Fall 2015: Partnerships, Program News & Thank Yous

Solid Ground’s print newsletter highlights lots of great partnership and program activities. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 


PARTNER SPOTLIGHT: The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents

Not your average real estate agents, The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents has a unique vision: They believe that home – a place of shelter, a vibrant neighborhood and community, a sense of safety and belonging – should be obtainable by all. To help make this a reality in our community, they contribute both significant funds and hands-on service hours to nonprofits like Solid Ground that are involved in housing and community development.

CoHo Team members (l to r) Tonya Hennen, Cara Mohammadian & Peter Wolf

CoHo Team members (l to r) Tonya Hennen, Cara Mohammadian & Peter Wolf

“We have been proud to support Solid Ground for over 12 years as donors and volunteers,” says Team member Tonya Hennen. “We love their local, grassroots approach and broad spectrum of services, particularly their work in developing housing. We appreciate how they leverage many partnerships to the support of their clients. Few organizations are ambitious enough to claim the mission of the eradication of poverty through dismantling institutions of racism and oppressions. They really walk their talk. You go, Solid Ground!”

Thank you, CoHo Team, for your committed partnership!

For more info on partnering with Solid Ground, please contact us at 206.694.6803 or development@solid-ground.org.


PROGRAM NEWS: From the Ground Up

From transitional to permanent supportive family housing

For families living on low incomes that include an adult living with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many families on fixed incomes essentially live from crisis to crisis. King County’s homeless services system identified the need to create more capacity to provide long-term housing for families with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness.

Solid Ground’s Sand Point Family Housing is among the initial group of five area transitional housing providers to convert to permanent supportive family housing. Changes coming to the program include round-the-clock staffing to help residents overcome a more complex set of challenges, and support for families in long-term stable housing. Increasing partnerships will bring more support services onto campus.

Case workers and housing advocates are working with current tenants – all of whose leases will expire before the program conversion – to secure long-term housing. But because of the changing program model, few if any will be eligible to remain at Sand Point Family Housing.

Cooking on all burners

Our Cooking Matters nutrition educators completed 13 class series in the third quarter! The classes, which focus on preparing healthy, culturally appropriate meals on a budget, were hosted by a variety of community organizations – including five at Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) locations and two in Toppenish, WA through our satellite partner, the Quinault Indian Nation.

Our own Seattle Community Farm recently cohosted a six-week series for teens affiliated with the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA). Other new satellite partners include Verdant Wellness Center in Lynnwood, which hosted their first Spanish Cooking Matters class in October, and Hopelink, a fellow King County Community Action Agency, which will host classes at their five Eastside locations starting in early 2016.

Financially fit

Our Financial Fitness Boot Camp was selected by The Financial Clinic of New York City to partner on the launch of a new financial skills coaching platform, recognizing Solid Ground’s leadership in financial empowerment education and services.


SPECIAL RECOGNITION: Brilliance… Kindness… & Persistence…

Who needs a visor when you have Swiss chard? Dani Ladyka, one of our new crop of Apple Corps members, finds a bit of shade at the Marra Farm Giving Garden. (Photo by Madeline Corbin)

Who needs a visor when you have Swiss chard? Dani Ladyka, one of our new crop of Apple Corps members, finds a bit of shade at the Marra Farm Giving Garden. (Photo by Madeline Corbin)


TAKE ACTION: Get Involved!

Big Picture News: Language should not be a barrier

All who come to Solid Ground for housing, food and other services face challenges to meeting these basic needs – but there’s an added layer of complexity for our program participants who speak little or no English. To ensure that our services are available to all who need them – regardless of their primary language – we prioritize access to interpretation and translation services.

Language access for racial & social justice

Solid Ground program participants come from myriad cultural backgrounds and language traditions (including American Sign Language). To meet their unique needs, our staff access interpretation and translation services approximately 800 times a year for about 25 different languages.

Our Language Access policies are grounded in our racial and social justice work, as they are absolutely essential to our ability to meet people’s needs in an equitable manner.

Support for our staff

Connecting staff to language services gives them the tools they need to more competently work with limited-English speakers. We strive to leverage both internal and external resources to help staff do their jobs well.

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/ translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

For nearly a decade, a staff Language Access Team – comprised of multilingual staff as well as those who frequently use language services on the job – has worked together to create policies, procedures and a resource guide to inform our work and continuously improve how we deliver services.

The team developed staff training in best practices when working with limited-English speakers, and tips for effectively working with interpreters.

Our Language Access policies support staff in making sure program participants have equitable opportunity to understand the services available to them. They also value the internal capacity of our bilingual employees to interpret and/or translate English into other languages.

Solid Ground also maintains multiple bilingual staff positions to meet significant language needs in different program areas. Bilingual staff are given extra compensation for their skills.

Language access in action

A few common and key ways we utilize language services include:

  • Face-to-face and phone meetings between families seeking housing and their case managers and advocates
  • Group interpretation for cooking and nutrition classes, advocacy listening sessions, and various workshops (e.g., financial fitness, tenant, homeowner)
  • To help domestic violence survivors navigate legal processes and create safety and stability plans
  • Phone interpretation for legal representation to help people access public benefits
  • Translation of key documents that include technical legal, housing or contractual language or where the consequences of misunderstanding could cause harm

In short, language access is key to Solid Ground’s mission, and we are committed to continually improving our services for limited-English speakers.


