Sonya Campion celebrated

Sonya Campion (Campion Foundation photo)

Sonya Campion (photo courtesy of the Campion Foundation)

Sonya Campion and the Campion Foundation have long been among the most powerful champions of the role nonprofits play in moving public policy through advocacy. This summer they were recognized for their visionary leadership by being named to the Top 50 Power & Influence list published by the The NonProfit Times.

“Campion is a rare hybrid of talented fundraiser and shrewd funder,” writes the Times, a nationally recognized leader covering nonprofit management. “The social entrepreneurs in the Northwest also love her passion for new ideas and methods of ‘catalytic philanthropy’ and service. Now she’s collaborating to push board members to speak up for and advocate for organizational mission.”

Campion has long supported Solid Ground and our Statewide Poverty Action Network advocacy branch.

“Sonya Campion understands that the support of advocacy and systems change work is key to ending homelessness. Her understanding of the importance of strong nonprofit operations has benefited so many in our community,” states Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground. “Campion’s work has encouraged nonprofits to work together and believe in the strength of collaboration when addressing issues that affect us all. Her leadership has allowed nonprofits, funders and the community to have substantive conversations on how to create significant change.”

“Solid Ground and our community are blessed to collaborate with Campion,” McHenry says. “Her personal and foundation support of our advocacy and our operations has been extremely important in helping us fulfill our mission to end poverty.”

Sand Point’s Got Talent! A joyful noise

What do you get when you combine the following ingredients: a balmy summer evening, live music, about 25 kids dancing as if no one was watching, watermelon, cupcakes and a talent show? A delicious recipe for BIG fun!

800 Watts of Bass

800 Watts of Bass

Residents and staff of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing (SPH) campus came together last week for a unique event: the first performance of the jazz fusion band 800 Watts of Bass – fronted by bassist and SPH resident Luke Jackson – followed by a talent show for anyone brave enough to step up and share. Let it be known: SPH residents stepped UP!

When the band first started, the mood was pretty mellow. A handful of families and teens trickled in. Little girls in princess outfits (later dubbed the “Let It Go” girls) giggled and huddled together on a blanket. Moms and siblings with babies in strollers found spots on the lawn. But as soon as the band started grooving, the Let It Go girls did just that, leaping into joyful dancing which hardly stopped all evening.

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

Luke says his mom got him into music as a kid, and it kept him out of trouble and gave him a positive community to be part of. He’s played in various bands over the years but had to stop performing about three years ago when his kidneys began to fail. He’s still in dialysis three times a week and on a transplant waiting list, but thanks to regular exercise, his energy has returned enough to allow him to pick up his passion again and start gigging. His current goal is to complete an album by 2016.

Luke says, “I loved seeing the kids come out; it was basically for the kids. Music doesn’t have an age on it.” With a beaming smile, Jasmine Johnson danced with her two girls, Kenya and Niylah – and then with any other kids who got drawn into her circle of energy.

The band played for about an hour, and then the true joy exploded when about 10 resident kids and youth – and a few adults – put their talents out into the world. From drumming to poetry readings to solo and group songs (cue the Let It Go girls) to dancing to gymnastics to lip syncing, the night was filled with laughter and support and parental pride.

There was real budding talent on display. Niylah owned the mic as she belted out The Greatest Love of All. Kids who initially hesitated to start their acts were bolstered by supportive cheers from the crowd and soon dropped any sign of nervousness. Even some adults got into the act: Resident Joy Sparks moved seamlessly from cuddling her infant to rocking out, surrounded by a cheering crowd of devoted young dancers.

For me, trying to be a fly on the wall and soak it all in, I was in awe of the community Sand Point Housing residents have created for themselves. And when the program officially ended, the fun didn’t stop: Jasmine says, “We danced and danced, and then when the talent show ended, we danced some more.” It was a magical, joy-filled night we’ll remember for a long time.

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Bold changes needed to create equitable opportunities to thrive

Our Solid Ground Vision articulates a future where our community is one that has evolved to a place “…where all people have equitable opportunities to thrive.” I’m concerned that for the majority of our King County community, ‘thriving’ is an aspiration that may not be achievable in our lifetimes without bold and dramatic changes.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Last year I participated in a bold step to strengthen the wage structure for those who work in Seattle. The success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee has sparked a remarkable movement to increase the minimum wage in cities across the United States. Yet an even more difficult challenge to achieving thriving exists: our complex and profound regional housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing, for rent or ownership, has been developing for many years. The majority of King County residents are now feeling the adverse effects of the housing crisis, which are a form of oppression for those who live on low and moderate incomes.

