Celebrating Our Hearts at Concord International School

This post by Apple Corps team member Kelly Shilhanek originally appeared on Apple Corps: the Blog. Kelly is a Nutrition Educator with the Washington Service Corps at Concord International School.

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

“We only get one heart!” Ms. Kristin McGee, Concord’s P.E. teacher, reminded students as we sat in a circle in the middle of the gym. “It’s not like you can go to the heart store and buy another one…” Giggles ensue, and students are wiggly and ready to run. “Does your heart stop beating when you go to sleep?” she asks. Most students shake their heads. “It slows down, but your heart never stops beating from the time you are born until the time you die.”

Every time I hear that statement, I’m sobered by the fact that my heart beats, beats and beats, and I never think twice about it. It is incredible to appreciate this powerful organ that keeps our bodies and brains alert and in motion every second of each day. I tell myself to make sure I take care of my heart, because I definitely don’t want to have to go to the heart store!

With heart health in mind, Apple Corps worked in tandem with Ms. McGee to promote a cardiovascular riff on the Valentine’s theme. Students are encouraged to have fun while building their cardiovascular endurance while walking, jogging and running around the gym to compete for individual and classroom prizes. Most students ran at least one mile during their P.E. class time, and a few future track stars logged two miles in 20 minutes! Cumulatively, the Concord student body ran 550 miles during the course of one week – approximately the distance between Seattle and Mt. Shasta in Northern California. This year, teachers also got the chance to participate in Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week through a staff-wide competition to see who could take the most steps using a pedometer over the course of the week.

Concord students had fun and worked hard. 3rd graders noticeably revved up when Macklemore played on the speakers, kindergartners zoomed around the gym without stopping to collect their lap-trackers, a 5th grade student encouraged her classmate to keep moving with the call “c’mon, girl power!” – and one 1st grade class impressed everyone by accumulating 35 miles in one P.E. period. I didn’t know first graders could run that far and so fast!

Encouraging healthy habits is easier when everyone is having fun, which is a core idea behind Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week. It’s a good reminder for me, too – eating healthy and working out should feel exciting and engaging, not like a chore. So here’s to healthy hearts, healthy habits, and gooooooo Concord!

Share your story: ‘It’s the most powerful thing you can do’

Poverty Action Member, Nacol, and her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member, Nacol, & her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member Nacol shares her powerful story. You, too, can make your voice heard through the Sharing Personal Experience As Knowledge (SPEAK) campaign.

“Five years ago, I fled a domestic violence situation with my two-year-old twin daughters – and one suitcase. I spent two years living in shelters while I searched for resources. One of my biggest barriers to stability continues to be the lack of resources for one of my daughters, who lives with a disability. Because of this disability, I am always on call to pick up my daughter from school and cannot afford childcare. It is hard to find a job that is flexible enough to fit the needs of my children.

I want to work and want the best for my daughters.

I receive $478 per month through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for myself and my family. While this money helps a great deal, it is not enough.

I am forced to choose between school supplies and clothes for my children, and paying our rent and utility bills.

TANF is really important though. Because I receive TANF, I was able to more easily obtain transitional housing, and TANF’s emergency assistance program helped me when I needed it.

I would like to see improvements to TANF, such as increasing the asset limits for TANF recipients. The few times I had any money to save, I didn’t do it because I was worried that I would lose my TANF benefits. I shouldn’t have to choose between saving for my family’s future and accessing resources to meet our basic needs now.

As a person who has life experience, I think sharing my story is so important. Step up and let someone know how you feel. Go down and talk to your representatives. I think it’s the most powerful thing you can do.”

Nacol, Member
Statewide Poverty Action Network

By stepping up and telling her story, Nacol, along with other members of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, were powerful enough to prevent $87.8 million in cuts to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs. To learn more or share your story, visit povertyaction.org.

The chains of black history

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From my perspective as an African American, the month of February can be enlightening, inspiring and painful at the same time. I’m not sure if I understand the words “black history?” When I say them, they evoke feelings of separateness from the totality of human truth. It’s carved out and deliberate but only special in terms of its place on the calendar.