Big Picture News is a segment of Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 

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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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.

Big Picture News: Financial empowerment for all

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

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

At Solid Ground, financial empowerment is integral to our mission to end poverty. Financial justice starts with helping people understand their personal finances, build resilience and achieve financial stability. On a policy level, we work to break down systemic barriers that keep people poor.

Our Financial Fitness Boot Camp (highlighted in the lead story of this newsletter) provides an important model for this work – but it is just the jumping off point for a much larger movement. In integrating financial empowerment across the Solid Ground community, we focus on people’s strengths to provide tailored support and access to resources so that everyone – including our staff and volunteers – can realize their financial stability goals and access opportunities to thrive.

We believe that…

  • Financial empowerment will help our community shift from generations of poverty to generations of financial stability.
  • Through education, people have the power to achieve financial stability.
  • Understanding personal finances develops individual power and furthers economic justice.
  • People are capable and resourceful in creating pathways to financial independence; with the right tools, they can make informed decisions.
  • Financial empowerment brings awareness of one’s own capabilities and strengths.
  • We can help alleviate fear of banking systems through financial empowerment.
  • We are cheerleaders for our clients’ pathways to financial independence.
  • All Solid Ground programs can instill the importance of building and saving assets.
  • Through financial empowerment, we can help people believe in their ability to become financially independent.

In line with these beliefs, our financial empowerment services focus on…

  • Basic Budgeting & Money Management: Creating savings and spending plans, prioritizing debts/expenses, and creatively thinking outside the box about how to manage money.
  • Understanding Credit: Developing a better understanding of the meaning of credit scores and awareness about what people can do to improve their credit.
  • Asset Building (income creation): Celebrating assets and asset-building accomplishments, and identifying ways to build assets and income-boosting supports such as tax credits and public benefits.

Some ways we’re weaving financial empowerment agencywide…

We discuss budgeting basics to help people maintain affordable housing. We connect people with job/training opportunities and resources. We provide nutrition and food budgeting education – focused on the affordability of healthy eating – and support people to grow their own food. And we work with banks to create opportunities for people to develop savings.

On a systems level, we support income equality and raising the minimum wage. We also advocate statewide for issues such as increased debt settlement regulation and consumer protections on payday loans. Combined, these efforts are creating systemic change to build a financially healthier community and economic justice for all.

This post taken from the Big Picture News insert from Solid Ground’s May 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Spring 2015 Groundviews: Standing up for my financial freedom

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

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (Photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

A year ago, Jonah West found himself as close to rock bottom as it gets: homeless, jobless, and carrying the crushing burden of student loan debt with no degree to show for it. Despairing, he thought, “I don’t know where to begin; I don’t know what to do.” But in the midst of his hopelessness, he realized, “There was nobody else to really advocate for you but yourself. You can either sit here and cry about it or you can do something about it.”

Jonah chose option two and has been proactive in improving his life ever since. He found shelter and got on food stamps immediately, and soon entered the FareStart job training program, which he explains “uses cooking as the mechanism to teach you employment skills, life skills.” Through FareStart, he connected with Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston, when she held a workshop there on the basics of budgeting, savings and credit repair.

He says, “I got really excited about it, because my financial past has been quite wrecked. I learned to ignore it, because I figured I wasn’t going to be able to go any further with my life. And so hearing her presentation opened my eyes that there was hope, and gave me hope to fix the damage that I’ve done, which I thought was unfixable.”

Working with Judy in one-to-one coaching sessions, he now sees a new future. After coming to terms with the state of his credit rating – “the size and the amount” of his debt – he says, “Judy’s made it a reality to bring it down, and get it fixed, and just work slowly, piece by piece. It might not be as quick as I want it. But now that I have seen it, and I’m not ignoring it, I’m making it a priority in my life to fix it.”

He says, “There was not just the student debt, but a bunch of little things too. So we divided those two parts in half, chunking away at the little things first, but then slowly but surely, working on the student loan part. She’s made it so that I am present with what I’m doing. I’m making decisions appropriately with my finances; I’m not just throwing my money away anymore. Judy’s drawn out a map of how to repair the damage that I’ve done. She can’t make me do it, but she’s given me the opportunity to do it.”

Judy also connected Jonah with Solid Ground Board member John Babauta at HomeStreet Bank, enabling him to open a bank account again after several years without one. “They’ve provided me the support I needed to protect me from me – like no over-drafting allowed. I can’t dip into my savings; I literally have to go over to the branch and have a reason to go into my savings account, which is really great. Now I have a solid foundation of where to keep and how to protect my money.

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (Photo by Greta Carlson)

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (photo by Greta Carlson)

“At this point, I’m just trying to figure out a way to pay down the debt enough so I can fix my credit, get back into college, get the career that I want, and be able to pay it off completely. I want to be more than a waiter; I don’t want to be a lifer in the restaurant industry. I want more out of life. I want to get my CPA license and improve my credit score within five years. That’s what Solid Ground’s helped me out with. Because before, I had no idea what to do, nowhere to go; I didn’t know how to do anything. And now I have hope.”