We are a community challenged by the dilemma of growth. The attractiveness of Seattle/King County as a place to live, work and retire plus growth has made Seattle and several other municipalities in King County unaffordable for most residents. Building upon the success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray created a 28-member cross-sector advisory committee to support Seattle in developing a plan to address our housing crisis. This group was charged with engaging the public and using their experience and expertise to guide the process.

In late July, after over 10 months of collaborative work, the Seattle Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee published its recommendations to Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council. Reflecting the depth of this crisis, the HALA Advisory Committee report is 75 pages in length and contains 65 recommendations. These recommendations were developed from the perspective that “Seattle seeks to be a diverse, prosperous, and equitable community where individuals and families can build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods. Housing costs rising faster than incomes threaten to make that aspiration unattainable.” (HALA Advisory Committee Mission Statement)

In addition to HALA’s work, we are also looking at the alternatives proposed in the City Council’s candidate-led Progressive-Plan-Seattle-Housing, the Community Housing Caucus Report and the Committee to End Homelessness Strategic Plan, and engaging with other stakeholders.

Members of Solid Ground’s leadership team contributed to efforts that created both the highest minimum wage in the country and HALA. Their input came directly from the lived experiences of our program participants and the increasing difficulty encountered by our housing case managers when trying to find quality affordable housing in greater Seattle. My perspective is that housing affordability in Seattle and King County is one of our most significant social justice issues.

The HALA recommendations are a beginning to the creation, adoption and implementation of much needed public policies. Solid Ground will continue to be an active leader in this fight for housing justice. It will take time, significant struggles and skillful collaborations. And when we are successful, Seattle will be a thriving city that is a diverse, prosperous and equitable community where individuals and families build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods.

The Check Cutter: Solid Ground’s Finance Team saves the day

As Solid Ground’s Communications Intern, Kyle Harvey, rides off into the sunset to his next journey with a NY film producer, he leaves us with an original screenplay.

 

The Check Cutter_Page_1

The Check Cutter_Page_2

Food for thought

Hunger to me means “where’s the nearest Chipotle?” Beyond that, it doesn’t matter where the food came from, or who got it there, as long as it ends up in my stomach. I waited in a parking lot with over 30 employees of various food banks around Seattle, wondering what they saw in food that I didn’t. We were waiting to begin a van tour, organized by Solid Ground’s Food Resources staff, of local organizations committed to alleviating hunger in the community.

I mistook this as a straightforward endeavor. People need to eat, and they can’t afford grocery stores, so let’s give them the food they need to survive. As the tour progressed, I realized that ability to pay is only a secondary and contributing issue to access. Food is fickle: It spoils, it has bad crop years, it needs nutrition expertise for a balanced diet. The economy of food relies on brilliant crop combinations, precise warehousing, and efficient distribution. In the nonprofit food world, innovative logistics are the difference between a family eating dinner or going without.

The tour took us through every gear of the well-oiled food machine, each organization fully aware of the specific role they play in bringing sustenance to people most in need of it. Although each organization wrestles with obstacles unique to their role, they all attempt to answer the fundamental question of how to allocate their limited resources to feed the most people.

Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Around lunchtime, the now bumpy roads brought us to the birthplace of food – the farm. The 39 acres of Seattle Tilth Farm Works swept us into a peaceful quiet. A few men and women in straw hats pulled wheelbarrows of crops across the shifting landscape. I felt close to my food’s roots.

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Seattle Tilth has made it their mission to involve the community in farming by providing education classes, not just on farming techniques, but also on the marketing and business aspects of successful farms. After completing their education, farmers receive subsidized land based on their income, enabling people of all incomes to participate. As farmers gain proficiency with their crops, they are encouraged to scale up their land to eventually generate a livable profit. The community sharing framework helps minimize the overhead infrastructure cost that often prevents beginning farmers from getting started.

There is ingenuity behind a successful crop. One woman plants the Three Sister combination: corn fed by fixed nitrogen from the beans, protected from weeds by the squash. The farm has a similar partnership with local food banks, providing them with fresh produce, and in return, using their stale leftovers as live feed for the pigs!

Northwest Harvest

Storing and distributing foods is perhaps the most undervalued component of the food industry. We walked into the squeaky clean Northwest Harvest distribution and warehouse center. The open rooms and slanted floors are all designed to facilitate transporting mass quantities of food. As the tour guide said, the goal of the distribution center is essentially to “fill up, empty out” – referring to the millions of pounds of food they store and then distribute to more than 370 food banks every year.

