Evonne Zook retires: ‘Change of any sort requires courage’

Evonne Zook, front and center, with the 2014 Family Assistance team.

Evonne Zook, front and center, with the 2014 Family Assistance team

After 15 years working as an attorney for Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program where she helped people living on low incomes access public benefits, Evonne Zook is moving on to her next adventure. While she is leaving our agency and even Washington state to settle in Lake Havasu, Arizona with family, Evonne is hardly retiring. With so many new and changing laws, especially regarding immigration, she hopes to volunteer or do pro bono work in the field to continue to help people in need.

The trajectory of Evonne’s journey to Solid Ground was unconventional, but fueled by a commitment to serve the public and fight for justice. As a single mother, she worked in the banking industry while raising her children until 1990. However, the corporate environment contradicted her natural instincts, and she struggled against the system before deciding to return to school to finish her undergraduate studies.

At 54 years old, Evonne moved to Washington from Oregon to enter law school. In 1998, she volunteered for the first time at what was then the Fremont Public Association, and says she “fell in love with the Family Assistance program, helping people who were really in need rather than fighting corporate businesses.” After taking the bar exam, there was a job opening at Solid Ground; she applied for it immediately after passing the test and has been with the agency ever since.

Family Assistance is one of the only programs in King County practicing civil law to represent people on public benefits issues. State funding is rare for non-criminal court cases when public defenders are not automatically provided, so Solid Ground’s attorneys fill that gap. Utilizing a cooperative approach, they work closely with Solid Ground’s JourneyHome and other housing programs to get people the support they need. Evonne emphasizes that collaborating “with people who have the same goals is a wonderful thing.”

She reflects that her most memorable moments have been helping people get benefits they didn’t even know they were entitled to, after being entrenched for years by the biases of the state’s bureaucratic system:

Evonne-circleWhat we do is represent clients for no charge who are having problems with public benefits – who have been denied or had their benefits reduced for cash, food, Medicaid and childcare. And we will represent the client in administrative hearings if we believe the client has made a mistake or is being discriminated against in any way. So it’s been very busy with changes in the law.

There are a lot of attorneys in the state trying to work on changing the laws, and I do believe that is valuable work. But given my age, I always thought it was more beneficial to help the clients slipping through the cracks right now than it was to try and change the laws that I might never see. That progress is kind of like evolution: Changes happen so slowly that sometimes people experiencing the problems now don’t have any hope that anything is ever going to change.

I think that the real benefit we’ve been able to offer to clients in this program is access to the law, access to the courts, and to justice. Because a lot of people give up; they think the courts are only for those that can afford the best and most expensive lawyers; they think the law is not on their side or that things are hopeless.

So we’re talking about the law that enables them to support their families and move out of poverty, and we’ve been able to offer clients enough encouragement and explanation of what the law says so they feel they are in tune with the law. We’re not able to change the law on this level, but lots of times, if we let a client know what their rights are, they feel so much better.”

Evonne feels the poor have to have an advocate against the gatekeepers to social services who are bound by their own prejudices. Clients also have the right to be heard; they have constitutional rights to due process, and every decision the state makes to harm them or take away a benefit, they have the right to protest. “In the meantime, we can offer them alternatives and some support.”

Many clients have mental health issues, and courts tend to be sympathetic, tuned-in to individuals who are fighting the state bureaucracy for services and basic rights that the law allows. Even so, about 80% of cases are settled outside of court, because Family Assistance’s style is “to help the client first and foremost, not to ‘win.’ We can’t take every case, but we can explain the law, who can help them, what they can do and what alternatives are available to them.”

Evonne-Flowers-WebA plaque in Evonne’s office reads, “Change of any sort requires courage,” an apt metaphor for the challenges of retirement. Until about four years ago, she was Lead Benefits Attorney. At the time, she “decided to step down and maybe partially retire. Stephanie Earhart has taken over the lead since that point, and it has worked out great.” But she found “part-time retirement didn’t work for me – being in the office three days a week and thinking about the cases the other two days – so I returned to full-time. But I think it was important at that time to pass on the leadership role of the program to Stephanie.” And now, she says, “I’m 72 years old; it’s time to change and I’m ready.”

Looking at the stacked boxes of files filled with decades’ worth of clients in Evonne’s office, it is remarkable to see a physical representation of the deep impact she has had on the countless people she has served. “I have loved working with the people here at Solid Ground; their values are so in tune with making the world a better place. It’s been just a wonderful experience; I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Community Needs Assessment a foundation for strategic planning

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Giving brought joy to families in need!

This post was contributed by Kira Zylstra, Solid Ground Stabilization Services Director, who participated in Solid Ground’s 2014 Holiday Giving campaign.

