Solid Ground Board members get their hands dirty at Marra Farm

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Solid Ground’s Board of Directors‘ visit to Marra Farm on Saturday, 9/13/14 was more than just a quick stop by and tour. Board members rolled up their sleeves, turned compost, pulled weeds and invested in Marra Farm. Each Board member in attendance last Saturday now has a story to tell to friends, coworkers and potential funders about the investment they made in Marra Farm. The farm is no longer a place that exists on paper or in their minds; it’s something real and something to be excited about! The visit to Marra marks a shift in how each Board member thinks about the farm; they are connected and engaged.

As a former Executive Director of a small nonprofit, I know the value of an engaged Board of Directors. Gordon McHenry, Jr., no doubt, was proud of his team, and I am personally grateful for the time and effort each Board member contributed.

On behalf of the Lettuce Link team and the entire Marra Farm community, we thank all of the Board members in attendance and those that contributed in the planning and logistics of the day.

Seattle Community Farm: classroom-style

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The Seattle Community Farm (SCF) is really something else. Most of my young adolescent life was spent going to school not too far away in Columbia City, but the neighborhood now is much more developed than it used to be. So I got lost.

But three light rail crossings and two U-turns later, a large recently installed sign told me that I’d arrived to a narrow (1/2-acre) strip of land that would otherwise be overgrown with blackberry bushes and giantess maple-looking trees. The strip has been turned into a full-blown farm in which 100% of the produce goes to local residents of the Rainier Vista housing development in the Rainier Valley neighborhood and the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

For the next three hours, I found myself beside complete strangers who had one thing in common with me: We came to work. We harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and zucchini. We prepared beds and planted spinach and bok choy. We cut back some invasive, thorny blackberry vines. And we did something adults don’t often like to admit: We learned.

Scott Behmer is the SCF Coordinator. He told us all what to do with such enthusiasm and timeliness I had a feeling he was well versed in shaping up us (sometimes clueless) volunteers. And while we hacked at those pain-seeking blackberry bushes and burrowed our faces deep into the leaves of cucumber plants searching for ripe ones, Scott made a point to engage us in little-known facts about plants and the food system in Seattle. Like the fact that there are 29 food banks in Seattle (we all guessed around 10). As we prodded the thorny cucumbers, he asked us how long we thought the vegetables we picked that day would last at the food bank. A couple days, we guessed uncertainly? Actually, it was a couple of hours. That’s how in demand fresh, organic produce is in a community that cannot afford it otherwise. One other volunteer mentioned her experience seeing people in a pretty long line at a local food bank. All eight of us fell silent, looking for more ripe cucumbers that weren’t there.

As city-dwellers, small scale gardening and urban farming can make us feel more connected to the food we eat. Being part of the growing and picking experience can put the food on our plate under an entirely different light. But planting, watering, nurturing and harvesting while knowing full well that you, yourself, will not be able to enjoy the taste of them (save a few rogue cherry tomatoes) – but that someone with little time and fewer resources will – well that adds an entire dimension of humanity to food. Think on that a while.

But also keep in mind that there’s no standing around at the SCF. Get to work!

Financial Empowerment: Together We Thrive

This blog post was written by Emily Kuo, a Duke Engage intern who has been working with multiple departments at Solid Ground this summer, but with a focus in Supportive Services. The post originally appeared on the Duke Engage Seattle blog
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Week four has come and gone. I can hardly believe that we’re past the halfway mark in our placements and our Seattle experiences. We’re in the thick of things now – our routines are set and projects are flooding in. What was once a vague suggestion of an action plan is now concrete and the deadlines very real. One of the main projects my community partners at Solid Ground was hoping for me to complete was a video that can be viewed by both the staff and the clients they serve to energize them about financial empowerment and how it could benefit everyone, staff and clients alike. For the past three weeks I had been collaborating with Vera Zhang, the Duke Engage intern placed in the Communications Department of Solid Ground, to conceptualize, film, and edit the project.

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Gerald Wright, the Hunger & Food Resources Director, on set

I had not met Vera until we were both in Seattle and discovered we were placed at Solid Ground. Our friendship developed into a trusting team dynamic as we learned that our placement supervisors wished for us to work on this rather large-scale project together.

Teamwork is a tricky thing. It’s an ever elusive concept and a frequent buzzword flying around large corporations, small firms, and pretty much every social sphere we’ve been in since we were children. So what is it? What does teamwork mean to you? Is it all in the bottom line and whether your group accomplishes the goal, or is it something that permeates through every step of the creative process?

To me, a great team doesn’t need to have fancy frills and titles. It doesn’t take multiple experts coming together to form a dream team. A great team can be as simple as two minds coming together, understanding the mutual end goals, adapting to whatever limits exist and balancing out the others’ strengths and weaknesses.