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

Northwest Harvest is deliberate in how they organize their space. Huge, automatic doors open and close in under 90 seconds, maintaining freezing storage temperatures, and saving countless dollars of electricity and spoiled food. Towering shelves of various food products are organized in an XYZ grid to find and methodically transport items. Northwest Harvest’s relentless devotion to efficiency gives them the financial capacity to provide for so many food banks.

Emergency Feeding Program

Small-scale distribution centers can also provide an effective model. The Emergency Feeding Program does not try to operate on the same magnitude as Northwest Harvest but instead focuses their efforts. Every year, they provide 430,000 emergency meals outside of foodbank distribution hours. They provide bags of basic food supplies meant to last families one to two days. Although they neither work with the quantity Northwest Harvest does, nor offer the selection that food banks do, they provide a vital service: They deliver emergency food all over the state, and think critically about the diverse people they provide food for. They have food bags specific to different cultural communities, baby food bags, bags for specific health conditions, and bags that don’t require any refrigeration.

Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks

On the first stop of the tour and the last stop for the food, we visited the Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks. Both food banks are cognizant of distinguishing between different-sized families, creating systems that regulate how much food you receive based on how large your family is. The Des Moines Food Bank utilizes a conveyor belt process where each shopper is allowed a certain amount of items from each bucket based on their color-coded family size. The Des Moines Food Bank also implements a summer backpack program that serves carefully balanced lunch and snacks for kids at 25 sites.

The Maple Valley Food Bank is a slightly smaller operation that adopts a grocery-style format. Shoppers are allocated a fixed number of points in each nutrition category. The shoppers can browse the food bank at leisure, rather than following a linear route. Differences in food bank setups often result from different space limitations and varying levels of capacity

The Maple Valley grocery style food bank

The Maple Valley grocery-style food bank

Every organization we visited on the tour, although independent in their purpose and methods, universally relies on partnerships and volunteers to help resource their operations. Every organization is alike in their eagerness to expand their services and the earnestness of their goodwill. The various systems come from years of adjustments to figure out how best to feed those who ask. The tour inspired me in just how seriously the organizations confront hunger, each one demonstrating that where food comes from and who delivers it determines how many stomachs it reaches.

 

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Big Picture News: Celebrating our volunteers

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

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: “We couldn’t do it without your support!” But when it comes to Solid Ground volunteers, this nonprofit fundraising mantra is much more than a platitude – it’s a reality.

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

Volunteers like Matt (see our 8/2015 Groundviews lead story) profoundly increase the impact Solid Ground makes in communities across Seattle and King County. Last year, over 5,000 volunteers gave 247,358 hours of service to the Solid Ground community. (The vast majority, 197,936 hours, were contributed by volunteers 55 and older!)

By the Independent Sector’s standard, one volunteer hour in Washington state equals $27.54. In 2014, this translated to nearly $6.8 million in volunteer labor – more than one quarter of Solid Ground’s annual budget! We very literally could not accomplish our work without them.

Volunteering is win-win, changing lives for the better both for our program participants and our volunteers. Volunteers share their talents, learn new skills, and make connections while taking action to improve our community and help our neighbors in need. They play a meaningful role in something big.

Many of Solid Ground’s 22 programs and services rely on volunteers. Opportunities range from one-time to long-term and include…

  • Hands-on projects: Grow fresh, organic food for local food banks, or help renovate residential building spaces.
  • Direct service with people: Tutor and mentor kids coming out of homelessness, or teach children, teens, adults and families about nutrition and cooking.
  • Community outreach: Help communities register to vote, or represent Solid Ground at informational events.
  • Behind the scenes: Help put on events for our program participants and supporters … and more!

Lettuce Link is one Solid Ground program that relies heavily on volunteers to work with and in communities to grow and share fresh, nourishing food.

Lettuce Link Program Manager Nate Moxley says, “Volunteers are the life force of Lettuce Link. Their work and dedication allow us to manage two education and access farms where we host hundreds of classes, field trips and community groups every year.” Additionally, volunteer giving gardeners donate the bounty of their labors, and last year grew more than 55,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables for food banks and meal programs.

Senior volunteers also make an enormous contribution to the Solid Ground community. Our RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) matches volunteers 55 and older to opportunities both with Solid Ground programs and with 52 partner organizations across King County.