The holiday season is a time for joy and celebration, and for those in our community with the fewest resources, it can also bring added stress and hardship. Because of this, Solid Ground worked to support the families participating in our housing stabilization programs through the 2014 Holiday Giving Program.

We launched the program by asking for community support to provide gifts and financial contributions that could assist in providing each participating family with a gift package including household items, children’s toys, and gift cards for food.

With gifts and donations from local businesses – and individual gifts through Solid Ground’s website – we were able to raise nearly $12,000 to support 115 families who are currently experiencing homelessness or on the brink of losing their housing. This support lessened the burden for these families and allowed space for community and celebration at a time when even meeting basic needs can be a struggle.

GiftBag2014Some of our 2014 Holiday Giving Partners included:

AlyssaFrugeOne of our key supporters on this campaign was a young leader from Holy Names Academy, Alyssa Frugé. Alyssa volunteers with Solid Ground’s Resource Development team, and in addition to her ongoing data entry projects, she took on a new challenge to further support Solid Ground’s programs during the holiday season. Alyssa led a project to support the Holiday Giving program through her church, St. Benedict Parish, and was able to provide the greatest level of giving from any one donor in the program. The Parish and School provided these gifts as part of an even larger campaign which collected over 700 gifts for programs across the city of Seattle.

St. Benedict Parish and School alone provided 97 gifts, which single-handedly supported 30 local families who are currently homeless or at risk of losing their housing. Alyssa brought great enthusiasm and determination to this project of creating holiday baskets. When we first discussed the campaign and how many families we were hoping to support, she immediately wanted to set a goal of having each and every family supported.

Alyssa boldly set a goal of 100 gift tags for the Parish, which was already supporting a number of other community projects, and her commitment brought us to our goal. “It makes me grateful and simply happy to know my service has helped others, and I think volunteering is an excellent way to grow as an individual,” she says. “The holiday fundraiser helped me improve my speaking and marketing skills, and taught me the values of being an assertive and persuasive leader.”

The Holiday Giving program was a success in 2014 thanks to the effort and support of so many generous individuals and organizations.

Jackie MacLean joins Solid Ground as VP of Strategy & Programs

Former Director of King County's Department of Community and Human Services Jackie MacLean joins Solid Ground

Jackie MacLean

Jackie MacLean, who has served in King County for 20 years – including 12 as Director of the Department of Community and Human Services – is joining Solid Ground as Vice President of Strategy & Programs, effective January 12, 2015.

“Jackie has a long commitment to Solid Ground’s populations and services,” says Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground’s President & CEO. “Her strong leadership skills and breadth of management experience will help Solid Ground more effectively meet our mission to end poverty and undo racism and other root causes of poverty.”

MacLean’s career has been devoted to developing and running effective services for vulnerable populations, including treatment and recovery, prevention, stability and self-sufficiency programs. She represented the County on the National Alliance to End Homelessness Leadership Council and other regional and national coalitions working to improve outcomes in systems addressing homelessness, housing, aging and disabilities, criminal justice, health care, and other issues disproportionately impacting low-income communities and people of color.

“Jackie has tremendous connections in our community and has an insider’s perspective on many of the upcoming changes to service systems,” McHenry says. “Her systemic view of our community’s response to poverty will be a great asset to Solid Ground.”

“Like Solid Ground, I believe that our community can move beyond poverty and embrace equity and social justice,” MacLean states. “I am thrilled to be coming to Solid Ground and look forward to improving our outcomes and our responsiveness to the community.”

Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

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

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

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

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

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

 

AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

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

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

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

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

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

1989_MLK-edited

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

2013/14 MLK VISTA leaders Julz Ignacio & Nicole Dufva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLK VISTAs from 2009/2010

MLK VISTAs from 2009/2010

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

Power in pennies: A tribute to Penny Harvest

Unfortunately, Solid Ground is ending its sponsorship of the Penny Harvest program on June 30th, 2014. Penny Harvest advocates are still looking for a new home for the program.

Environmental stewards. Philanthropists. Community leaders. These are not usually titles we give to kids, even if the phrase “making a difference” is constantly pushed throughout school curricula. Is there a way that schools can facilitate the kindly intentions of students who are just at the beginning stages of a lifetime of learning? With the Penny Harvest program, one can truly call these little humanitarians, from kindergarten to 12th grade, bighearted superstars.

Penny drive at Adams Elementary School, 2011

Penny drive at Adams Elementary School, 2011

Bringing the drive to Seattle

In 1992, Solid Ground (then known as the Fremont Public Association) partnered with Family Services (now Wellspring Family Services) and Atlantic Street Center to create Common Cents to teach area youth about homelessness through a spring coin drive paired with educational presentations. Around $40,000 per year was raised to serve families experiencing homelessness, all the while engaging thousands of students in philanthropic efforts.