It was a great pleasure working with Vera because we both wanted to do whatever it took to create a professional, high-quality output. Though there were some setbacks and limitations to the equipment and short timeframe, we both tried to think innovatively about how to overcome these trials and fed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm. There were some rough moments during the process when we broke a light bulb and frame on the first day, but we were there to encourage each other despite the fact that we both wanted to cry in frustration. When we felt overwhelmed, we’d allow ourselves a pick-me-up at Molly Moon’s or our favorite sushi lunch. We allowed each other the time and space to recharge and reapply fully to the project.

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On the set shooting Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director

Moreover, as we worked intimately over the course of these last few weeks, I found that our strengths and weaknesses really complemented each other. Vera’s attention to lighting and detail were crucial in the ultimate high-level production, whereas I wouldn’t have weighed the importance of such things. I was much more focused on the lines and whether they felt natural or scripted, and finding the energy in each individual actor. Her skill in PowerPoint proved integral when she created beautiful animated infographics that appeared much more high-end than mere PowerPoint wizardry. Meanwhile, I edited the footage and music and we synthesized the two to create the final rough-cut. Through it all, our supervisors Mike and Judy were endlessly helpful and gave so much guidance and support to us. When our video finally got its debut at the All-Staff Meeting on Wednesday, July 23rd, there was a gratifying sense of relief and pride. So many of our coworkers came together to help us and be a part of our video despite their busy schedules, and it was so wonderful for everyone to see the finished product.
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Our video being displayed at the All-Staff Meeting

Take a look!

The Human Dignity Support Project: Building bridges between services & recipients

Juanita Maestas, HDSP founder, and Lee, HDSP tech expert and volunteer

Juanita Maestas, HDSP founder, and Lee, HDSP tech expert and volunteer

After nearly abandoning her own battle for government assistance, Juanita Maestas – founder of the Human Dignity Support Project (HDSP) and a Statewide Poverty Action Network board member – took up the fight for others desperately striving to overcome the cycle of denial that runs unchecked through the government assistance application and receipt process.

Unsure of how to continue after being denied once again – this time for failing to fill out forms properly – Juanita just sat in the DSHS (Department of Social & Health Services) lobby and watched people plod out after their own appointments with caseworkers. Applicant after applicant shuffled by muttering similar accounts: “They’re going to deny me again,” or “I didn’t turn this in in time.”

Juanita saw a pattern that was invisible when looking only at her own experience. “I listened to everyone’s story and I thought, ‘They need help.’ That’s why I started the Human Dignity Support Project.”

A system of hurdles & barriers

Many assistance program acceptance practices are bound by strict rules and policies designed to prevent abuse and fraud. More than anything, however, this system makes it incredibly difficult for those needing help to receive the benefits they are entitled to. A cycle of denial is the usual outcome – a constant refusal of services based on mundane mistakes and misunderstandings that leave applicants and recipients feeling defeated and hopeless. In addition, they experience disrespectful interactions with staff, misinformation, long wait times, and inability to contact caseworkers in understaffed offices.

“When you’ve been denied, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking,” Juanita disclosed, “because these people are trying their best, but employees don’t take the time to help them. They don’t take them aside and say, ‘Hey, you forgot to get this,’ or ‘You didn’t sign that.’ They don’t explain anything to them. They just automatically deny them and force them to start the whole process over again.”

Witnessing as an antidote to gatekeeping

HDSP is a volunteer-operated project that works to overcome the barriers of the application and receipt process by providing motivation and moral encouragement, reducing isolation, and accompanying the applicants and recipients to appointments to act as witnesses.

At an initial meeting, HDSP volunteers explain the process and go over all the necessary documentation, making sure everything needed is accounted for and signed properly so they have no reason to be denied.

“Runners” act as witnesses at the appointments by recording information and interactions that can be used later in cases of disrespectful behavior or to refute baseless denials. If applicants or recipients are denied or lose benefits, HDSP volunteers provide guidance on overcoming such barriers even if that means looking into other options.

Advocates for self-advocacy

Support extends beyond cultivating an atmosphere of respect at appointments and ensuring the participants receive assistance. “We’re here for the participants to be sure they have someone to fall back on,” Juanita emphasized. “It’s important to act as a bridge between services. My participants know there are other sources of help out there. We show them how to take the initiative and to call around even though they’ve been told by DSHS that there’s no help for them.”

HDSP encourages confidence by nurturing potential and guiding participants towards self-reliance, independence and capability. Participants learn to take an active role in their well-being, and through this process, develop a sense of dignity and self-respect.

Volunteers urge participants to use their experience and knowledge about the system by acting as witnesses for future applicants. According to Juanita, participants are eager to “keep it going.” Moreover, participants are encouraged to share their stories with legislators to make changes to the system and give back to the community.