Judy says that not all of her clients are as proactive as Jonah, a quality he says he inherited from his mother: “She doesn’t back down. She’s very persistent, and she stands up for herself when the moment calls for it. So I stand up for myself when the moment calls for it – and right now, that’s standing up for my financial freedom.”

He adds, “I’m very hopeful that in the next five years, there will be no resemblance of where I’m at today. I’m going to be in a much better place, and I just gotta be patient. And with the right support, it’s great to know that I’m not going to be a waiter when I’m 40. It took me from 20 to 30 to mess it all up, 31 to 40 to fix it, and from 40 on, have a good life. My future’s brighter; I’m very happy for that.”

Visit Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp webpage for more info on the program.

#FinancialEmpowerment: Celebrating Financial Capability Month

This post was contributed by Kira Zylstra, Solid Ground’s Stabilization Services Director.

Solid Ground participated in CFED's (Corporation for Enterprise Development) Financial Capability Month.

Throughout the month of April, Solid Ground participated in the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Financial Capability Month.

When Solid Ground’s April 7 blog post, Community Conversations, challenged me to #thinkpoverty and #talkpoverty in order to #endpoverty, I took this as a challenge to #thinkopportunity and #talkequity as well. Today, April 30, marks the last day of National Financial Capability Month.

In order to work towards achieving equity and opportunity for all, Solid Ground has set the goal of adopting the principles of financial empowerment across all of our programs and services. We recognize that Financial Literacy and Asset Building are critical components to our mission of ending poverty.

To celebrate Financial Capability Month, here are a few highlights of Financial Empowerment activities at Solid Ground from the month of April:

  • The Financial Fitness Boot Camp team hosted creative discussions with staff to recognize and celebrate the many ways we all incorporate financial literacy into our work.
  • Connected many community members to United Way Tax Preparation sites
  • Held several community workshops focused on nutrition and tenant’s rights which all included education on the importance of budgets and money management.

Solid Ground has had the opportunity to work closely with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), which has been sharing weekly updates, resources, and tools on Financial Empowerment to celebrate Financial Capability Month. Check out their latest here: Integrating Financial Capability.

We want to hear from you! Where do you see #FinancialEmpowerment in action in our community? Comment below or via Solid Ground’s Facebook and Twitter feeds!

Call for submissions for Footsteps 步: A poetry anthology honoring homeless veterans

Footsteps: Poems for Homeless Veterans (due out on Cave Moon Press, 2016)

Footsteps: Poems for Homeless Veterans (due out on Cave Moon Press, 2016)

Since 2006, Cave Moon Press (CMP) – a family-owned publishing company out of Yakima, WA – has been “bridging global and local issues through the arts.” Solid Ground has been fortunate to partner with CMP over the past four years.

Editor Doug Johnson says, “The model of CMP is simple: We ask poets and artists to collaborate with the cause of their choice. Poets. Books. Community. Why such a simple model? Because complicated erases our humanity. There are so many causes it is easy to lose track of the people we are helping.”

Call for submissions for Footsteps

To celebrate 10 years of helping communities, Cave Moon Press will produce a new book to aid homeless veterans in 2016 and is requesting original poems centered around the theme of footsteps. They encourage poets to take license in interpreting whose footsteps you honor, and translations are welcome. To apply:

  • Submit poetry anytime between April to September 2015
  • Send to: cavemoonpress@gmail.com
  • Subject line of email: Footsteps for Homeless Veterans-Poet Name
  • Include your name, physical address and email as a cover letter
  • Submit 2-5 poems in one MS Word document, and name the file with your name and the date you submit (ex: FirstLastName_041515)
  • Preferred fonts: 12 pt Garamond in Latin alphabetic languages; SimSun preferred in Asian Kanji

More about the Footsteps project

Doug writes, “This is a book of witness to the invisible. As a poet holds their duty to the page, soldiers hold their duty to serve. Others hold their duty to the environment. Cars wage war on the environment. Politics change like the newspaper wrapping fish. We all know of someone setting out on their quest without ever getting the homecoming of Odysseus. When duties disillusion, people wander. The invisible still wander. Write to honor the ignored. Write a poem. Help a friend.”

This book intends to honor people, not causes. After publication it is hoped that each accepted poet will combine readings around food and music with proceeds going to the local homeless network of their choice – e.g., your local VA, YMCA/YWCA, or nonprofits with programs that serve formerly homeless vets (such as Solid Ground’s Santos Place, etc.).

Cave Moon Press & Solid Ground

In 2011, CMP published Denise Calvetti Michaels’ Rustling Wrens, and she chose to donate a portion of sales proceeds to Solid Ground and also spread the word about Solid Ground during her readings. Similarly, when poet Esther Altshul Helfgott published Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Diary & Poems in 2013 and Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer’s in 2014, she designated proceeds toward Solid Ground’s Penny Harvest youth philanthropy program (which her granddaughter participated in before the program sunsetted in summer of 2014).

As Doug puts it, “Poets write. Poets read. So far poets have found a home at Solid Ground, and CMP is grateful and happy to bring awareness to their great work.” He adds that, “CMP has been able to help other groups around the country. Each nonprofit and poet set up what works in their community. They know their needs. They have passions for their people.” With the publication of Footsteps 步 in 2016, CMP will continue their commitment to creating poetry and art partnerships that support social change.