In 2005, the program became affiliated with the New York-based Common Cents and changed the name of the local operation to Penny Harvest. The model of the program also shifted from funding three specific organizations to allowing youth to select who and what to fund, and expanded to include a stronger focus on social justice work. Penny Harvest is now a national service-learning program engaging students between the ages of four and 18 in processes of philanthropy including gathering pennies, grant making and taking action as leaders in their community. The program introduces students to the power of giving and volunteerism, and thus they learn the right steps to drive change in their communities. Organizations that have received donations include everything from safe housing for youth and families, animal welfare, environmental justice to individual sponsorship of a homeless man in the neighborhood.

Find a penny, pick it up…

Kathleen Penna in a van full of sacks

Kathleen Penna in a van full of sacks

Different than your typical fundraiser, the Penny Harvest was more like a scavenger hunt at times. “Pennies are usually very accessible, especially to young people. You can find them everywhere. [Students] look under their couches, ask their neighbors. They have big jars that they keep in their schools,” says Kathleen Penna, Community Development Program Coordinator (and former Penny Harvest Program Coordinator) at Solid Ground. “They’re also something that we don’t often think of as useful anymore, because you can’t buy anything with [just] pennies.” When asked what was her favorite part about the actual collection of pennies, Kathleen says, “It was cool to see the giant piles of pennies. We had U-Haul vans that were full of pennies.”

This sort of energetic strategy can really get kids engaged, allowing them to experience the difficult, hands-on work it takes to fundraise. It also increases excitement around getting involved in the decision making process on where to allocate the funds, a task for which the students are 100% in charge.

Ana Lucía Degel as a Penny Harvest Youth Board member,  June 2005

Ana Lucía Degel as a Penny Harvest Youth Board member, June 2005

One former Penny Harvest participant, Ana Lucía Degel, says that this kind of empowerment “has profoundly shaped my ability to examine my role in my community, my own privilege, and my determination to affect change through the work that I choose to do.” Ana Lucía  is currently an Education Specialist with Treehouse, providing dropout prevention services and education case management for youth who have experienced foster care. “Penny Harvest planted the seed within me that I am capable of dreaming change that seems impossible, and I can find ways to take steps towards that change by working within my community.”

This sort of sentiment can be heard from students and adults alike. “Our main goal is that young people learn that they can and do make a difference at a very early age,” says Mike Beebe, former Penny Harvest Program Manager at Solid Ground. “Learning about community input, mapping community assets, community organizing. What we can do working together is so much more powerful than what we can do as one person. In some ways, I think that challenges the narrative in our country around individualism,” says Mike.

Steering the ship

Penny Harvest Youth Boards consisted of 10 members and were open to any student who committed to it. This past year, there were a couple of members who started in 2nd grade and are now of driving age. Of their role over the last few months, Kathleen says, “They are really steering the ship of the program.”

Ana Lucía says that one of her favorite parts of the program was being on the Board. “I really began to feel empowered to make a difference in my community,” she says.

The Board typically met every Monday and talked about the visioning and transitioning of the program, wrote and sent out appeal letters, and planned events like the Youth Philanthropy Summit.

Youth Board meeting in 2002

Youth Board meeting in 2002

The Summit was always a special time of year. “This year we had about 140 students who came to the Summit. They got the chance to meet about 30 different organizations from across the city that do a wide variety of work and really connect with them on a different level,” explains Kathleen. After that initial meeting, students then workshopped and dug into the root causes of issues they care about most. “It’s really complicated and complex and compacted. It was really cool to see everyone from the 16-year-old Youth Board members to the kindergartners who were there,” says Kathleen.

Continuing the mission

Sometimes it seems crazy to think that something as small as a penny could ever make a difference in anyone’s life. A piece of currency that has been, for some years now, considered almost unnecessary in our economy and one that is constantly on the verge of becoming obsolete. However, the mission of the Penny Harvest program is to turn one person’s inept coinage into a student’s philanthropic development that benefits the community.

“The most meaningful social change that’s happened in this country, it’s the youth and young adults who’ve led that effort,” Mike explains to describe the program’s impact. “But we’re even taking it down to kindergarten age and saying, ‘Well, they can do that right now.’ We don’t have to wait until they’re high school or college age, or wait till they’re in their 30s. Let’s not waste time. Let’s support them in doing that now.”

If you are interested in assisting Penny Harvest in finding a new host organization, please contact Common Cents through Mike Beebe at 206.354.7312 or mpbeebe@gmail.com.