The Human Dignity Support Project is operated by volunteers who donate their time and resources to the project. Your donations are greatly appreciated and help the project pay for office supplies, travel and other expenses.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information, please visit our website at www.hdsp.org, leave a voice mail with a return number at 206.388.5000, or email humandignitysp2013@gmail.com.

Olympic Hills Elementary School’s ‘Walking School Bus’ route gets a makeover

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, volunteers and members of Feet First – an agency dedicated to creating walkable cities and neighborhoods – set out to clean up a path frequently taken by students on their way school.  Drew Devitis, Feet First’s Volunteer Coordinator and a Solid Ground Apple Corps Member, led the project along with Apple Corps Member Zoe Harris. We would like to share the following article Drew wrote describing the project and experience.

Before & after image of Walking School Bus stair route

Before & after image of Walking School Bus stair route (photo by Feet First)

On a cool, crisp January morning, twenty volunteers gathered at Seattle’s Olympic Hills Elementary School to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and serve the greater community at large. Several compassionate volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital and UW Radiology, along with some independent volunteers, joined Feet First in cleaning up the route of a Walking School Bus, a parent-led walking group that leads students to school on “Two Feet Tuesdays.” The passion and commitment from these volunteers definitely fit the character of the day as well as the creative altruism that MLK, Jr. espoused.

The focus of the volunteer project was on cleaning up a staircase and walkway within yards of Olympic Hills Elementary, which is one of four Seattle schools currently participating in a Safe Routes to School initiative supported by Feet First. This walkway had fallen into disarray over the past several years. Thorny blackberry bushes and wild entanglements of English ivy had been steadily encroaching upon the stairs, making it feel like an uninviting place for kids walking to school. Moreover, rain soaked leaves, slippery pine needles, and other debris littered the walkway, making it potentially hazardous for children and adults alike.

Before and after bramble cleanup (photo from Feet First)

Before & after bramble cleanup (photo by Feet First)

In order to approach the task at hand, volunteers formed two separate work groups. One set of volunteers, armed with rakes, brooms and clippers, tended to cleaning the walkway and trimming the vegetative growth that was encroaching the stairs. The other group, equipped with loppers and shovels, concentrated on removing a thick patch of blackberry bushes, which had overtaken the bottom of the staircase and made the path feel like a rather uninviting place. After a few hours of hard work, the staircase and walkway became a much more appealing place to walk.

By the end of the day, volunteers had impressively filled up an entire dumpster with invasive species and assorted yard waste. The stairs, which had been obscured by the thicket of blackberries, are now clearly visible from the street. Additionally, mulch was spread throughout the site where the blackberry bushes had once been, creating a warm, pleasing feel.  A neighbor driving by in her car even stopped to get out and thank the volunteers for all their hard work in transforming this public walkway into a more pleasant, welcoming space.

“You would be surprised how much of a difference a clean, inviting walkway can make to enrich the experience for kids walking to school,” says Jen Cole, Safe Routes to School Program Director. “The effort to clean this once untidy walkway, combined with the installation of safety flag buckets in the nearby area, will really go a long way to make the Olympic Hills neighborhood safer for walking.”

This project was made possible by volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital and UW Radiology through the United Way of King County, and the community of Olympic Hills Elementary School. We’re also thankful for the support of Public Space Management Program, Development Lead Jennifer Wieland and the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division, which generously provided the materials used for this project.

Feet First day of service restores Dearborn Park elementary sidewalk

Editor’s note: This article was written by a Feet First volunteer and is reposted from the Feet First! blog.

By Amanda GarberichGroup Working MLK Day 2013

Outfitted in snug caps and down jackets, the volunteers gathered at Seattle’s Dearborn Park Elementary to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, the importance of service and community, and the value of maintaining safe sidewalks for students before setting out to restore the school’s Walking School Bus routes. Several volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital cited King’s commitment to service as a source of inspiration for the day’s mission.

Dearborn Park Principal Angela Sheffey Bogan was motivated by the second-term inauguration of America’s first African-American president, the live footage of which she’d watched with her family that morning. Another volunteer watched a video of King’s “I Have a Dream” with his son the night before. All agreed that joining altruistic forces to make the school’s sidewalks clean and safe was a fitting way to honor the civil rights hero (and masterful marcher) on this eponymous national holiday.

Volunteers split into groups in order to tackle five neglected sidewalks. These stretches of concrete, on the north and south ends of the Beacon Hill neighborhood elementary school, were steadily surrendering to the tangle of weeds, ivy and litter that’d been creeping over its surface since the city installed the sidewalks five years ago. For the students treading these walkways every Wednesday as part of the school’s Walking School Bus, the leafy debris and vine-like weeds were an eyesore and a safety hazard.