RSVP Director Jen Gahagan says, “We are so grateful and appreciative for the support and commitment of our senior volunteers. They provide a wealth of knowledge and experience which help us tackle our community’s greatest challenges.”

Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers!

For more info on volunteering, visit our Volunteer webpage, or contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 206.694.6825 or volunteers@solid-ground.org.

Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

Out from the hallways, into the classrooms

New Holly community members urged Seattle City and King County Councilmembers, and one Seattle School Board member, to reduce how often schools use suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary measures. Frustration boiled from every corner of the overflowing public forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Education not Criminalization of our Youth. The community knows that youth of color are being disproportionately punished in school in ways that undermine their ability to succeed in the future. The school-to-prison pipeline, a reality in which zero-tolerance school disciplinary measures perpetuate future youth incarceration – particularly, youth of color – justifies the frustration.

School2PrisonBanner

Fremont Fair parade banner illustrating the school-to-prison pipeline

Solid Ground President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr., the former Executive Director of Rainier Scholars, says, “The community has known for a long time there was a problem. The municipal and county leaders know there’s a problem. The school district knows there’s a problem, and the data that comes from both the school district and government validates that there is a problem.” With recognition coming from all levels that Seattle schools’ disciplinary structures are dangerously flawed, last week’s forum felt several decades overdue.

Schools, and for that matter the criminal justice system, often rely on punitive justice as opposed to restorative justice, says McHenry, Jr. The referral-suspension-expulsion disciplinary hierarchy takes students out of the classroom and compounds underlying behavioral issues with falling behind in class. Hallways, detention rooms, and youth prisons are all educationally broken environments that sentence students to insurmountable education gaps long after the actual punishment ends.

The community feels suspensions and expulsions should be measures of last resort, necessitated only when physical or emotional safety is at risk. Not looking the teacher in the eye, wearing jeans too low, or other behavioral missteps are better handled as teaching opportunities than justifications for dismissal.

Zero-tolerance policies for poor behavior inherently target certain groups because behavior is dictated by a student’s circumstances. A student who acts out in class because he sleeps in a car and can’t afford breakfast has as much right to equitable education as a student coming from more stable living conditions. McHenry, Jr. argues the goal for education is to “enable educators to educate all youth – not just the model youth that come from a stable home, [are] well fed, and have one or both parents employed.”

More inclusive schools can directly lessen the school-to-prison pipeline. Correlations between how far students get in school and incarceration rates confirms that by developing students’ knowledge, skills and cultural awareness, schools help keep youth out of prison. Although, the schools’ primary responsibility is to teach core subjects, the school has an additional responsibility for fostering a positive environment due to the dominant role they play in children’s lives.

The disconnect between what we assign our schools to do and their unacceptable failure to educate some students also stems from lack of resources. School funding to meet the mandated basic education requirements is not sufficient for supporting a culturally and economically diverse student body, says McHenry, Jr.

Ideally, teachers could create in-the-moment lessons for behavior misconduct that keeps disruptive students in the classroom. This might be as simple as a student learning to recognize their inappropriate behavior, or maybe more comprehensive action including apologies or community service. Policymakers and communities have the onus of getting teachers the support they need so they can productively address disruptive students while still continuing to teach to the entire class.

As one teacher mentioned in the forum, we need to pull students out from the hallways and into the classrooms if we want them to believe that’s where they belong. Forcing students out of learning is educationally and psychologically destructive. Hallways turn into detentions which turn into prisons. Equitable access to quality education is a critical first step to ending poverty. We owe them that.

Voting Rights Act: democracy’s umbrella


VOTE4Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

 -President Lyndon B. Johnson
March 15, 1965

These words preceded the historic August 6, 1965 signing of the Voting Rights Act. Today is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing, which celebrates the significant enfranchisement of voters but also reminds us of our responsibility to relentlessly protect this fundamental right of democracy.

In a special message, President Lyndon B. Johnson demanded that Congress pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA), protecting African Americans’ ability to vote. Until that point, southern states had imposed racist voting laws, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, specifically designed to create barriers for African American voters.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders previously pressured Johnson to pass voting rights legislation, but despite his sympathetic stance, Johnson could not reconcile the political landscape with his desire to aid the Civil Rights movement.  Johnson’s presidential opponent Senator Barry Goldwater was already gaining traction in southern states by questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Bill.

Only after America witnessed police assaulting nonviolent Selma marchers did Johnson have the popular mandate to deliver his iconic speech. It was the fortunate collision of a forward-looking president, brave Alabama activism, and horrific police brutality that allowed a politically divided country to pass the VRA on this day in 1965.