40th Anniversary Timeline, 1984: Building coalitions & advocacy campaigns

SHSC 1984

1984

In the early eighties, Fremont Public Association helped organize coalitions of providers, starting with the food banks, which joined together as the Seattle Food Committee (SFC). Solid Ground continues to staff and provide leadership to the coalition.

The FPA also played a key role organizing the Survival Services Coalition, which led to the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC) in 1987. SHSC is currently comprised of more than 250 agencies and fights for local, state and federal funding to support programs for people in need. From the early days of leveraging $500,000 in city support for human services, grassroots organizing has led to over $40 million in annual investment.

Molar Majority 1984

Molar Majority Campaign: Our Fair Budget Action Campaign led the successful effort to reinstate dental services for adults living on low incomes after the state cut adult dental benefits in 1982. The work to get quality dental services to all Washingtonians continues in our current efforts to promote Affordable Care Act health care coverage.

 

 

 

Integrating financial empowerment

Dollar bills with whistleWe are thrilled to announce that the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) – with funding from Bank of America Charitable Foundation – has invited Solid Ground to participate in a new financial empowerment Intensive Learning Cluster! The 18-month program launched in January 2014 in Washington D.C. Judy Poston, the current project coordinator and Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coordinator, and Joy Scott, Supportive Services Manager, attended.

Last March, Solid Ground completed a six-month Intensive Learning Cluster with CFED. The original goal of the first Learning Cluster was the implementation of a financial empowerment plan.

However, the project leadership team – including Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director and project point person at the time, and Judy Poston – soon realized that one standard model would not apply across the entire range of programs and services offered by Solid Ground.

The Learning Cluster became an opportunity to develop a model of financial empowerment that can be integrated into all aspects of our work. “We held focus groups,” Kira explains, “assessed where we were at, what staff was interested in, what they were doing, and what they wanted to do more of; we needed to know how we wanted to move forward. It’s always challenging to bring a service to scale at that level – to bring it across the organization – when that can mean so many things for the different programs with different services and needs.”

Kira and Judy were able to create a framework that included four key opportunity areas and action steps. These areas will be the focus of the new Learning Cluster this year.

The first area focuses on enhancing staff skills to build knowledge of and confidence in personal finances so all staff – from administrative to frontline – can better serve the community. A toolkit of resources and a refined referral system of financial services will act as guidelines for the integration of the financial empowerment plan. The final area will focus on program metrics to track progress and assess the needs of the community.

Kira explains that it is important for Solid Ground to incorporate financial empowerment because “it does carry throughout the work that we do to truly overcome poverty. Within the communities that we serve through our programs at Solid Ground, and even the different programs offering different services, there’s always the component of stability, independence, and financial security.

“We want to help folks work with the resources they have and build upon family strengths. We want to meet basic needs, but beyond that we want to talk about income and asset development – so they’re not only making ends meet, but feel confident and are able to thrive financially and move forward in other areas.”

And all of this, Judy sums up, “can help to end the cycle of generational poverty.”

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1979

 Home Care 1979

1979

While the UN dubbed 1979 the “International Year of the Child,” for Solid Ground’s predecessor the Fremont Public Association (FPA), it was the “Year of the Senior.” That’s because in 1979 we launched Home Care services to help low-income seniors and adults living with disabilities to remain safely in their homes. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Home Care expanded to serve the earliest victims of the AIDS epidemic. While our Home Care program transitioned to another agency in 2008, advocacy through the Senior Care Coalition – which the FPA started – has resulted in the State providing more than $150 million a year in Home Care services.  

Housing Counseling 19791979 was also the year we began Housing Counseling to provide technical assistance and support to help tenants and homeowners avoid eviction or foreclosure and maintain stable housing. Housing Counselor Bess Ervin (left) later initiated one of the region’s first holiday “Adopt-a-Family” programs to give people in transition happier holidays.

 

Hunger Action Center 1979

 

And while McDonald’s was busy launching the “Happy Meal,” we were lauching the Food Resources program to work with food distributors and other service providers to coordinate and maximize the efficiency of Seattle’s emergency food system.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 2001 a year of tragedy & hope


2001

Looking back at the year 2001, it is hard to remember anything other than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. A few other historical bullet points:

  • George W. Bush was sworn in as President.
  • The Congressional Budget Office projected a $5.6 trillion dollar federal budget surplus over the next 10 years!
  • The Taliban began destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
  • In the Netherlands, the Act on the Opening up of Marriage went into effect, which allowed same-sex couples to marry legally for the first time in the world since the reign of Nero.
  • Locally, the Seattle Mariners set a record for winning baseball games, but flamed out in the playoffs.
  • The Nisqually earthquake shook the Seattle region, causing significant damage in Pioneer Square.

Financial Fitness 2001

For Solid Ground it was a time of piloting new ways of responding to the changing needs of our community.

