Farewell to Paul Haas

(Following are a slightly edited version of comments I made last night as we celebrated Paul Haas’ 26+ years at Fremont Public Association/Solid Ground.)

It is a sad time to see such an amazing person leave Solid Ground, but a great opportunity for us all to thank Paul, share some love, and maybe embarrass him a little bit, because for someone who has accomplished so much, he is really not a fan of the spotlight.

Well Paul, tough luck on that one tonight!

So we are here to celebrate Paul and his work with FPA/Solid Ground.

At events like this it is often good to have a theme, a metaphor to help give context to a person’s accomplishments. So I’ve been casting about for a fitting metaphor or image.

My first thought was Canonization!

Forgetting for the moment that Paul is Jewish, there is a lot to recommend the idea of seeing Paul as a Saint.

Like many Saints, he has committed his life’s work to solving the problems of the poor and afflicted. He has stood up to power.

He has worked miracles to get projects and programs funded – even raising programs from the dead after local governments tried to defund them. And he has inspired countless others through his words and deeds.

In fact, speaking on behalf of the Resource Development Department team, who have worked most closely with Paul, I can tell you that we all draw divine inspiration from his positive energy.

To us, Paul is certainly the Patron Saint of Relentless Positivity!

And in his absence, we will continue to motivate ourselves to overcome doubt about our work and reticence to stand up against injustice by asking ourselves: What Would Paul Do?

Of course, I would not want to offend anyone who thought I was taking canonization lightly, so we’re not going to go there.

Plus, I wouldn’t want to offend Paul, I mean the Catholic Church is not exactly a paragon of virtue these days…

So I was left still looking for a metaphor and I thought about Generational Change!

And that’s because Paul’s roots run deep in Solid Ground’s past. He has been a part of this organization for 26 and a half years!

Paul started during our funky Fremont Public Association days when the organization rose out of the wilderness of the bohemian proto-Fremont. He helped birth a legion of new programs that resulted in FPA-now Solid Ground expanding from serving a few thousand people to more than 64,000 a year!

And of course, a huge portion of the current SG staff wasn’t even ALIVE when Paul started working at The FPA in 1984!

But, it is hard to understand the impact of generational change when you have barely lived the lifespan of a generation, so I put that metaphor aside as well.

So instead of canonization or generational change, I want to offer this as the central metaphor for thinking about Paul Haas’ impact on Solid Ground and on our community:  Transformational Change.

Paul’s impact on our agency and our community has been truly transformational.

When Paul first started at FPA, there wasn’t even a development department! He was hired as the VISTA Project Coordinator in 1984 – despite the typos on his application! And he utilized VISTAs to create the proto-development department. One of Paul’s first VISTA hires, Lynn Livesely is here tonight…

Back in the day, the agency that became FPA was like a lot like Yugoslavia, a bunch of programs jammed together like so many ethnic nations, with internal relations ranging from familial to barely tolerated.

Paul revolutionized the agency approach to development, creating a coordinated grantwriting effort that freed program staff to do things like house people, get them food, secure their benefits, find them jobs.

In addition, this centralized development focus – which was a Transformational moment for the agency – led to FPA and now Solid Ground having the most successful grantwriting team in the region!

That fundraising power led to the creation of a dizzying array of programs at our agency and in the greater community that have helped literally hundreds of thousands of people lead better lives.

I’d read off the whole list, but it would blow your mind apart. And we would be here all night. But here are a few highlights of programs and initiatives that Paul played a pivotal role in launching, programs at our agency and based in other agencies, that have transformed the landscape of human services in Seattle and King County:

  • Healthcare for the Homeless
  • AIDS Care
  • Penny Harvest
  • Farmers to Food Banks
  • Seattle Workers Center
  • Community Voice Mail
  • Broadview Shelter Renovation
  • Brettler Family Place
  • Fare Start/Common Meals
  • The Grocery Delivery Project
  • The Community Garage
  • Apple Corps
  • City Housing Levy

These and many many more victories have played a significant role in transforming Seattle from a town darkened by recession, deprivation and demoralized attitudes to a place where people come together to tackle problems and build a better community!

As a symbol of that quality of transformational change, we wanted to do something really significant to recognize Paul.

In fact, in the way in which exceptions to rules truly really magnify their impact, we wanted to recognize Paul in a very permanent way. We wanted to take the unprecedented step of honoring his legacy through naming a very significant piece of Solid Ground’s physical infrastructure for him.

Now you probably know that Solid Ground recently opened 51 units of permanent affordable family housing just down the street here in Magnuson Park. We’ve been calling it Brettler Family Place, in honor of  Dan and Cindy Brettler and their family, who did give a whole TON of money to the project.

But we thought, hey PAUL RAISED ALL THAT MONEY and about millions of tons more besides, maybe we should put HIS name on that housing.

But we realized that would not be cool, sort of like renaming your child, right? And besides, Paul is leaving us to go build affordable housing with, um, ANOTHER organization, so it’s also a little bit like rubbing salt into our wounds.

But we came up with another, better idea…

And so tonight, it is with great honor, deep humility and tongue planted lightly in my cheek,  I announce to you that from this day forth, at Solid Ground’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm, the Worm Bins will be named The Paul Haas Worm Bins!

We have here for Paul a modest recreation of one of the bins, handcrafted by SG’s Housing Director, Humberto Alvarez, and I would like to read the inscription on it, which echoes the plaque that is – as we speak – being permanently installed at Marra Farm by Frank Chopp, in case you wondering where he is tonight:

In honor of his ability
to turn garbage into gold,
fertilize great ideas, and
create transformational change
to make ours a more just and caring community,

Solid Ground is proud to name the
worm bins at the Giving Garden at Marra Farm

 The Paul Haas Worm Bins

Now for those of you who don’t know, worm bins are an amazing microcosm of the world and a true model of transformative power!

You prepare some modest bedding, typically shredded paper, or leaves and other organic matter. You introduce a mass of red worms into the bedding, and you bury your waste food in the bedding. Which the worms proceed to eat, to digest and to turn into the most amazing fertilizer.

Inside Paul’s bin here is some dry bedding  and representations of some of the amazing work he has helped bring forth in our community.

Like a worm bin, Solid Ground’s programs become a home for those who are cast out by society, marginalized people who our corporate, consumerist culture have basically left to rot.

And of course, our work is transformational – we provide the resources and support that people need to fertilize their own dreams, to fuel their own growth and development.

Now we all know how it takes a village: to raise healthy kids, to run a healthy agency, etc. And, yeah, no ONE PERSON is responsible for Solid Ground’s growth and development and impact in our community. But if one person WERE, it might well be Paul.

Now we have a few other people who want to share their thoughts and some stories about Paul and some short video clips.

We’ll try to keep the presentations brief, so that folks have more time for one-on-one chatting with Paul.

But before we get to our next speaker, I want to let you know that you have a chance tonight to do some transformational work yourself.

To honor Paul’s legacy, we have established the Haas Family Fund to support our final phase of building permanent housing here at Magnuson Park…

We hope to break ground on 54 units of housing for formerly homeless folks early next year, and would welcome you to join me in honoring Paul by contributing to this special fund.

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2 Responses

  1. […] of the elements of the Farewell to Paul event last night was the video Fabuloso, based on the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah, with lyrics […]

  2. Well said. I have had the opportunity to work a short 12 years of that 26 with Paul and am very appreciative of his leadership with getting Penny Harvest off the ground in the Seattle region. Sorry to miss the celebration last night Paul! Good luck!!

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