Dearborn Park Elementary is one of four Seattle schools currently participating in a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiative supported by Feet First. Principal Bogan, a frequent Walking School Bus “driver,” recognizes the incalculable importance of the weekly tradition. “The value of having a safe and clean sidewalk for my students is immeasurable,” Bogan stressed.

Before & After MLK Day 2013Wielding rakes, loppers, and, in some cases, machetes, volunteers set to work. They swept rain-soaked leaves into tidy piles, trimmed low-hanging branches and encroaching English Ivy, and removed thorny Himalayan Blackberry canes. AmeriCorps member Gordon Padelford and Feet First Volunteer Coordinator Darcy Edmunds (a Solid Ground Apple Corps member) offered tips on tool handling (rakes down, shears down, gloves on). Younger volunteers, some who “ride” the Dearborn Walking School Bus, scoured the ground for litter and used litter pickers to lift bottle caps and candy wrappers with a sense of duty that belied their youth. One neighbor came out and applauded the group as they cleared the sidewalk near an empty lot. The stalwart group worked with systematic efficiency until, just a few short hours later, the sidewalks, once slick with leaves and overgrowth, gleamed in all their walkable, gray glory.

“You might not think that a clean sidewalk would be such a big deal, but a few years ago, I actually saw a little girl lose her shoe in the muck here,” says Jen Cole, SRTS Program Director. “Now there’s a weekly walking school bus, and a growing number of students who walk here every day – it’s great to see a team of volunteers populating the back streets and clearing away the debris!”

kids walkin on clean sidewalk after MLK day of serviceTo volunteer on a project making it easier and safer for people to go by foot, please contact Feet First by calling 206.652.2310 ext. 5 or emailing darcy@feetfirst.org.

This project was made possible by volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital through United Way of King County, Solid Ground’s Apple Corps, and the community of Dearborn Park Elementary School. Seattle Public Utilities’ Adopt-a-Street program and Seattle Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division generously provided tools used for this event.

Washingtonians love to volunteer!

This post was contributed by Chelsey Loeffers, Solid Ground’s Volunteer Coordinator.

Community volunteers and Solid Ground Board Members at a Seattle Community Farm volunteer work party

Community volunteers and Solid Ground Board Members at a Seattle Community Farm volunteer work party

Volunteerism in our country has hit a five year high, says the recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America report from the Corporation for National & Community Service. In 2011, over 64 million Americans donated almost eight billion hours of volunteer service to organizations nationwide!

Washington ranked 9th out of all 50 states in volunteerism rates; 34.4% of our residents volunteer! Our region specifically also came out on top – the Seattle-Metro area ranks 3rd in volunteerism out of the 51 major metropolitan areas in the country. That’s over 936,000 volunteers!

Solid Ground depends on its volunteer force to create positive change in our community, and we are so lucky to live in a community, state and country that values volunteerism. Congratulations to each one of you for being a part of such a positive big picture.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at Solid Ground, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteers@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6825. Find more information about volunteerism in the United States at www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.

Youth in action: Jackie’s Volunteer Network

Jackie contacted Solid Ground about adding us to her great website, Jackie’s Volunteer Network, which connects high school students with volunteer opportunities in the Seattle/Tacoma area. We think it’s great and wanted to help get the word out!

Hello! My name is Jackie and I’m in ninth grade. I began creating this website (http://jackiesvolunteernetwork.com/) because I wanted to find volunteer opportunities but found that difficult since most volunteer opportunities are only for adults. As a result, I decided to create this website to help other teens find volunteer opportunities as well.

Visit http://jackiesvolunteernetwork.com/ for youth volunteer opportunities in Seattle/Tacoma!

Visit jackiesvolunteernetwork.com for youth volunteer opportunities in Seattle/Tacoma!

My parents kindly offered to pay for the website, and I have been building it ever since. My goal is to keep this project going and to always help teens find meaningful volunteer work. I have personally found that helping others find volunteer work is just as rewarding as volunteering myself.

Over time, I have also volunteered for a few of these organizations myself. These volunteer experiences have given me the goal to continue working with nonprofit organizations. For all the teens that use my website, I hope you find these opportunities exciting and meaningful. For all the organizations who have helped me build this site, I hope you find some wonderful volunteers!

If your organization has volunteer opportunities for youth, Jackie would love to hear from you! She can be contacted at jackiesvolunteernetwork@hotmail.com.

Adopt-a-Family needs your help

It’s Adopt-a-Family season here at Solid Ground! If you have already joined in the holiday cheer, thank you so much! Your bright spirit and unstoppable drive has made this program a cornerstone of the year-end holidays for many families in transition! If you have not yet adopted a family for the holidays, please do!