We developed the Financial Skills Education program, later renamed Financial Fitness Boot Camp. The program offers money management classes, skill-building workshops and personal support for families working to attain financial and housing stability. Over the past few years, the program has been part of a national Learning Cluster to develop best practices for the field.

Working Wheels 2001Recognizing that lack of affordable transportation was a barrier to accessing well-paying jobs, in 2001 we partnered with Port Jobs to launch Working Wheels. This program received used fleet cars from the Port and the City of Seattle, as well as donations from private donors. The cars were brought up to safety and service standards by our Transportation Department mechanics and sold at affordable prices to people who needed a car to get or keep a job. We partnered with a local credit union to get favorable loan rates, and even provided ongoing maintenance through the short-lived Community Garage. Working Wheels was closed in 2009, a victim of changing economic conditions that made municipalities hold on to their fleet vehicles longer, and made fundraising for the program more challenging.

Undoing Racism 2001

2001 is also the year Solid Ground committed to undoing institutional racism:

  • Trained staff in Undoing Institutional Racism and cultural competency.
  • Formed a multi-racial staff-driven Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) to organize internally and begin to identify and prioritize anti-racism actions to better serve our clients.
  • Engaged staff and community members to recognize and take action against racism in our own lives and communities.

Responsible Lending 2001Additionally, our advocacy work ramped up its efforts to address predatory lending in 2001. The Statewide Poverty Action Network was a founding member of the Seattle/King County Coalition for Responsible Lending (SKCCRL), which increased awareness of and helped consumers avoid predatory loans, and worked with local lenders to increase affordable loan options without limiting credit access. Our staff  served on the founding SKCCRL steering committee and were active on its committees.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1986

Broadview 1986

1986

Redeveloped an apartment building and relocated the Broadview Emergency Shelter there, adding transitional housing with comprehensive case management and support services for residents.

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Seattle Housing Levy

Led the effort to pass the Seattle Housing Levy, preserving and creating low-income housing and providing services to move people beyond shelter. To date, the Levy has funded construction of more than 10,000 affordable homes, provided down-payment loans to more than 600 first-time homebuyers, and rental assistance to more than 4,000 households.

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Seattle Workers Center

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Started the independent Seattle Workers Center, creating union jobs and organizing displaced or laid-off workers to protest unfair labor practices (e.g., lockout from unemployment benefits).

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1974

1974-fpa-door-circle

1974

In the wake of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration of the War on Poverty, the North Seattle Community Service Center (NSCSC) opened in Fremont, then one of Seattle’s most economically devastated neighborhoods. A decade later, the Nixon administration slashed funding for many Great Society programs and the NSCSC was at risk.

Pat Proulx headshot

Pat Proulx, FPA founder, still actively working for a better world in Belfair, WA.

In response, local Fremont activists, including Pat Proulx and Fremont Baptist Church’s Rev. Bob Walker, re-formed the NSCSC as the nonprofit Fremont Public Association (FPA, renamed Solid Ground in 2007). In a community known for rabble-rousing artists, Vietnam war casualties and rampant poverty, the agency grew out of a strong community spirit: “to hell with the feds, in Fremont we can take care of our own.” That pioneering spirit of innovation, working together and taking action to build a better community, led to such innovations as curbside recycling, Community Voice Mail, Broadview Shelter and many others. And it still informs the work of Solid Ground today.

On Friday, April 4, 2014 from noon–1:30pm we’ll celebrate Solid Ground’s 40th Anniversary Building Community Luncheon.

We’ll highlight Solid Ground’s 40-year culture of innovation, partnership and action – which has created and supported some of our community’s most effective anti-poverty programs. We will lift up individual stories of leadership and courage, and discuss our plans for the future.

We’re honored to have Spike Lee as keynote speaker. With a body of work that spans four decades, he has written, produced, directed and acted in countless films that illuminate the impacts of racism in our country. Spike talks candidly, and with authority, about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood, using as a backdrop a rare behind-the-scenes look at his celebrated body of work. Solid Ground is pleased to bring such an influential person in the conversations about race and social justice to our event.

Leveraging 40 years of innovation, partnership & action to end poverty & income inequality

Mayor Mike Murray holds a press conference with co-chairs of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, David Rolf of SEIU 775NW, and Howard Wright of Seattle Hospitality Group

Mayor Mike Murray holds a press conference with co-chairs of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (photo from the Seattle.gov website)

2014 is Solid Ground’s 40th year of Innovation, Partnership and Action! It appears that this will also be the year our society recognizes that income inequality is a fundamental and worsening issue for the United States and the world. Income inequality is not a new issue to us. Solid Ground and other Community Action Agencies recognized long ago that poverty is a result of societal barriers and structures which favor people with privilege and oppress those without. Since the origins of community action, the poverty rate has not increased, but income inequality – including lack of income mobility – has grown greatly, especially in the last 25 years.