For me to review black history is not only an acknowledgement that African Americans helped build this country with many great contributions, but that some of those courageous efforts were soaked in bloody oppression. I don’t want to dwell on this stuff, but it always floats to the top if one looks honestly.

When I look at black history, I see a struggle that is linked from the chained slaves aboard slave ships to the modern day African American who is supposed to be “free” – who may get up and look at themselves in the mirror and think they have it better than the generations before them. But deep down, they still see the commonality between themselves and their chained forebears, people that were fastened to their station in life with little to no hope of escape.

From that point of view, I see a history littered with civil rights icons and people that have struggled even to their very deaths to see justice. And so I ask, why have many of the people recognized in black history month had to be tempered in the hot oven of oppression? Why? I keep asking myself this, but whatever answer I come up with is wholly unsatisfying because it ends with more questions.

My thought is, don’t separate black history from human truth, because the fact is history isn’t clean, and can’t be. We learn by seeing the totality of the picture, not just a portion or what we feel is acceptable. Make no mistake, if we digress from honesty we fool ourselves into thinking past events are far removed from the present, and we doom ourselves to struggle and mediocrity.

Black history can’t exist without white history and how they have played against each other. If we don’t accept our shared history of privilege and oppression, we will never know ourselves as a community, nor will we end poverty. We can’t look at black history without examining the connections to the white world around us, its beauty, sacrifice and brutality.  February is black and white history month, right?

Community Needs Assessment a foundation for strategic planning

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Last year, Solid Ground reflected upon and celebrated our 40 years of service in King County and Washington state. We took time to understand the work and impressive legacy of our forebears. We recognized that the culture of Solid Ground is one of Innovation, Partnership and Action, and those intrinsic characteristics have enabled us to be highly impactful in our direct services, social justice and advocacy work.

As a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) recipient and Community Action Agency, we are required to prepare a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) of the communities we serve. In addition to understanding the current needs of the communities we choose to serve, the CNA is also an analysis of our assets, capabilities and organizational challenges to successfully address the unmet needs of our communities.

In the 2014 Community Needs Assessment, we noted six areas of significant community need:

  • racial and economic inequities
  • lack of affordable housing
  • lack of educational attainment and opportunities
  • lack of living wage jobs
  • food insecurity and lack of nutritional education
  • inadequate access to health care and health services

Appropriately, Solid Ground has service and advocacy responses in each of these areas. The CNA also identifies some trends which we will need to better understand as we evaluate how we serve an evolving community, including:

  • growth in elderly residents
  • immigrants and refugees
  • an increasing gap in income and wealth
  • significant transportation challenges which exacerbate existing inequities

We look forward to using the 2014 Community Needs Assessment as a foundational analysis as we begin the 2015 process of creating our next agency strategic plan over the next three-to-five years.

Housing justice through housing search

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

Stacey Marron, JourneyHome program Housing Advocate

Stacey Marron, JourneyHome program Housing Advocate

Solid Ground’s Housing Case Managers work with families like Alena Rogers’ – featured in our Groundviews main story –  helping them develop goals to overcome barriers to their housing stability. Meanwhile, our Housing Advocates act as liaisons between clients and potential landlords to get people into housing.

It’s a job made ever-more difficult by skyrocketing rents in the region. In Seattle, the average cost of a 1-bedroom unit is $1,412.

Over 60% of very low-income households (less than $26,250 annual income) in Seattle are “cost burdened” or pay more than 30% of their income to housing costs, the traditional measure of housing affordability.

“Most of what we do is try to get people back into market-rate housing, and we pay their move-in costs and short-term subsidies,” says Housing Advocate Stacey Marron, who has been with Solid Ground’s JourneyHome program for 11 years. “The hardest part about my job is that rent prices are really high and vacancy rates are really low, so landlords say, ‘why do I want to rent to your client – who barely makes any money and has a felony and an eviction – when somebody’s standing here in front of me with a checkbook ready to pay their deposit?’ It’s gotten much worse lately.”

In addition to rising costs, the homeless and low-income housing systems are all but overloaded.

With such high demand and limited resources for affordable housing, there can be long waits to access low-income housing programs.