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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.

12 Days of Health at Emerson Elementary: Challenging ourselves to a healthy holiday season!

This piece by Abby Temple was published on 12/30/14 on Apple Corps, the Blog. As a Nutrition Educator with Solid Ground’s Apple Corps program, Abby supports nutrition and physical activity programs at Emerson Elementary School in South Seattle.

The Emerson Health and Wellness team sat in our monthly meeting, envisioning the cupcake, candy and cookie-filled weeks ahead of us. Holiday celebrations present a dilemma for a nutrition/health educator based in an elementary school – how can we encourage our students to make healthy choices while also recognizing the need for celebrations, for special treats, and for a fun ending to a difficult few months of work?

How can we stray from labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” and instead, focus on moderation and “sometimes” foods? With these goals in mind, our team – composed of myself, my co-educator Ms. Paula, a second grade teacher, our PE teacher and one of our ELL (English Language Learners) teachers – came up with the idea of a “12 Days of Health” promotion for the school. For the 12 days leading up to winter break, our students were given a challenge each day over the morning announcements.

Alivia, an energetic 2nd grader at Emerson, takes the jumping jack challenge!

Alivia, an energetic 2nd grader at Emerson, takes the jumping jack challenge!

The challenges were as follows:

  • Day 1: One special treat for working so hard!
  • Day 2: Two push-ups!
  • Day 3: Three laps around the black top!
  • Day 4: Four glasses of water!
  • Day 5: Five minutes of stretching!
  • Day 6: Six toe-touches!
  • Day 7: Seven colors of food in your day!
  • Day 8: Eight squats!
  • Day 9: Nine high-knees!
  • Day 10: Ten jumping jacks!
  • Day 11: Eleven lunges!
  • Day 12: Twelve minutes of dancing!

For 12 days, Emerson’s morning announcements were dominated by the lovely singing voices of our Emerson staff. We took turns on the announcements each day, singing the challenge to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The kids especially loved hearing their PE teacher singing – it was quite a treat in itself.

I was surprised how many students I actually saw participating in and excited about the challenges. Students stopped me in the hallway to show me their jumping jacks and lunges. I heard water described as “the most delicious drink ever!” On day 12, our health challenge culminated in a 12-minute dance party with our first graders. I may have enjoyed the dancing even more than they did.

Our super healthy Emerson students are on a great track to a healthy and fun winter break! Happy winter break, Emerson!

November 2014 Groundviews: ‘A really good marriage’

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

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins have been married for 45 beautiful years, and for more than half of those, they have both worked as Access Drivers for the Solid Ground Transportation (SGT) department. The kind of couple who lovingly finish each others’ sentences, they are now the longest-serving drivers on the team.

They were drawn to this work in the late ‘80s when they saw a driver help someone in a wheelchair get out of a van at the hospital where they were visiting Ninus’ mother. Ninus says, “This individual kind of lit a match in our vision and said, ‘Hey, this is what I do, and I like it. And if you want to try it, I’ll give you some information.’ I was kind of reluctant, but Kathy said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Kathy adds, “Compliments to that person, because here we are, 26 years later.” But she says they wondered, “ ‘Are they even gonna hire a husband and wife? Let’s not tell them!’ But they took a chance, and they did!”

Today, Kathy and Ninus are among 110 SGT drivers who operate a fleet of 75 Access vehicles – providing door-to-door rides to appointments and services for adults who physically cannot access the fixed-route Metro bus system – as well as two buses for the Downtown Circulator fixed-route service.

‘We’re family’
Originally named Seattle Personal Transit, the program was launched in the late ‘80s by a Jesuit volunteer who drove people to appointments in a beat-up old van. The service soon combined with another small operation under the wing of Solid Ground’s predecessor, Fremont Public Association (FPA). Kathy comments, “I think it was a really good marriage for what Seattle Personal Transit was offering the community. We knew we were getting bigger, and it fit under that umbrella. It all meant helping somebody get what they needed, whether it’d be medical, or just social, or nutrition. It fit.”

Ninus reminisces, “Then, we said, ‘We’re family.’ We started building trust between each employee, and that’s what brought us [to be] successful in partnership. We decided this is where we belong – a fountain of knowledge, ready to tell everybody how happy we were to do this type of work.”

‘More than just drivers’
Back when Kathy and Ninus started driving, there were fewer than 10 drivers operating a fleet of approximately seven vehicles, only two of which had side-loading wheelchair lifts. (Today, all SGT vehicles are equipped with wheelchair loading apparatus and space to accommodate multiple wheelchairs and/or walkers.) The small size of the program and regular routes allowed for a connection between drivers and passengers – “And their families! And their pets!” interjects Kathy – that just isn’t possible with today’s varied routes and packed timetables.

“We were more than just drivers; it wasn’t just rides,” Kathy reflects, “We were the lookout.” For some passengers, she says, “Unless you communicated with their family – like, ‘She’s not remembering her keys,’ or ‘He’s not remembering to put socks on with his shoes’ – it might not be evident to them. They don’t see them every day, but I do. And if I could share that with them, then they could intervene: ‘Maybe they need a doctor’s visit.’ We were there to give them that information.”