The severity of income inequality and its impact on all of us is why I readily accepted Seattle Mayor Murray’s request that I join his Income Inequality Advisory Committee. The 25 members of the Committee are charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle. Income is, of course, important – and as we know well, just one of many factors that affect a person’s ability to thrive. I view these minimum wage negotiations as an opportunity to raise awareness and, hopefully, action on the larger issue of addressing opportunity gaps that prevent income and social mobility for all residents of King County and our state.

I appreciate that our new mayor has wisely identified that multiple strategies are needed to make Seattle an affordable and equitable city, including:

  • Increasing minimum compensation levels for low-income Seattle workers.
  • Ensuring universal health insurance regardless of employment.
  • Making affordable housing more available and closer to where people work.
  • Preserving and strengthening our public transit systems to connect people to jobs.
  • Creating a fertile environment for the creation and growth of new jobs and industries.
  • Offering education and training options structured to help working adults succeed and linked to better paying jobs in demand by industry.

Appropriately, these strategies specifically address the root causes of poverty and would positively impact many of the people who access our services. Innovation, partnership and action are what have enabled Solid Ground to be an agency with impact for 40 years. I’m confident that by working together with our public and private partners, advocating with the people living on low incomes across Washington State and in collaboration with our nonprofit peers, Solid Ground’s fourth decade will bring success in making an impact as an agency working to end poverty and income inequality.

Broadview’s trauma-informed care pilot helps children overcome the impact of homelessness

girl guarding herself with hand upChildren living through homelessness require a variety of services to meet their basic needs, such as nutritious meals, a warm bed, and school supplies. Often, however, the experiences of homelessness permeate far deeper than tangible support can reach.

At the beginning of last year, the City of Seattle selected Solid Ground’s Broadview program (emergency and transitional housing for women and children) to implement a pilot that provides coordinated behavioral health services for children in transitional housing. According to Symone, Children’s Program Supervisor at Broadview, there isn’t another application of this type of service, to this extent, in transitional housing.

“I think it’s unusual to have a focus on children, specifically with mental health,” Symone explains. “Usually people will focus on the adults – the kids are resilient, and will recover and be fine. This pilot recognizes that kids have been through a lot of trauma, and homelessness affects them very strongly as well.”

Children of families experiencing homelessness are exposed to the same stress and trauma as their parents, such as constant uncertainty, hunger, fear and even violence and abuse. Despite this, it is rare that children – having had their physical needs met – receive the psychological care they need to cope.

Symone expresses that “these families have had historical trauma in their lives. They are homeless. Even if they’re in stable housing now, many have had years of instability. That trauma doesn’t just go away because they have a permanent place to stay.”

The pilot helps children work through their traumas. At the core of the pilot is the trauma-informed care model. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes this system as a means to “understand the impact of trauma on child development and learn how to effectively minimize its effects without causing additional trauma.”

One goal of the pilot is to create a team of supporters all working together to provide an individualized care plan designed for each child. This wraparound service coordinates family members, service providers, case managers, housing providers and school teachers to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on in the child’s life and how to address issues as they arise. “A therapist could offer advice or tips when issues come up,” Symone clarifies, “so that everyone is trying to have the same boundaries and the same ways of working with the child.”

With the assistance of three therapists, two full-time and one part-time, Broadview has enrolled 28 children in the pilot. “Initially, we weren’t sure if anyone would be interested,” recalls Symone. “But we are at capacity right now. A lot of other families would like to join because they’ve heard positive things about all the support.”

While the child therapy services are full, the pilot also provides a Parenting Support Group with a trauma-informed curriculum five to six times a month. Symone states that this service is “really popular among the families.” Families are encouraged to attend at least 10 sessions during their stay at Broadview so that they can understand how the experience of homelessness is affecting their children and learn how best to support them.

Symone expresses that all those involved in the program have “been able to see that the families have been really supported through the pilot. I think it’s a good model. Outside providers are really happy about being included and informed about the children and what’s going on with them. They’ve seen a lot of growth from the kids that were maybe struggling, or we are able to sooner catch the kids that are struggling.”

50th anniversary of War on Poverty a time to celebrate, reflect & rededicate

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the State of the Union address and launched what he called the War on Poverty, stating:

Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

This historic call to action led to the Economic Opportunity Act, the Food Stamp Act and the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, it led to the creation of an array of federally funded programs targeting various aspects of poverty, including Community Action Programs, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, Community Health Centers, Pell Grants, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Job Corps, Legal Services and the Federal Work-Study Program.