For 25 years, our holiday Adopt-a-Family program has been a vessel through which community members like you have donated time, energy and resources to serve our families who are working to overcome poverty, homelessness and the hard-hitting effects of the economy.

Your donation amount is entirely up to you and your family; we recommend donating $25 – $50 per family member. This year we have approximately 250 families that average four people per family. The families you will sponsor are participants in Solid Ground’s JourneyHome and Family Shelter programs – all are receiving financial counseling and case management to support them on their way to self-sufficiency.

VISA and MasterCard gift cards are perfect because they can be used anywhere like a regular credit card! They are sold at banks, grocery stores, and local drugstores. Gift cards to places like Target, Fred Meyer and other department stores of your choosing are great because they have a wide variety of products: toys, clothing, food and household items. Grocery store gift cards are also needed; the families find them very helpful in being able to afford items at the grocery store that they may not otherwise be able to afford on their limited incomes. You can give a combination of gift cards as well.

We would like to have all the gift cards dropped off by Thursday, December 8 so families have enough time to do their shopping before the holidays, but we will remain flexible until all families have been assisted. Along with the gift cards, we are asking sponsors to donate stocking stuffers or wrapping paper, ribbon and bows. This will allow you to put your own family’s personal touch into your gift card donation!

Last year, some sponsors assisted several families by giving gift cards and granted items from their wish list. If you are interested in that option, we can support you, your family, group or team in making that happen. **We do not have the capacity to organize and store thousands of items our families, which is one of the reasons why we cannot accept individual gifts for every family member.

If you are a super busy person, and cannot drop by the office, your online donation is welcomed!

For more information about Adopt-a-Family, contact Indiigo 206.694.6825 or indiigok@solid-ground.org.

Nurturing a philanthropic community

While the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is known worldwide for its philanthropic leadership, on the sleepy western edge of Ballard another institution has developed as a cutting-edge incubator for the next generation of philanthropists.

Adams Elementary, Ballard's philanthropic juggernaut

For the last five years, Adams Elementary School has been cultivating young leaders and empowering them to make a difference.  In connection with Solid Ground’s Penny Harvest program, Adams students have  raised many thousands of dollars for area nonprofits. In the process, they have created a community culture of engagement.

“The whole school really buys into it,” said parent volunteer Bobbi Windus, who has coached the Adams Penny Harvest effort all five years.

“The kids really look forward to it and I really love seeing the kids develop their leadership skills.” Windus said. “Now that we have done it for several years, younger kids are really looking forward to it. [I hear things like:] ‘Oh when I am in Fourth Grade, I’m going to be on the leadership team!’ A mom emailed me at the beginning of this year. Her younger daughter had just started kindergarten and she was thrilled to death when she got her penny collection bag because she had seen her older brother do it.”

Daniel, Riahna and Roscoe carry some of Adams' 2011 harvest

This year Adams students collected 22 sacks of change, totaling nearly 700 pounds of coins, and a few hundred dollars in paper money.

Erica Slotkin volunteered to deliver Adams’ 2011 harvest to the Penny Harvest office earlier this week. A parent at the school, with a son who is now on the Leadership Roundtable and a daughter whose kindergarten coin collection jar was overflowing, Slotkin also works for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental agency that has received support from the Adams Penny Harvest.

“It’s been really rewarding for me as a mom and as a community member,” she said. Two years running, I’ve been able to take my son to the spring Penny Harvest Youth Summit as a younger kid not yet involved. He was able to watch and get to see what was going on at that level. To be able to share what I do as my work with him was also really neat.”

The Roundtable is each school’s leadership group. They promote the coin harvest, assess what issues students are concerned about, and make granting decisions with money allocated to them by Penny Harvest.

Riahna points to Caring Cards in the school cafeteria

Every student at Adams participates in identifying issues by writing or drawing on Caring Cards that the Roundtable groups by theme. The cards are displayed in the school cafeteria.

This democratic process gives them guidance in their research of area nonprofits. In 2010 Adams granted $1,000, which was distributed among Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, PAWS and New Beginnings shelter.

Roscoe, who is now serving his second year on the Roundtable,  was a strong advocate for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “I really like what Puget Soundkeeper is doing, because my family has a boat,” he said. “I hate it when we go through really polluted water.”

In addition to allocating grants, the Roundtable coordinates community service projects, such as a food drive to benefit the Ballard Food Bank, or a toy drive to benefit Treehouse.

Adams students also make an annual video project to promote the Penny Harvest.

Display boards at the school promote Penny Harvest

“You have to hit the ground running, because the Penny Harvest occurs early in the school year,” said Windus. “That first year I said, ‘Guys we have to do a kickoff assembly,’ but not a single one of the students was willing to talk at the assembly. So, we came up with the video idea.”

This year’s video features Abe the Penny looking for ways to be helpful around the school. Previous videos have spoofed Star Wars and taken other lighthearted approaches to promoting philanthropy.

