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.

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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.

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