Ninus reflects, “We were the eyes of the community, and we were there for safety.” He describes an incident where a visually impaired person began crossing the street into traffic. “I remember stopping the van, getting out when it was safe, running out, grabbing that person, tapping them on the shoulder saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait! You’re crossing the wrong way!’ And bringing them back to the corner and waiting for the light, and then taking them across the street safely.”

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

A labor of love
As a mixed-race couple who married in the heart of the Civil Rights era and raised biracial children, Kathy and Ninus have experienced some of the worst of our nation’s racist realities, and this has sometimes extended to their work as drivers. Ninus reflects, “In the begin [sic], it was watch what you say, and be careful of how you approach somebody, and stand back and reach out, and don’t try to touch anybody unless they needed your assistance. We were very careful to be professional … but still be there to assist.”

Ninus survived some devastating experiences, including passengers setting their dogs on him, and one incident where a woman placed a handkerchief on his arm before she would accept his help so she wouldn’t have to touch his skin. Yet somehow, Ninus and Kathy consistently maintain compassion.

Ninus says, “This job is done from the heart and out of love. Every day, there’s some things that’ll make you cry, and some things that’ll make you giggle. Your motives are to be professional, to be caring, to be safe … to be a warm spirit. You always offer hope.” Kathy adds, “It wasn’t anything that deterred us from giving them that TLC that they needed to survive or get where they needed to go.”

“This is a job that everybody can’t do,” Ninus admits. “It takes a special type of person to take that extra step. And we’re blessed to be in an environment [and] shine by doing that extra step. And that’s just like our marriage: 45! Forty-five years!”

Back on the road to home

Bruce Perry with his truck

Bruce Perry with his truck

Truck driver Bruce Perry is a veteran and a resident at Santos Place on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus. He has lived in many different places – from the deep south, to California, to the Pacific Northwest – and he has worn many different career hats. From a young age, he has known exactly what he wanted to do with his life – several different things, to be exact – and one by one, he has achieved those goals.

Bruce says, “I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in life, career-wise. I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to go into the military. I’d see the convoys of military trucks and “I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s going to be me one day!’ ” And sure enough, he served in the US Army from 1975 to 1979, a Vietnam-era vet who was fortunate to enlist three months before the end of the active conflict, so he never saw combat. Also, he says, “I wanted to be a mailman – which I did for 19½ years – and at the age of 42, I retired, in the Bay Area.”

Finally, he says, “I wanted to be a truck driver.” He first got his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in 2005 and worked as a cross-country freight driver for several years. “I’ve been to 48 states, Mexico and Canada.” This last goal, though, had a serious hiccup: In 2009 in Louisiana, he received a ticket, which he paid with a check that didn’t go through. Unfortunately, the check was returned to an old address and he never received it, causing his license to be suspended for a year. “And each time you get a ticket,” he explains, “it’s another violation that counts for one year. Another violation, another year. So that’s how I had to do three years on suspension. That’s three years without driving at all.”

Starting over

In 2011, with his final dream job on hiatus, his funds dwindling, and very few veterans resources available to him in the south, he decided to relocate to Washington state where he could get housing through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). “That’s one reason I moved here; and another reason was I’d be close to my girlfriend,” he says with a shy smile. (She lives in Vancouver, BC, and thanks to Amtrak he gets to meet her in Bellingham a few times a month.)

After a stint in VASH temporary housing, Bruce was placed in transitional housing at Santos Place. A self-described loner and very independent man, he says, “This place is for people able to take care of themselves, ‘cause nobody gonna come knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ You have to be able to take care of yourself here.”

During his stay, he says, “I kept myself busy.” So while living at Santos and waiting out his suspension, he worked at Whole Foods Market and received job training through AARP – and just as soon as his suspension was up, he went straight back and got recertified as a truck driver. In June 2014, he was back on the road, and he couldn’t be happier. He drives up and down the coast, from Kent, WA to southern California and back, with weekends at home. And come December 1st, five days before his birthday, Bruce will finally move out of Santos Place and into permanent housing.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Bruce outside of Santos Place

Bruce outside of Santos Place

To others struggling to get back on their feet, he urges people to “ask for help. Solid Ground has people to help you with that! Depression, shame stops people from doing what they need to do. It’s scary. You get in this environment, it’s all you know. You stay here and you feel comfortable, and it’s hard to get up and walk out that door and go out there and get a job again, because a lot of people are scared of failure. But you got to start somewhere.”

He recommends that people “Go to training school while you’re on low income. Go to WorkSource. Go to the library. We got two brand new computers here and a whole computer room. Take advantage of that! Go to junior college. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.”

Home for the holidays

This year, Bruce will be in his own home for Christmas for the first time in a long time. A devout Christian, he believes God played an important role in his success: “If you open your heart up to God, read your bible, pray – put your trust in God, not man – then it will start working. If you have the right attitude, things will work out for you. It may take a while, but it will happen.”

And while Bruce is technically of retirement age, he’s not at all retiring. “The only thing I want to do now is just continue working and, God willing, work to the age of 66 and collect my social security. I got a chance to retire; I know what it’s like to retire. I got a chance to be blessed to start back over again. So it’s like a big burden lifted off of your shoulders.” But, he says, when he finally does “retire” from truck driving, he still intends to drive a truck two or three days a week. “I’ve talked to older people,” he says, “and lots of people have told me, the worst thing you can do is just sit around all day and do nothing. Once you sit down and start doing nothing, your muscles and your mind, everything’s all fading away. You lose everything.”