“It’s really become a deep part of our culture,” Windus said.

Huge Success at 2011 Hempfest Voter Registration Drive!

Volunteer Juan Vega & the Washington Bus' Vote Bot registering voters

This past weekend, Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network – in partnership with Seattle Hempfest – registered over 1,100 new voters! We made a significant impact in changing what voting power looks like in Washington State as part of our outreach and Vote for a Change Campaign, which focuses on voter registration, education and vote participation in low-income communities and communities of color.

An essential part of our outreach is to educate communities about the 2009 Voter Restoration Act, which Poverty Action was instrumental in passing. The Voter Restoration Act restores the right to vote for 400,000 previously incarcerated persons, who are also disproportionately people of color.

Before this law passed, previously incarcerated people were required to pay all legal financial obligations to restore their voting rights. This barrier particularly impacted people living on low incomes. Now, you can vote as soon as you are no longer under the Department of Correction’s supervision.

Of our 1,100 newly registered voters, at least 50% were previously incarcerated persons. This was a great accomplishment, and we will continue to do this imperative outreach so that people of color and people living on low incomes will no longer be marginalized from the political process.

A volunteer shared, “People who had been denied the right to vote, some for over 10 years, were so empowered and excited when they registered, I wanted to cry.”

Special thanks to Juan Vega, a Poverty Action Board member, whose life passion is to address race and class inequalities through empowering previously incarcerated persons. Juan was instrumental in organizing a beautiful weekend of sun, food, fun and anti-poverty movement building!

We had over 60 volunteers with us throughout the weekend, registering and engaging with people about how we can tackle the root causes of poverty with our voting power! Among our volunteers were Cheryl Cobbs Murphy, Executive Director of Solid Ground, members of Equal Rights Washington and Washington Bus, Poverty Action Board members and dedicated volunteers. Thanks to all of our amazing members and volunteers, we were able to increase the voting power of low-income communities and communities of color!

Penny Harvest teaches children the power of philanthropy

Anna Zuckerman in yellow got a doggy kiss from Miss Floppy as her fellow Penny Harvest panel members looked on. From left they are Leah Zuckerman, Selma Taber, Amy Ijeoma and Chloe Denelsbeck. Miss Floppy's owner and President of AARF (Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation) at far left is Heather Enajibi. Photo by Patrick Robinson, used by permission of the West Seattle Herald.

As I sat in Room 307 at Madison Middle School yesterday, I was reminded once again why I love my job.

The Penny Harvest youth philanthropy roundtable that aptly named themselves “How to be Awesome” were interviewing organizations that they were considering granting funds.

The questions they asked “were probing and pointed and the answers provided real insights into both the spectrum and depth of their need,” according to a write up about the group in the West Seattle Herald.

I found myself uplifted by the fact that I was sitting in a room with six young people in 5th through 8th grade, and they were having open and honest conversations with adults about real life issues that our communities face every day: child abuse, homophobia, suicide, homelessness, mental illness, animal abuse. Here’s the best part: Not only were they engaged in dialogue, but they were deciding what they can do about it…and adults were coming to young people for help to figure it out!

Real change happens when we engage all parts of our community in problem solving, and young people are critical partners in creating change. These students are doing just as they named themselves, teaching the world “how to be awesome.” Thank you Madison Middle school student leaders.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in supporting Penny Harvest, or want to learn more about the program, email Mike Beebe: mikebe@solid-ground.org.

Adopt-a-Family

kids & santa hats

Adopt-a-Family - helping create Happy Holidays for more than 25 years!

Solid Ground believes everyone deserves to have a Happy Holiday!

We know that you feel the same. Every year our Adopt-a-Family program relies on the generous support from wonderful people like you.

Now, you can lift the spirits of families and make the holidays special for those who need it most. You and your friends can work together to make a difference in the lives of people struggling to overcome homelessness, unemployment, and the hard-hitting effects of the continuing economic downturn by donating gift cards, and if you like, a small present, to our annual Adopt-a-Family program. Every single dollar helps families have a Happy Holiday. We appreciate all that you do. Thank you!

You can donate directly on our website or email Indiigo Klyne to get more information about getting involved.

This time of year is especially hard for parents who already have a difficult time providing for their children. They rarely get the opportunity to go shopping for gifts for their kids. This year parents will be able to give gifts that they have picked out specifically for their loved ones.

Many of the families we serve are homeless, moving in and out of shelters and other short-term housing. Having a lot of unnecessary material items makes moving very difficult. Traditional holiday gift giving programs, though very helpful, often end up giving families too much ‘stuff.’ Gift cards allow parents to buy what they need while keeping in mind their children’s likes and dislikes.