On a state level, activists and organizers have worked to build on the impact of the VRA. In 2009, Solid Ground’s advocacy branch, the Statewide Poverty Action Network, joined with the ACLU of Washington to pass the Voting Rights Restoration Act, which restored voting rights to approximately 400,000 previously incarcerated people in our state.

VOTE3

Solid Ground staff & volunteers join CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. to help get out the vote.

Marcy Bowers, Poverty Action Director, said: “The legacy of the VRA is as important today as it was 50 years ago. Our country still struggles to make peace with its history of slavery and racism. We see this in the news daily: members of the African American and Latino communities dying at the hands of a militarized police force, brave activists demanding change, and a federal government struggling to find the political will to make the needed changes.

“Because of the disproportionate number of people of color in our criminal justice system, this law greatly expanded voting rights for many people of color in our state. Since 2009, Poverty Action’s election efforts have included a special focus on reaching and educating these voters about their rights, as well as registering and engaging them in voting. Through this outreach, we have reached thousands of voters, ensuring that they can access the promises of the national VRA.”

In the year 2013, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the preclearance provision of the VRA. The provision forced historically racist states to get federal approval for their voting procedures. Chief Justice Roberts gutted one of the most effective acts in American history on the basis that racism is not the problem it was 50 years ago. Following the decision, six of nine states announced plans to move forward with more restrictive voter ID laws.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

On this 50th anniversary of the VRA, we must renew the call to ensure that everyone can access the most basic, fundamental right of our democracy. If you’re interested in volunteering with Poverty Action to register voters this summer, please contact Davíd at david@povertyaction.org.

A morning of metaphors

My Saturday morning at the Union Gospel Mission’s 118 Design Workshop was a morning of simple metaphors. Ricky Jordan sat me and my 15 DukeEngage companions down and pulled out two $1 bills. One was clean and crisp – the kind of dollar bill you’d be proud to pull out of your wallet. The other he crumpled between his fingers, and then stomped under his foot for good measure. Which one did we want? The clean one, fine. But which one had more value?

The Union Gospel Mission possesses the unique insight that people unfairly judge themselves based on the image society projects on them. The ministry targets youth heavily influenced by gangs in the Rainier Valley. After having future job prospects crumpled by gang affiliation and incarceration, many of the youth forget that a dollar bill is a dollar bill. I think after being metaphorically laminated and framed on the wall, my Duke friends and I needed the same reminder.

118 Duke Engage

DukeEngage interns, during their summer of immersive service, help out at 118 Designs.

We put on our safety glasses and we got to work. The material at our disposal was not first-class lumber. It was discarded wood, punctured by rusting nails – dismissed as useless. The genius of the Mission’s 118 street outreach program is they saw opportunity in the unwanted wood. They saw the wood for its durable properties rather than its rough exterior.

We got to work trying to pry the nails out using the back end of hammers. This kind of labor-intensive work humbles. I felt embarrassed, using my entire body to pull a single nail from a block of wood and not getting a budge. The loud ringing from a dozen hammers reminded me that extracting these nails was a communal struggle. After endless swaying back and forth, just when all my physical abilities had been thrown into doubt, the nail slipped out from the wood as if it had never been stuck. At first slowly, and then faster as we developed proficiency, newly refurbished planks of wood piled up ready for use.

The 118 outreach program sees their youth through a parallel lens. The program doesn’t try to discard their members’ troubled pasts. The goal is to pry whatever challenges are preventing a stable future, and then use their difficult experiences as opportunities. For instance Ricky argues, what better qualifies a candidate for business or marketing than a history in drug dealing? Managing multiple clients, fostering trusting relationships, and networking a product are all drug peddling skills that within the right framework would translate well to a business setting.

Although we only spent a day prying nails, the members of the outreach program spend weeks using the wood to build furniture. They don’t paint over the finished product. They proudly showcase the wood for what it is now – durable and valuable – and for what it used to be – abandoned and useless. This urban style furniture fares well in the marketplace; 118 sold 62,000 dollars’ worth of furniture at their last annual fundraising event, Catalyst. Despite the furniture’s unfinished look, in fact because of its worn appearance, buyers have confidence that no amount of weight can break it.

Session is officially over: The dust has settled!

After 176 days and edging into a 3rd special session, Washington state’s 2015 legislative session ended in the second week of July. The final budget includes $185 million in new revenue from closing several tax loopholes and increasing some fees. It takes key steps to strengthen our state safety net; invest in early learning, K-12 and college education; provide emergency mental health services; and more.