And he has absolutely no regrets. “It’s hard to explain to people; very few people can look back and say they’ve done everything they wanted to do in life. I’m one of those few people. And how do you know that you’ve done everything in life? If the doctor said, ‘You only have two months to live?’ I’ve done everything I wanted to do!”

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.”

1 Year Later: Remembering my mom & a call for action

guest columnThis post was contributed by Solid Ground Board Member Lauren McGowan and was originally published on July 15, 2014 on her personal blog, Now is the Time: Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty…in heels. Lauren has served on the Solid Ground Board since 2006, including four years as Board President. This piece is a followup to When homelessness hits home/Love you, Love you more, which she wrote when her mother passed away a year ago.

LaurenMcG-MomPlaqueIt’s been exactly one year since I received the worst possible phone call. My mom Fran, who struggled with homelessness for many years, died on the beach in my hometown of West Haven, Connecticut. For much of my childhood my mom was like any other mom – she struggled to balance work, family, and bills. She proudly volunteered for field trips, hosted sleepovers, and beamed with pride at dance recitals and strikeouts. She carried a deep love for my dad, her high school sweetheart, with her day in and day out.

And then something happened.

A combination of stress, anxiety, depression, chronic substance abuse and mental illness led her world to crumble. Instead of enjoying the wisdom and balance that comes with middle age – she spent her 40s and early 50s battling demons, bouncing between hotels, rehab facilities, shelters, transitional units, couches, apartments and – more often than my heart can admit – the streets. Her favorite resting spot was behind the church where I made my confirmation – she thought god would keep her safe.

100ILoveYousI’m not a religious person but my mom was. She believed the church would save her when nothing else could. Since she passed I’ve said the “Our Father” every time I see a pink sunset. I like to think she’s watching over us. Since July 15, 2013, there have been more than 100 sunsets, 100 reflections, 100 “Our Fathers,” 100 I Love Yous.

When I first shared her story, I could count on one hand the number of people who knew about her struggle. Homelessness is deeply shameful, embarrassing, and isolating – both for the individual and the family. I carefully protected that secret because talking about it – naming it – made it real. It meant talking out loud about the things I wrestled with…

Do I move her to Seattle where there are more resources for people who struggle with homelessness?”

“Should she move in with me?”

“Should I buy her a place in CT?”

“Isn’t there one more social service agency I can call, one more wait-list to be on?”

“Why can’t I fix this?”

Sharing her story was a leap of faith – a quest for a better outcome for other moms. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the best possible friends and family, and what I’ve learned over the last year is that there are many people in my circle who’ve carried their own secret black cloud. The stigma of depression, substance abuse and mental illness keeps too many people quiet. The shame and blame of poverty, job loss and homelessness too often rips families apart.

But it shouldn’t be this way. No one should die on our streets alone. No one should struggle alone. No one should go from provider to provider, hospital to hospital, treatment center to treatment center, and walk away empty handed or land on a wait-list miles long. Despite years of interventions, tens-of-thousands of dollars and a lot of system knowledge, I couldn’t fix my mother’s situation. And for too many friends who’ve lost siblings, parents or partners, they couldn’t fix it either. No, we can’t fix it alone, but together I believe we can.

Significant policy reform at a national level is needed to create a more robust, effective, and compassionate safety net. To get there, we must engage and mobilize people experiencing homelessness, business leaders and caring neighbors like we’ve never done before.

Everyone deserves to have a safe and decent place to call home. When people fall – and it can happen to anyone – they need holistic resources that will help get them back on their feet. When moms need treatment for mental illness or substance abuse, level of need – not financial resources – should drive treatment options. We need to break our silence.

I look forward to the day when the voices of people who have struggled with homelessness and mental illness are as strong as the NRA lobbyists, because that is what it will take. Yes, it takes resources. So does ignoring the problem. So does funding a war. For the 600,000 Americans who struggle with homelessness – many due to mental illness – every day is a struggle, every day is a war.

Homelessness is solvable. Big foundations and local governments – even the Veterans Administration – are providing that it can be done. So let’s take it to scale and make sure no man, woman or child goes without a roof. As taxpayers, voters and engaged citizens, we make choices every day. Today we must choose to stop being silent and help move the most vulnerable in our community to Solid Ground.

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing healthy partnerships

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

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems. 

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed  not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

We’re dreaming BIG… GiveBIG to Solid Ground TODAY!

 GiveBIG TODAY! 


This year, Solid Ground is dreaming BIG.
Join us in investing in our dream of a world beyond poverty!

 

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40 years ago, Solid Ground was founded by a small group of individuals who dreamed of alleviating hunger and homelessness in their community. Today, through the incredible support of people like you, we’ve pooled our time, treasure and dreams to create innovative and responsive solutions to poverty.

When you giveBIG, you dream BIG.

Visit www.tinyurl.com/SolidGroundGiveBIG TODAY (May 6, 2014) to give to Solid Ground. A portion of your gift will be matched via The Seattle Foundation’s gift pool. Your gift is more than just a donation – it’s investing in dreams of a world beyond poverty. Together we can turn these dreams into reality.