Stacey says, “It’s much harder to get into any housing now – even shelter. A lot of times, people have been on waitlists for a really long time, and then they finally come to me. They hear of some housing program, and when they meet me they think I’m going to be showing them some place to live. They’ve been waiting for so long, so they’re very disappointed that our program is just the beginning of looking for housing. That’s hard, because I like to be the “Santa Claus” person. I want to give people things – and I hate being the bearer of bad news – and frequently, I am.”

With such a tight rental market, race and class issues come into play, particularly the intersection of race and involvement in the criminal justice system.

“I think it’s hard for many landlords to understand that you’re more likely to have had a brush with the law if you are African American or Latino, because people of color are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. And then there’s a lot of discrimination against people with Section 8s [federally-funded vouchers that pay landlords to help subsidize renters],” Stacey says.

“I’ve been told: ‘Oh, I’ve rented to people with Section 8 before; they trashed my place.’ They think anyone who’s poor is going to be a crappy renter. It’s ironic because a lot of our clients are real neat freaks. I think it’s a coping mechanism: When people don’t have a lot of control of their situation, that’s one thing they can control.”

Housing Advocates face a myriad of challenges, but there is deep meaning in every success.

“Recently, I found housing for a wheelchair-bound client. What I love about Jamie [not his real name] is he’s just really the most positive person ever. Every time I saw him, he made me laugh,” Stacey recalls.

Even in the worst-case scenarios, he would see some silver lining.

“Finally, after being in a hotel for months, he got a place not far from Boeing Field. He loves that it has a view. He’s like, ‘I never told anybody this, but I really love watching airplanes.’ It’s funny: After so many months of homelessness, just watching the planes land makes him so happy.”

Visit the JourneyHome webpage for more info on the program.

Winter 2015 Groundviews: ‘We never gave up’

Below is the lead story of our Winter 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter online, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Today, Alena Rogers lives happily in permanent housing with her two boys, now 18 and nearly 5 years old, and she recently started a full-time graduate program in Couples & Family Therapy at Seattle’s Antioch University. But just five years ago, she was in a very different place. In her own words, Alena shares her powerful story and her experiences working with JourneyHome Case Manager Victoria Meissner and Housing Advocate Becky Armbruster to get back to housing stability.

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her  two boys, Brian (left) &  Gabriel (center), in 2010

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her two boys, Brian (left) & Gabriel (center), in 2010

In 2009 I entered a court-ordered treatment program after getting into trouble. While there, I came to understand that I could not go back and live with any of the people that I had been living with, or I would not stay sober. So I heard about a shelter in Seattle and was able to get in there. After completing their 14-month program, I went into their transitional housing program. However, they seemed unable to help me with my quest for permanent housing, so I searched for resources on my own and found Solid Ground.

Being homeless is very stressful. In transitional housing, I was grateful for the place I had, but having two children and a clock ticking every day really took a toll on me.

I was constantly stressed out as each day wound down and took me closer to the day I would have to leave, knowing I still didn’t have anywhere to go. I ended up leaving there and moving into a modified garage. And I’m thankful for that. But that also took a toll. I had two boys in a very small space; the only thing to cook with was a hotplate; there was a drafty garage door and cement floor. It was very cold.

I was going to school, working, and trying to hold my home together – and I was struggling. My younger son was having a really hard time with the change and had some behavioral problems. My teen was also in college at the time – doing Running Start. We were both struggling to focus, and I nearly dropped out. But I communicated what was going on to my instructors, received support, and made it through.

It feels great that even when things were so challenging, both myself and my son were able to complete our degrees, and we never gave up.

Solid Ground/JourneyHome was different than the transitional housing program, because they actually had resources. The other program said housing was not priority – living in Christian community was. That’s all fine, but when time is up and a person that has been experiencing homelessness is still left without permanent housing – what good is that?

Victoria had a plan for me laid out the day we met – doing budgets, getting credit reports, working on repairing and improving credit. All of those things, combined with actual resources for not only temporary funding but also landlords that will rent to people like me – with criminal backgrounds and not so great credit – it’s what I needed.

One thing I really liked about Victoria is she always treated me as an equal. She was really encouraging. She let me know that my criminal record wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sometimes people will look at you – you’re a recovering addict, you’re homeless, you’ve got kids, and you’ve got a criminal history – and they speak down to you or like you’re not intelligent. Victoria was never like that. I always felt like she respected me.