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Working closely with our communities, we are happy to report that our advocacy led to important wins for equity in Washington state. Here is how our main campaigns fared:

Basic Needs
After years of cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), we saw a 9% increase in the cash grant! This increase also benefits immigrant families who rely on State Family Assistance to meet their basic needs. State Food Assistance was funded fully at 100% (instead of 75%) of the federal SNAP benefit, assisting immigrant families living on low incomes in buying enough food for their families. And Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) now has a 12-month eligibility assessment, which means that a parent won’t lose help with childcare if their income increases slightly due to extra hours or overtime from one month to another.

Unfortunately state funding for Washington Telephone Assistance Program (WTAP), including Community Voice Mail (CVM), was eliminated. CVM provides a stable, secure way for people facing homelessness or who are in crisis to stay connected to critical resources – such as housing and employment opportunities – and accomplish their goals.

Roadblocks to Re-Entry (for previously incarcerated people)
All three of our main campaign priorities – Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), and Ban the Box – gained positive momentum this year though none were passed into law. The LFO bill was voted out of the House almost unanimously and was moving through the Senate before an amended version died on the floor. We are excited to build on this momentum next session!

Consumer Protections
Due to a groundswell of opposition from all across the state, including a lot of media attention, we prevented “small installment loans” (the new payday loan) from being passed. We also prevented passage of several other laws that would weaken our debt protections. We’ll most likely have to keep fighting this fight in the years to come, but it’s worth it. The strong consumer protections you passed in 2009 have saved Washington consumers nearly half a billion dollars in fines and fees.

Your emails, phone calls, stories, and letters supporting revenue and investments in equity in our state made a real difference! Thank you for all the ways you made your voice heard this legislative session to generate revenue and invest in all families in our state. Visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network website for more information.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates 25 years

Shelley Hawkins, longtime disability awareness trainer at Solid Ground Transportation, tells me she’s going to teach me something. She asks me to hold my arm out. In order to assist her from her chair to her walker, I loosely extend my arm. She straightens my arm, tells me to widen my stance. She hoists herself up, using my weight rather than my strength. As both a trainer and user of the ACCESS van service, Shelley has a comprehensive understanding of what people living with disabilities require. She instructs her drivers to never lift passengers. They can lift themselves with a little leverage.

ShelleyHawkins

Shelley Hawkins is a Solid Ground Transportation trainer.

For the past 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has provided that leverage for disabled people to pursue autonomous lives. The act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, and governmental activities. Shelley reminds me that the ADA equal access provisions mean nothing if they are not implemented effectively. She’s devoted the last 15 years to train ACCESS drivers on disability awareness, ADA compliance, and passenger assistance.

Tomorrow, July 22, Disability Rights Washington will hold a 25th anniversary rally at Westlake Park to celebrate the meaningful freedom the legislation has afforded the disabled population. Shelley recalls how “30 years ago, no one was even talking about this. People with disabilities stayed home.” Before ADA, social agencies provided accommodating transportation services only to people living below a certain income threshold. The ADA extended eligibility for those free services to anyone who could no longer take a fixed route due to physical or cognitive impairments.

Shelley trains ACCESS drivers – a service that provides curb-to-curb transportation – because she realizes that transportation is the crucial element of autonomous living. Without services such as ACCESS provided by the ADA, people with disabilities face daily frustrations – unable to get to the grocery store, or perform the essential errands that others take for granted. Even where ADA ideals fall short in practice, Shelley appreciates when “[she] knows they tried to fix it. That matters.” We should celebrate the signing of the ADA because it represents a step in the right direction, the result of people advocating for themselves.

Additionally, I hope the 25th anniversary of ADA opens a conversation about how disability awareness can be improved. In Shelley’s eyes, the ultimate goal is to eliminate obstacles that demand outside assistance. She shared an anecdote from her trip to Germany: “You can’t put an elevator in a castle, but the Germans will pick you up and carry you to the top of the castle if that’s what you want to do.” Although the final outcome appears the same, anyone would prefer the independence of the elevator.

People with disabilities encounter a host of accessibility limitations that fall through the cracks of the ADA. Oftentimes sidewalks will have curb cuts on one side that don’t match the curb cut on the other side. A flimsy lift rather than a durable elevator; small doors on the accessible side of the building; buttons on the wrong side of the door. These accommodations are compliant with ADA regulations, but in an attempt to incur only minimum costs, companies and public utilities fall short of a minimum humanity. They force people to seek assistance where they could otherwise be independent. Shelley expressed some dismay that “you try to go in and change it; they misinterpret what the disabled populations [are] asking for, and change it in a way they didn’t expect. That’s not helping.” Helping is listening.