Solid Ground and our forebears – the Fremont Public Association and the North Seattle Community Service Center – were formed out of the Community Action movement. We are one of 30 Community Action Agencies (CAA) in Washington State and more than 1,100 across our country, serving people living on low incomes in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories.

Fifty years later, we know that poverty and social and economic inequities remain an unresolved and unacceptable reality in our country – a chronic and severe problem that disproportionately impacts people of color. I recognize this reality and I also reject the claim that the war to end poverty was a failure. In the ensuing five decades, our societal problems have become much more complex and our country’s economic growth continues to benefit an increasingly smaller portion of our nation’s population.

Through the past 40 years, Solid Ground and our Washington State Community Action Partnership have helped hundreds of thousands of people living on low-incomes change their lives for the better. Once, we focused on passing out food and clothes and finding people day jobs. As the causes and attributes of poverty have become more complex, so have our services. Now we address the multiple intersections of homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, mobility, education achievement, financial literacy and asset building, access to affordable health care, food and nutrition, and institutional racism.

Through 40+ years of innovation, partnership and action, we have accomplished much, and there is obviously much more to do. Among Solid Ground’s priorities in the coming year are:

  • Representing the nonprofit community on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which is charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle.
  • Continuing our leadership on the Equity in Education Coalition to address the achievement gap and deliver on the promise of a quality education for all Washingtonians.
  • Work with the national learning cluster to further Financial Empowerment and Asset Building efforts for our constituents.
  • Implement Rapid Re-Housing, Trauma-Informed Care and other pilot programs as we continually seek out best practices and more successful interventions.
  • Through direct services, and in collaboration with our education and community partners, ensure that all youth served by Solid Ground are on a stable path toward post-secondary education and career success.
  • Leverage the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, in partnership with King County, to ensure that all of our residents have equitable access to quality affordable medical and dental coverage.
  • Increase and improve the ways we engage with our community, especially by involving the voices and real-life experiences of people living on low incomes in the political process and in shaping our work.

2014 is both the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty and the 40th Anniversary of Solid Ground! In 1964, President Johnson ended his State of the Union Address by saying, “I ask you now in the Congress and in the country to join with me in expressing and fulfilling that faith in working for a nation, a nation that is free from want and a world that is free from hate – a world of peace and justice, and freedom and abundance, for our time and for all time to come.” In 2014, that statement is my commitment and my ask of each of you.

Editors noteOne of the ways we will be recognizing this milestone is by providing platforms to lift up voices and stories from the struggle to overcome poverty and thrive. Soon, we will recast the Solid Ground Blog as the Story Ground, to host our stories and yours. Sign up here to have posts emailed to you, or contact Communications Director Mike Buchman to learn more about sharing your story.

Community Report 2012: ‘Breaking the cycle of generational poverty’

Solid Ground's Community Report 2012

Solid Ground’s Community Report 2012

Hot off the press! Solid Ground’s report to our community on our 2012 work and accomplishments is now available. “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” reports on recent impacts we’ve made in our community. But it also highlights the long-term positive change our programs can have in the lives of the people who access our services, and the ripple effect this has on their children’s lives.

As Solid Ground approaches our 40th anniversary, we remain focused and committed to our mission to end poverty in our community, and to help our society become one without racism and other oppressions.

Our engagement in this work is only possible through the support of passionate and committed employees, donors, volunteers, and government and nonprofit partners. With this continued support, we look forward to working ever more purposefully to help families and individuals overcome the challenges of living in poverty and progress to a place of thriving.

Feel free to share “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” with others who may be interested in our work. If you’re not already on our mailing list and would like a hard copy of the report mailed to you, please email your mailing address to publications@solid-ground.org.

We are all ears…

Dog with big earsSolid Ground wants to hear from you about how you see us compared to some of our peer agencies.

This “brand perception” research is not about how we talk about our work, but how YOU think about us and our peers.

Please follow the link below to this 10-minute survey, which closes Tuesday, July 23.

www.surveymonkey.com/s/2QNWR79

We have one more favor to ask: Please forward this email to everyone you know who’s actively concerned about poverty in our community.

The more respondents we have, the better we’ll understand how our whole community thinks of Solid Ground and similar agencies, and to better communicate with our community. Thank you!

Financial Empowerment yields compound interest

Remember “Home Ec” classes? At high schools across the country, students learned about household finances: how to save money for a rainy day, how a loan works, and what compound interest does.

Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Over time, we’ve seen financial management get more complicated and financial literacy training harder to come by. How you handle your money is a critical skill set for anyone. But for people living in poverty and facing or experiencing homelessness, it can be the key to transforming their future.

For years Solid Ground has supported clients in gaining these financial empowerment skills in a classroom setting or through one-on-one coaching. But these formats have limited our ability to reach a broad section of the community.