Making the holiday program centered on gift cards allows parents to take control of one aspect of their lives and creates the steps for them to be less dependent on others. Solid Ground has very successful case management programs. We work very closely with the families we serve to create lasting changes in their lives. To do this, we have to trust that parents will make the right choices for themselves and their children. Case managers sign up only those families that have the greatest need and the ones they are confident will make the most out of the Adopt-a-Family program.

The gift card approach allows an individual’s dollars to go farther. In previous years people have bought hundreds of dollars worth of gifts, thinking they had to buy everything on a family’s wish list. Now sponsors can donate small amounts and still make a big difference. Individual contributions can be combined to support a family.

Logistically it is much easier to give gift cards. Solid Ground doesn’t have storage space to collect and organize gifts for hundreds of families. Plus, not having to go shopping for items saves valuable time for our sponsors at an already very busy time of year.

Volunteers needed to harvest backyard fruit!

Lettuce Link’s Community Fruit Tree Harvest is gearing up for the 2010 season and we would love for you to harvest with us!

Volunteer holding a box of plumsFruit is a valuable community resource. In 2009, Community Fruit Tree Harvest volunteers harvested more than 19,600 pounds of apples, plums and pears from Seattle fruit trees and delivered it to people with limited access to organic produce (through food banks and meals programs). Harvesting this fruit depends on significant community support.

Community Fruit Tree Harvest volunteers…

  • “Scout” trees in your neighborhood to see if they are ripe before sending volunteers to harvest.
  • Harvest at scheduled work parties.
  • Be “on call” to harvest fruit in your neighborhood. (An email will go out to the volunteers in a particular neighborhood when a tree there is ripe. Available volunteers will make arrangements for picking.)
  • Provide garage storage for ladders, picking buckets and/or harvested fruit.
  • Deliver harvested fruit to food banks and meals programs.

If you would like to volunteer, please attend one of our volunteer orientations and fill out a volunteer application.

Tuesday, July 27, 6:30pm – 7:30pm, Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW)

Wednesday, July 28, 6:30pm – 7:30pm, Wallingford, Solid Ground (1501 N 45th St)

Thursday, July 29, 6:30pm – 7:30pm, Northeast Library (6801 35th Ave NE)

Monday, August 2, 6:30pm – 7:30pm, Douglass-Truth Library (2300 E Yesler Way)

If you’re unable to attend an orientation, we’d still love to have your help! Contact Sadie at fruitharvest@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6751.

If you have fruit to donate, please contact Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline at 206.633.0224 or help@gardenhotline.org.

Volunteer picking Asian PearsOther fantastic Seattle Fruit Harvest programs:

City Fruit, Phinney / Greenwood

City Fruit, Crown Hill

City Fruit, SE Seattle

Community Harvest of SW Seattle, West Seattle

Colman Neighborhood

Fremont Fair seeks volunteers

The only way to make the solstice weekend in Fremont even better than just attending the legendary Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade is to volunteer to help make it all happen! (The Fair is Saturday and Sunday June 19 & 20, 2010.)

The Fair has a nifty web interface to sign up. Click on over and become a part of Seattle’s most well-loved summer event!

Solid Ground no longer produces the Fair, having transitioned it to our good friends at the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. Still, the event helps raise money to support our programs!

What I learned at the Youth Philanthropy Summit

Cedar Valley Community School was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the Second Annual Youth Philanthropy Summit last Thursday.  This Penny Harvest event was a chance for students from all over the greater Seattle area to come together and collectively share and learn more about philanthropy and social justice work.  Ten student leaders from Cedar Valley attended the conference.  I would like to take a little bit of time to share some of what I learned last week about the students with whom I work.

Ana Lucia Degel, former Penny Harvest Youth leader

I learned that they are dedicated:  Each of them knew that it would take two or three public buses (and a bit of a walk) to reach the Seattle Center, and an hour and a half of travel time each way.  They all signed up regardless, knowing that this opportunity was important to them.  I didn’t hear one single complaint on the buses.  What I did hear were discussions about what would happen, about which cities and counties we were passing through, about how their day went, and what they learned from the different organizations.

I learned that they are collaborative: During the morning portion of the event, Cedar Valley participated in a “scavenger hunt,” learning information about dozens of community organizations.  All ten of our students worked together harmoniously.  They shared resources, helped each other find clues, and encouraged each other the whole time.

I learned that they are confident: During Lulu Carpenter’s keynote speech, our student leaders joined over a hundred other students in shouting out affirmations.  With smiles on their faces, they declared that they believed in themselves, and that they could change the world.

I learned that they aware and inquisitive: After the keynote address, there were four choices of caucus groups to attend:  youth leadership, animal welfare, the environment, and homelessness.  Our students split up fairly evenly between the latter three issues.  I joined one group in the homelessness caucus.  They were quiet, respectful, and engaged while the panel introduced many difficult concepts.  Fourth grader Allan even bravely raised his hand to ask a few theoretical questions throughout the day.  They all paid attention, and were able to share many new things that they had learned during the conference.