March 2014 Groundviews: ‘We saw a need; we met it’

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

Frank Chopp – Washington State Speaker of the House, Solid Ground Senior Advisor and Fremont Public Association Executive Director from 1983 to 2000 – began his more than 40 years of success as a rabble-rouser, innovator, community builder and legislator around a Bremerton dinner table. 

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

He recounts, “Quite often when I was growing up, my dad and my mom would talk about politics, literally at the kitchen table. There was a lot of talk about how much my dad and mom believed in labor organizing, in public service. They grew up in Roslyn, WA, where there used to be a bunch of coal mines. The working conditions and wages there were so bad that they went on strike. My mom and dad would meet for dates on the picket lines outside the coal mines. Mom was tear-gassed by the state troopers during one of those strikes.”

Responding to community 

Frank graduated from the University of Washington and worked as a community organizer in the mid-70s in the Cascade neighborhood. In 1976, he was hired by the City of Seattle’s North Seattle Community Service Center, which supported the then fledgling Fremont Public Association (FPA). “It was very much an opinionated group, very activist oriented, as well as very creative. We were willing to push the envelope in terms of new things, really responding to community rather than sitting back,” he recalls.

The story of how FPA developed what became Solid Ground’s Transportation services is a great example. “There was a need to provide transportation to the elderly so they could get to doctors’ appointments. We started that with a Jesuit Volunteer, with a beat up old van, picking up people, taking them to their doctors, taking them back home. We saw a need; we met it.” FPA then brought together two smaller van programs to become more effective.

“We also wanted to make a political statement,” Frank says, “because this is about the time when Metro took over Seattle Transit. And transit service in Seattle got reduced for a while, because they were trying to spread it around the County. So as a political statement, we called it Seattle PERSONAL Transit. Then it became an ongoing program.

“So we organized many people with disabilities to go down to the Metro Council and say, ‘Look, you’ve got to provide this on a much more comprehensive basis, not just through a bunch of volunteers.’ We organized a couple hundred people to pack the hearing room.

“The initial reaction from Council staff was negative. But then the councilmembers looked out at the crowd and saw people who were very agitated and motivated, and they said, ‘Well, we should start doing something here.’ Eventually it became a much bigger program, serving all of King County with professional drivers and vans, and public funding. So it was a tremendous success.”

Frank adds, “FPA also aggressively pursued coalition building to get more done, organizing the Seattle Food Committee and then the Coalition for Survival Services, comprised of food, shelter and health care providers. The Coalition initially leveraged $500,000 from the City, which over time has grown to more than $40 million in health care and human services.”

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

On the cutting edge of new ideas

Frank describes how his experience with the FPA informed his role as Speaker of the House: “I’m doing the same job there that I was at the FPA; there is no difference. We are trying to figure out the best way to get as much done as possible. So we think carefully about what we see as a need in the community, or across the State, and then we figure out the best way to accomplish that.

“I think it is always important to be on the cutting edge, literally, of new ideas, and looking at new opportunities. You’ve got to constantly be pushing yourself and other people to do more, and also to be as creative as possible.

“As a community organizer, you want the community to be the face of what the need is, and they have to take group action together to get something done. You can actually achieve more if you put the real people who are directly involved front and center; the most effective spokespeople are directly involved.

“You see a need, you see an opportunity and you just go for it!” he says. “Then after you do things, you say, ‘Ok, how should this best be organized?’ The main thing is to start acting, doing things.”

Visit our Timeline of Accomplishments for more information about Solid Ground’s 40+ year history of innovation, partnership and action.

Ensure YOUR economic security & financial freedom through planned giving!

Martha Swain and Mike Buchman

Martha Swain & Mike Buchman

When thinking about what it means to make a personal donation, writing a check once or twice a year to organizations you care about may come to mind. However, when money is tight, it may be challenging for some to give back. Many would like to assist charities and nonprofits whose values and beliefs align with their own, to help preserve these agencies for the future (Sargent and Shang). Planned giving is an alternative to direct donations that can allow donors to do just that.

With the assistance of legal and/or financial advisors, a planned gift is worked into aspects of estate or financial planning, and can include simple bequests in a will or estate plan, gifts of IRAs, retirement or pension plan assets like life insurance or 401K plans, and living trusts and charitable gift annuities.

Planned giving oftentimes provides additional monetary benefits for the donor as a means to prepare for the future and ensure economic stability for family. These benefits – depending on the type of gift chosen – can include tax deductions or other adjustments to finances that save money. Wise financial planning and asset building is an important part of life, regardless of age or income level, and it is essential to develop plans and prepare for the future.

Mike Buchman, employed with Solid Ground for nearly 20 years, and his wife Martha Swain, a Waldorf early childhood educator, began drafting their wills after their daughter, Maddy, was born. “We were obviously thinking about the future, about making the world a better place for our daughter,” Mike expresses. “We are solidly middle class, if that even exists anymore, and we don’t have a lot of wealth. Still, it felt important and right to put some aside for a few organizations that fed our passions and souls. It felt like we were investing in Maddy’s future.”

Mike and Martha chose to include Solid Ground in their planning process because of “the impact Solid Ground makes in the community and the integrity with which its staff does its work every day.”