Now, thanks to a partnership with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), Solid Ground is part of a unique national Intensive Learning Cluster to develop ways to integrate financial empowerment throughout the breadth of our programs.

Solid Ground was selected as one of five agencies from across the country to participate in a six-month pilot project with CFED, which was launched with a four-day gathering in Washington D.C. this fall. Judy Poston, Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Coordinator, went to the kick-off and gave this report:

The purpose of the Intensive Learning Cluster is to work with CFED staff – as well as the other four agencies – to come up with ideas to successfully integrate financial empowerment education in all Solid Ground programs. We hope to take a holistic approach to this process that will teach people how to build personal assets and become financially empowered.

One of the most inspiring parts of the conference was keynote speaker Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ. His keynote speech challenged and called us all to action to continue financial empowerment work so that all Americans can learn to be self-sufficient.

The five agencies are looking at how we can build on best practices to integrate financial empowerment education into all of our programs. That way everyone will have a chance to achieve the American dream. At Solid Ground, this means we’re looking into developing a common intake process, tracking long-term outcomes, and getting staff buy-in to the process.

There will be a lot of discussion on how to get our staff to willingly buy-in to this model when, perhaps, their own finances might not be in great shape, or they might feel overwhelmed at being asked to add one more duty to an already full workload.

Among our next steps:

1) CFED staff will come to Solid Ground in January, 2013 to work with our staff as we develop our financial empowerment plan.

2) We’ll hold a focus group composed of housing staff who have attended the Burst for Prosperity Financial Coaching Training to discuss how they see themselves implementing financial empowerment into their work with folks we serve.

3) We’ll share powerful, successful client stories, being cheerleaders as well as advocates for this implementation process.

I am thankful to work with folks who are so dedicated and compassionate. And I am confident in our joint success as we work together to deliver financial empowerment services to everyone we serve.

Participating in the Intensive Learning Cluster represents just one of the ways Solid Ground is working to infuse all of our services with best practices learned from across the agency’s 30 programs and services to increase the synergy of our work. That means the people who come to us for temporary housing, nutrition education, legal support or other services will get the full benefit of all of our programs. Now that’s what we call compound interest!

Solid Ground names new leadership team

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Solid Ground is pleased to announce that Gordon McHenry, Jr. has been named President & Chief Executive Officer. McHenry most recently served as the Executive Director of the Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based academic enrichment and leadership development agency. Rainier Scholars increases college graduation rates for low-income students of color by providing comprehensive support from 6th grade until college graduation.

Solid Ground also announces that Sandi Cutler has been named Chief Operations & Strategy Officer. Instrumental in the growth of Bastyr University and other agencies, Cutler brings significant strategic, operational and organizational development experience.

The hirings highlight a time of intentional introspection and change at the King County nonprofit, as the agency implements a new strategic plan calling for increased collaboration and coordination among its services.

“We are thrilled to bring this talented leadership team to Solid Ground,” stated Lauren McGowan, Solid Ground Board Chair. “We undertook a national search and in our own backyard found leadership whose careers and life stories embody the notion of creating opportunity for all to thrive,” she said.

“People in our communities continue to suffer from the prolonged economic downturn,” McGowan said. “As an agency, we are being called on to do more, often with less. Gordon and Sandi have the vision and skills to expand Solid Ground’s response to poor and oppressed people, as well as our advocacy to address root causes of social injustice.”

“Fundamentally, it’s about leadership,” McHenry said. “We envision Solid Ground being perceived as a key leader when it comes to addressing economic disparities.”

McHenry previously served in a variety of executive leadership roles in The Boeing Company, most recently as Director of Global Corporate Citizenship in the Northwest Region. A lifelong member of the Seattle community, McHenry has served on many local boards, including the Central Area Motivation Program (now called Centerstone), United Way and The Seattle Public Library. He currently serves on the boards of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Seattle University.

McHenry’s father was the first African-American engineer promoted into management at Boeing, as well as the first person in his family to graduate from college. His mother grew up and was educated in a segregated community in Texas. Their experiences gave their children deep respect for education and a strong belief in being active community leaders.

Cutler’s father led efforts to desegregate public schools in the Central Valley of California. His legacy bore fruit in Cutler’s early work as a political activist and management of progressive political campaigns and reform efforts.

“I am delighted to team up with Sandi Cutler. His activist roots and organizational development experience will help Solid Ground strengthen our community by giving more people the firm foundation they need to succeed,” McHenry said.

Ruth Massinga, Interim CEO since August 2011, will continue working with Solid Ground through the fall on several strategic initiatives.

“Ruth stepped out of retirement and guided us through a strategic refocusing. We are indebted to her for the gift of leadership,” McGowan said.

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