I learned that they are full of joy: A highlight of the day was when a seagull took off with Paola’s pizza at lunchtime.  It was totally unexpected and funny, and nobody laughed louder than Paola, even after she got a new piece.  It was refreshing to see that in the middle of a day dealing with heavy, heavy issues, they could fully experience the humor and lightness of that moment.

I learned that they will all do amazing things in their lives. It’s true.  It’s cheesy, but it’s true.  How do I know this?  They’ve already come together to accomplish some pretty amazing things.

Solid Ground volunteer recognized by United Way

Solid Ground Advisory Council member, advocacy volunteer, bike rebuilder (more on that in a future blog post), SG blogger, and all around good guy Peter Zimmerman was featured in this post on the United Way King County Blog as part of their National Volunteer Week activities.

Congrats, Peter!

Captain Z in Olytown

Can children really make a difference?

It’s the kind of thing we like to talk about. We make vague, general statements about how children can change the world. How often, though, are they given the chance to do so – how often are they given the chance to lead?      

Thanks to Penny Harvest, students at Cedar Valley Community School in Lynnwood are getting a real opportunity to become youth leaders and community change makers. The yearlong program starts in the fall, when student leaders bring the school together to gather pennies.      

Students at a Penny Harvest school show off their coins
Students at a Penny Harvest School (not Cedar Valley) show off their coins

Cedar Valley sits in the center of a low-income community, with 80% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch. That didn’t stop students from collecting pennies. They found creative ways to reach their goal. “We took our time and my mom helped me find pennies on the street,” said fifth grade Penny Harvest leader Jessyia. When asked why she donated her time to gather pennies, Jessyia answered, “Some people are struggling with different stuff and they need our help.”       

 

All together, Cedar Valley students raised over $800 in pennies, and received a scholarship to reach $1,000. So where does all the money go? Diego, a fifth grade leader, responded: “We can help people – help organizations so that they can do something good where they’re at and help somebody.”        

Twenty student representatives from fourth to sixth grade are quickly discovering that the easy part is over. Now they must begin the long process of making responsible decisions on how to best help the community with the money they raised. The program generated enthusiasm in Cedar Valley students, eager to help their community. “It helps other people,” said smiling fourth grade leader, Paola. “By working together we can fix stuff up.”        

During the next few months, Kathleen will be reporting to us on the Cedar Valley youth Roundtable’s process and progress as they turn  from fundraisers into community grant makers and problem solvers. To get email reminders about her posts, please use the box on the upper left side of the blog and sign up!

Every penny counts…when you are building a new generation of philanthropists!

The United Way posted a great bit about our Penny Harvest Program on their blog. Here’s a link.

Penny Harvest volunteer

Penny Harvest builds excitement for philanthropy!

Everybody talks about reforming the justice system, here is something YOU can do…

We probably don’t need to restate or debate the obvious: our justice system has huge problems. Institutional racism, lack of support for reintegrating ex-offenders into their communities, misguided priorities, I mean how much time do we have to talk?

Turns out, not much. The proverbial stuff is hitting the fan with failures of the system made all the more clear by recent high-profile shootings in communities throughout Puget Sound.

So, let’s stop talking. Here is something you can do: Seattle’s Community Court  is an alternative to incarceration through participation in community service and connection to social service resources. To quote from their website:

Rather than go to jail, non-violent misdemeanor offenders who enter the program can help themselves in overcoming their own problems as they complete community service to improve the neighborhood and make a variety of comprehensive social service linkages to help address the root and underlying issues of repeated criminal behavior.”

Community Court participants clean up New Holly P-Patch

Community Court participants clean up New Holly P-Patch (from Community Court website)

One of the cool things is that defendants who enter the program give back to the community where their offenses occurred. In addition to their service work they attend classes for skills enhancement and positive change, complete referrals to agencies that help them with benefits, housing, employment, education and alternatives to prostitution and substance abuse.

Turns out Community Court is always looking for more service project sites throughout Seattle–especially projects that can be done indoors when the weather is ugly. They are also looking for community members who would like to sponsor (lead) defendants in service at various sites.

Here’s where we all come in: figure out how your favorite non-profit community agency could utilize Community Court participants. Volunteer to help lead the project. If that sounds like more than you want to commit to, talk to the folks who run your favorite community groups and help them brainstorm how to use this incredible resource.

Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps has been a proud partner of Community Court for a number of years. In fact, team member Stan Kehl recently completed work on the spiffy new Community Court website. (Nice work, Stan!) We invest in this incredible program because it works. You should, too!

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