There were two main barriers I faced: One, my criminal history. And two, having enough cash for move-in. What I learned from Victoria was that private landlords are more likely to rent to people with histories like mine, and screening companies at corporately-run apartment complexes will automatically deny us.

So I spent time on Craigslist sending emails to private landlords, telling them my history up front so I wasn’t wasting time and money doing applications that would be denied. I was able to use the tools I learned from Solid Ground to find an apartment on my own. Once I did that, Becky was able to help me with the first and last months’ rent and deposit, and subsidized my rent for several months through a partnering agency, so that I could get stable.

Alena at home

Alena at home

Moving into my own place – it was like a huge weight off my shoulders. Being somewhere that is mine, and I don’t have to worry about time running out – I can just say that I am a lot happier now.

I’ve been doing drug and alcohol case management work for about three years now. Having come from a place of being an addict, being homeless – it helps in my work. People feel that I can understand where they are and what they are experiencing.

I also volunteer, doing something I call “Operation Help the Homeless.” I gather items from people: clothing, blankets, food, etc. and go out into the streets and give to people sleeping rough. I find this important, because homelessness isn’t going away – and often people on the streets are pretty much ignored most of the year outside of the holidays.

So I love to get out there and let people know that we care.

My main piece of advice to people experiencing homelessness is: Be persistent and resourceful, and don’t be afraid to share your struggle with others. It’s okay to ask for help. And be patient – it’s so hard! Some of these housing lists take years, but the right thing is out there. Be your own best advocate!

Visit the JourneyHome webpage for more info on the program.

MLK Lobby Day: Making our voices heard

In late 2005, Marcy Bowers, now Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, was hired as a Community Organizer to support their first-ever MLK Lobby Day event. Ten years later, this large gathering of people from all over Washington state is still going strong, mobilizing hundreds of people living on low incomes and their allies to come together in Olympia on MLK Day to advocate with their state senators and representatives, and to promote change during the legislative session.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

In keeping with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lobby Day is scheduled on his day of honor in hopes of stimulating action for social, racial and economic justice. Since it is a legal holiday, a greater number of working adults can attend than might on a typical work day.

Lobby Day is comprised of about six hours of speeches, advocacy training, and an “Activist Space”/photobooth where people can share their stories through photos and postcard writing. In the afternoon, participants fan out on the Capitol Campus for meetings with their own district legislators. This year, roughly 200 attendees participated in 90 meetings, with about 30 of Washington’s 49 districts represented. Community Organizer Davíd Reyes scheduled these meetings in advance of the event so that participants had the chance to make their voices heard with decision makers in their home districts.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

Before Lobby Day, the Poverty Action Board – comprised of a majority of people of color and people living on low incomes from all over the state – hosts listening sessions with members from across the state to establish the themes they will primarily advocate for throughout the legislative session. This year’s priorities included:

  • criminal justice reform through reduction or elimination of Legal Financial Obligations
  • a greater Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • consumer protections against predatory lending and debt services

Lobby Day connects the public policies that shape the framework of our society and the individuals affected by it. Citizens who advocate for change on Lobby Day bring a personal face and story to the issues that most affect them – and by meeting with their lawmakers, they can see firsthand how their voice can make a significant impact, which can result in real changes. The event creates an indescribable sense of solidarity as individuals bond together as a community for the day.

Community Relations & Development Manager Roshni Sampath has been involved in Lobby Day activities for several years. Through the photographs staged in the Activist Space, she has watched families returning with their children growing older and more passionate as time passes on. Other moments captured this year are shown in the slideshow below.

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After Lobby Day, participants can continue to make their voices heard through the SPEAK project, as well as attending hearings in Olympia. It is important to not let the feeling of empowerment that Lobby Day imparts on attendees and supporters alike fade. Rather, we should build upon the energy from the legislative meetings, positive interactions and comradery between the districts to effect both immediate and long-term changes for Washington state’s low-income families and communities.

For more information about current issues, see Poverty Action’s 2015 Legislative Agenda online. And throughout the legislative session, you can stay in touch with legislative priority progress by signing up to receive their Network News, following their social media on Facebook and Twitter, or via their website.

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