Much to the credit of ADA legislation, we’ve made great progress in disability awareness the past few decades. People living with disabilities know they can transport to their jobs affordably. They know they can access the restrooms at their jobs. They can get drinks with friends after work. That’s worth celebrating.

Moving forward, a level of personal thoughtfulness should transcend the bare minimum regulations of the ADA in both accessibility design and disability services. More so, programs should be aware that the less external assistance required the better. Shelley tells her drivers that passengers don’t want them breaking their backs trying to assist them. Straighten your arm, widen your stance – provide leverage.

Ramadan: A spiritual journey of purification & compassion

Editor’s note: As we approached Ramadan this year, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of how Muslims celebrate this important holiday and why. I reached out to see if someone from the Solid Ground team would write about their experience of Ramadan. Abdel Elfahmy volunteered! Abdel, a practicing Muslim, is an Operations Supervisor at Solid Ground Transportation. I am grateful to him for sharing his perspective. 

Ramadan MubarakWhy are they fasting?

Whenever the month of Ramadan begins and the sighting of its crescent is affirmed, this marks the celebration of the willpower and strong determination of every Muslim. (This year’s Ramadan began the evening of June 17 and is over the evening of July 17.) Muslims fast from sun rise to sun set throughout the month of Ramadan out of obedience to their Lord and their urge to benefit from such a great spiritual experience. Muslims embark on a month-long spiritual journey of purification, hoping to disclose the wisdom behind fasting and obtain the abundant rewards of this blessed month, the fasting of which is one of the pillars of Islam.

The following are some of the rationales for fasting in this month:

1) The month of Ramadan is a practical self-training process on the sincerity and honesty of the believer: The one who breaks the fast is breaching the pledge with Allah, therefore fasting improves and increases his sense of honesty when he refrains from anything that could break his fast even whilst in seclusion. Of course one is not forced to fast in the month of Ramadan (there is no authority to check man’s behavior or compel him to observe fasting). One may pretend to be fasting in front of people, if his heart does not have any fear of his Lord. Fasting is an act of worship that is offered to the Creator with full devotion and sincerity, hoping only for the rewards from him.

2) Strengthening one’s willpower and determination: One who can tolerate the pain of hunger and thirst, and controls himself from having a sexual relation with his/her spouse whilst fasting, will strengthen determination and willpower. This frees the person from being enslaved to lusts and desires that are harmful. The month of Ramadan grounds a person in self-control. It is the month of radical positive change. When one fasts, one is in control of themself and exercises full control over habits and desires. Some people lose their temper and become ill-mannered if their meal was delayed from its normal time or if they do not drink their morning coffee or afternoon tea. They have become so accustomed to a certain routine that changing it creates a problem for them. Such people are slaves to their routine and habits, and fasting helps the person overcome this behavior.

3) Fasting is a holistic spiritual experience that poses a huge question mark for those who grasp the wisdom behind this obligation: A fasting person should ponder on the spirit of caring and sharing which fasting develops in Muslims. All fasting Muslims share the same pain, hunger, thirst and bitterness of deprivation while fasting with the poor and needy. Ramadan creates a social and humanitarian context that fosters compassion for the needy around the world. By our voluntary hunger and thirst, we realize what it means to be deprived of basic necessities of life. Ramadan is a time to remember and help those who are less fortunate. Moreover, all Muslims also feel the joy of breaking their fast and relish thankfulness to God. The poor people rejoice at their wealthy brothers who are sharing their pain and suffering with them. They rejoice at the thought that their wealthy brothers help them to ward off the scourge of hunger and bitter deprivation. Fasting rejuvenates the concept of social solidarity among the community.

4) Fasting generates in humans feelings of happiness, peace of mind and spiritual satisfaction, and fosters the unity of the community: It inculcates the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood. When one fasts, one feels that he/she is joining the whole Muslim society in observing the same duty in the same manner at the same time for the same motives and to the same end.

5) Fasting is one of the greatest means to obtain forgiveness for sins and removal of misdeeds.

6) Realizing the size of the bounties of God: Fasting makes rich people appreciate the favors of Allah, because Allah has granted what He has deprived many other people from. Refraining from such bounties and blessings for a short period through fasting reminds the rich of those who are continuously deprived, and they thus become grateful to Allah and more merciful towards the needy.

