Harvest’s relentless devotion to efficiency gives them the financial capacity to provide for so many food banks.

Emergency Feeding Program

Small-scale distribution centers can also provide an effective model. The Emergency Feeding Program does not try to operate on the same magnitude as Northwest Harvest but instead focuses their efforts. Every year, they provide 430,000 emergency meals outside of foodbank distribution hours. They provide bags of basic food supplies meant to last families one to two days. Although they neither work with the quantity Northwest Harvest does, nor offer the selection that food banks do, they provide a vital service: They deliver emergency food all over the state, and think critically about the diverse people they provide food for. They have food bags specific to different cultural communities, baby food bags, bags for specific health conditions, and bags that don’t require any refrigeration.

Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks

On the first stop of the tour and the last stop for the food, we visited the Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks. Both food banks are cognizant of distinguishing between different-sized families, creating systems that regulate how much food you receive based on how large your family is. The Des Moines Food Bank utilizes a conveyor belt process where each shopper is allowed a certain amount of items from each bucket based on their color-coded family size. The Des Moines Food Bank also implements a summer backpack program that serves carefully balanced lunch and snacks for kids at 25 sites.

The Maple Valley Food Bank is a slightly smaller operation that adopts a grocery-style format. Shoppers are allocated a fixed number of points in each nutrition category. The shoppers can browse the food bank at leisure, rather than following a linear route. Differences in food bank setups often result from different space limitations and varying levels of capacity

The Maple Valley grocery style food bank

The Maple Valley grocery-style food bank

Every organization we visited on the tour, although independent in their purpose and methods, universally relies on partnerships and volunteers to help resource their operations. Every organization is alike in their eagerness to expand their services and the earnestness of their goodwill. The various systems come from years of adjustments to figure out how best to feed those who ask. The tour inspired me in just how seriously the organizations confront hunger, each one demonstrating that where food comes from and who delivers it determines how many stomachs it reaches.

 

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Big Picture News: Celebrating our volunteers

Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: “We couldn’t do it without your support!” But when it comes to Solid Ground volunteers, this nonprofit fundraising mantra is much more than a platitude – it’s a reality.

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

Volunteers like Matt (see our 8/2015 Groundviews lead story) profoundly increase the impact Solid Ground makes in communities across Seattle and King County. Last year, over 5,000 volunteers gave 247,358 hours of service to the Solid Ground community. (The vast majority, 197,936 hours, were contributed by volunteers 55 and older!)

By the Independent Sector’s standard, one volunteer hour in Washington state equals $27.54. In 2014, this translated to nearly $6.8 million in volunteer labor – more than one quarter of Solid Ground’s annual budget! We very literally could not accomplish our work without them.

Volunteering is win-win, changing lives for the better both for our program participants and our volunteers. Volunteers share their talents, learn new skills, and make connections while taking action to improve our community and help our neighbors in need. They play a meaningful role in something big.

Many of Solid Ground’s 22 programs and services rely on volunteers. Opportunities range from one-time to long-term and include…

  • Hands-on projects: Grow fresh, organic food for local food banks, or help renovate residential building spaces.
  • Direct service with people: Tutor and mentor kids coming out of homelessness, or teach children, teens, adults and families about nutrition and cooking.
  • Community outreach: Help communities register to vote, or represent Solid Ground at informational events.
  • Behind the scenes: Help put on events for our program participants and supporters … and more!

Lettuce Link is one Solid Ground program that relies heavily on volunteers to work with and in communities to grow and share fresh, nourishing food.

Lettuce Link Program Manager Nate Moxley says, “Volunteers are the life force of Lettuce Link. Their work and dedication allow us to manage two education and access farms where we host hundreds of classes, field trips and community groups every year.” Additionally, volunteer giving gardeners donate the bounty of their labors, and last year grew more than 55,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables for food banks and meal programs.

Senior volunteers also make an enormous contribution to the Solid Ground community. Our RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) matches volunteers 55 and older to opportunities both with Solid Ground programs and with 52 partner organizations across King County.

RSVP Director Jen Gahagan says, “We are so grateful and appreciative for the support and commitment of our senior volunteers. They provide a wealth of knowledge and experience which help us tackle our community’s greatest challenges.”

Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers!

For more info on volunteering, visit our Volunteer webpage, or contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 206.694.6825 or volunteers@solid-ground.org.

Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

Out from the hallways, into the classrooms

New Holly community members urged Seattle City and King County Councilmembers, and one Seattle School Board member, to reduce how often schools use suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary measures. Frustration boiled from every corner of the overflowing public forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Education not Criminalization of our Youth. The community knows that youth of color are being disproportionately punished in school in ways that undermine their ability to succeed in the future. The school-to-prison pipeline, a reality in which zero-tolerance school disciplinary measures perpetuate future youth incarceration – particularly, youth of color – justifies the frustration.

School2PrisonBanner

Fremont Fair parade banner illustrating the school-to-prison pipeline

Solid Ground President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr., the former Executive Director of Rainier Scholars, says, “The community has known for a long time there was a problem. The municipal and county leaders know there’s a problem. The school district knows there’s a problem, and the data that comes from both the school district and government validates that there is a problem.” With recognition coming from all levels that Seattle schools’ disciplinary structures are dangerously flawed, last week’s forum felt several decades overdue.

Schools, and for that matter the criminal justice system, often rely on punitive justice as opposed to restorative justice, says McHenry, Jr. The referral-suspension-expulsion disciplinary hierarchy takes students out of the classroom and compounds underlying behavioral issues with falling behind in class. Hallways, detention rooms, and youth prisons are all educationally broken environments that sentence students to insurmountable education gaps long after the actual punishment ends.

The community feels suspensions and expulsions should be measures of last resort, necessitated only when physical or emotional safety is at risk. Not looking the teacher in the eye, wearing jeans too low, or other behavioral missteps are better handled as teaching opportunities than justifications for dismissal.

Zero-tolerance policies for poor behavior inherently target certain groups because behavior is dictated by a student’s circumstances. A student who acts out in class because he sleeps in a car and can’t afford breakfast has as much right to equitable education as a student coming from more stable living conditions. McHenry, Jr. argues the goal for education is to “enable educators to educate all youth – not just the model youth that come from a stable home, [are] well fed, and have one or both parents employed.”

More inclusive schools can directly lessen the school-to-prison pipeline. Correlations between how far students get in school and incarceration rates confirms that by developing students’ knowledge, skills and cultural awareness, schools help keep youth out of prison. Although, the schools’ primary responsibility is to teach core subjects, the school has an additional responsibility for fostering a positive environment due to the dominant role they play in children’s lives.

The disconnect between what we assign our schools to do and their unacceptable failure to educate some students also stems from lack of resources. School funding to meet the mandated basic education requirements is not sufficient for supporting a culturally and economically diverse student body, says McHenry, Jr.

Ideally, teachers could create in-the-moment lessons for behavior misconduct that keeps disruptive students in the classroom. This might be as simple as a student learning to recognize their inappropriate behavior, or maybe more comprehensive action including apologies or community service. Policymakers and communities have the onus of getting teachers the support they need so they can productively address disruptive students while still continuing to teach to the entire class.

As one teacher mentioned in the forum, we need to pull students out from the hallways and into the classrooms if we want them to believe that’s where they belong. Forcing students out of learning is educationally and psychologically destructive. Hallways turn into detentions which turn into prisons. Equitable access to quality education is a critical first step to ending poverty. We owe them that.

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