Mike explained that “making this gift was so easy. We hired an estate planning attorney to help us write our wills. We met for about an hour and talked about our goals and then drafted the legal documents. Including planned giving was as easy as asking them how.”

Solid Ground strongly encourages you to meet with an estate planning attorney or financial advisor, as Mike has done, to ensure that your documents are accurate and fulfill your designs for the future.

Planned giving – in conjunction with estate and financial planning – offers you the opportunity to reach long-term financial stability, provide for your loved ones after you are gone, and support organizations that, with the help of your gift, will continue to provide much-needed services to your community.

“I’ve given a significant portion of my work life to Solid Ground and I think this is an organization that does exceptional things. … We believe that healthy nonprofit organizations are critically needed engines of compassion, service and change,” says Mike. By giving back to organizations that reflect the values you hold dear, you create a legacy of care and support.

We hope you will consider including a gift to Solid Ground when you meet with your advisors to plan for your future. If you already have named Solid Ground in your will, we would very much like the opportunity to thank you for your generosity. Of course, if you prefer to remain anonymous, your gift will be kept completely confidential. Please note that public recognition of your gift can encourage others to do the same.


For more information on planned giving, please consult your professional advisor. If you’re interested in being a part of Solid Ground’s next 40+ years, please contact Leah Lee at 206.694.6852 or at leahl@solid-ground.org.


The Mariner Moose & Toys for Kids bring holiday cheer to families in need across King County

The holidays can be a stressful time for many parents who want to celebrate with their children but face the harsh reality of limited budgets. And for moms experiencing homelessness over the holidays – like those staying in our Broadview Emergency Shelter & Transitional Housing facilities – making the holidays special is an even greater challenge.

The Mariner Moose, along with former Mariners Julio Cruz, Dave Henderson & broadcaster Rick Rizzs, provide a joyous annual holiday party for Broadview families.

The Mariner Moose, along with former Mariners Julio Cruz, Dave Henderson & broadcaster Rick Rizzs, provide a joyous annual holiday party for Broadview families.

So imagine the joyfest (i.e., happy chaos) that ensued on December 9 when the Mariner Moose himself – dressed in a Santa suit sporting the number “00” – burst into the room during a Broadview holiday pizza party, handed out signed posters, and took photographs with each kid!

Adding to the fun and mayhem, longtime Seattle Mariners baseball broadcaster Rick Rizzs, former M’s centerfielder Dave Henderson and second baseman Julio Cruz greeted the kids at their eye level – resembling gentle giants as they sat on tiny child-size chairs – and did art projects with the kids and autographed photos. Dave gamely played along as one small boy with a basketball (and a very strong toss!) launched the ball high and Dave headed it back. One mom dressed her one-year-old in a pink Mariners outfit for the occasion. “Christmas came early!” exclaimed another grinning mom, “Merry Christmas to me!”

An annual tradition at Broadview for almost two decades, this party (and others like it) is part of Rick & Dave’s Toys for Kids. Eighteen years ago, Rick Rizzs and Dave Henderson sat enjoying a cold beer at F.X. McRory’s in Pioneer Square a few months before the holidays. A news story came on the pub’s TV reporting on the more than 8,000 people experiencing homelessness in King County at the time. Rick and Dave wondered, “What about the kids? What kind of holiday celebration could their families afford?” The guys decided they wanted to do something to ensure that even kids without a place to call home had a way to celebrate.

So they rounded up a group of then-active players – including Jay Buhner, Raúl Ibañez, Bill Krueger, Edgar Martínez, Jamie Moyer, Jeff Nelson, John Olerud, Matt Sinatro, Omar Vizquel and Dan Wilson – and they held a fundraising dinner which raised $18,000 that first year to buy toys for kids for the holidays. They did some research to find out how they could get the toys to kids in need, and Broadview was among the first three organizational recipients.

The next year, the Mariners RBI Club members got involved, including Bill King, Virg Fassio and Bob Simeone, and they added an auction to the dinner. (RBI stand for “Real Baseball Involvement;” the Club consists of volunteers who connect the Mariners with local community and charity activities.) Each year since, the amount raised and the number of organizations supported have grown. This year’s event was held at the The Harbor Club Bellevue. $225,000 was raised, resulting in 7,000 children – all of whom are accessing services at 19 different local human service organizations – receiving holiday joy via Toys for Kids.

Left to right: Julio Cruz, Rick Rizzs, Solid Ground Residential Services Director Dee Hillis, Dave Henderson, Bill & Sarah King

Left to right: Julio Cruz, Rick Rizzs, Solid Ground Residential Services Director Dee Hillis, Dave Henderson, Bill & Sarah King

While Toys for Kids connects with thousands of kids each year, parties with the Mariner Moose are special and only happen with a handful of smaller organizations such as Broadview. At this year’s party, the RBI Club’s Bill King and his 17-year-old daughter Sarah served pizza and treats to the Broadview families. Bill says that Sarah has been helping out since she was seven years old, and the annual event has made a big impact on her. He recalls that one year, as he and Sarah left the building after a Broadview party, a young teen boy opened his window and called out to them, “Thank you! This has been the best day of my life!”

Rick Rizzs & Dave Henderson would like to thank the many sponsors who contribute to making Rick & Dave’s Toys for Kids an ongoing (and continuously growing) organization:

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