7) Fasting has clear health and psychological benefits: These were disclosed after scientific discoveries were made, and from the insights of those who were blessed with insight and good understanding of the divine obligation. Some of these benefits are:

  • It organizes the person’s heartbeat and relaxes it, since no blood is needed for digestion.
  • It purifies the blood from fat and cholesterol and acids.
  • It relieves the liver from the regular pressure.
  • It reduces the production of the digestive glands, which is usually the cause for ulcers.
  • It protects the person from weight gain, diabetes and kidney stones.
  • It reduces the pressure on the heart arteries.

A fasting person spends his days in carrying out one of the greatest acts, devoting his days and nights during that holy month in remembrance, glorification and worship of Allah, and willfully rejecting all temptations, abominations and the cravings of the human body.

West Seattle Garden Tour: Beautiful gardens support important causes

Garden lovers, save the date! This Sunday, July 19 from 9am to 5am, the West Seattle Garden Tour will offer a day-long opportunity to tour some beautiful gardens in the West Seattle neighborhood: a feast for the senses, and inspiration for creating your own garden havens.

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Started in 1995 as a fundraiser for ArtsWest, the West Seattle Garden Tour has evolved into an annual fundraising event for Seattle-based community gardens and other nonprofits that promote horticulture, education or the arts. Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of seven 2015 beneficiaries.  Lettuce Link’s focus on sustainable food production and nutrition education earned it a spot on this year’s beneficiary list.

The 2015 tour will consist of nine gardens all chosen to illustrate the essential elements of gardening utility and aesthetics. This year, Lunch Lecture Guest Speaker Phil Wood will draw on his experiences as an award-winning garden designer and a nationally published garden writer to share the characteristics of successful gardens.

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Remember, the tour’s turnout decides the funds awarded to the nonprofits, so there’s never been a more important time to stop and smell the roses! Tickets books are $20 and can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets or any of the following retail locations:

For more information, email marketing@westseattlegardentour.org.

A lesson in empathy

I was blown away by the youth homelessness training program, The Ropes: Understanding and Engaging in Youth Homelessness. I expected a rigidly structured program that presented “scenario A” and then handed us “solution A.” Before even going, I resented what I assumed would be a simplified instruction manual on how to handle anything but simple situations. Reflecting on my own expectations, I feared an “us versus them” dichotomy would permeate the discussion.

Tristan Herman and Joseph Seia, the program leaders at New Horizons, knew better. They geared the three-hour conversation so that the fundamental question was not how can we handle youth homelessness, but how do we handle ourselves in the face of experiences we don’t understand. We could have spent the three hours combing through hyper-specific procedures for handling potential circumstances. Instead, Joe and Tristan compiled a list of effective strategies and spent the majority of the program developing one overarching tool – empathy.

We began the meeting with the important task of surfacing all societal and personal stereotypes. We shouted out the obvious misattributions of criminality and laziness that society unfairly imposes on homeless populations. Even though I recognize their fallacy on an intellectual level, I could feel my own prejudice gnaw at me as I voiced the stereotypes out loud. We deconstructed them. We found the kernel of truth in each stereotype and put it in the context of a system stained by internalized racism, self-fulfilling prophecies, and little upward mobility. I looked my own prejudice square in the face and saw how it distracted, how it dehumanized.

I come from a wealthy suburban town. I grew up in relatively stable family and living conditions. I’ve been afforded every opportunity in the world, and as consequence, I exude privilege. I don’t try to but it’s immediately obvious because it’s my reality – I’m lucky. So I carry a certain level of guilt in even trying to relate to individuals often defined by their misfortune. Tristan and Joe offered enormous insight in how they framed this dissonance.

First of all, youth experiencing homelessness develop a plethora of skills and character traits that demand my admiration:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • An unmatched will to survive

I’m envious of how kids my age possess such self-reliance. That’s worth recognizing.

Furthermore, these youth exist in a vastly different culture than I do, however their decision-making rationale is quite similar. They have to keep warm in difficult weather conditions, stay awake in case of danger, and endure the monotony of the day. They develop coping mechanisms. I would too. They must quickly acclimate themselves with street power dynamics, sometimes choosing between survival and morality. I would make the same choice every time. They develop a routine and sense of normalcy that makes uprooting their life on the streets undesirable. I seek a similar comfort in my own normalcy. The skills they develop to survive on the streets translate poorly to a work environment, just as my writing skills would do nothing for me on the streets.

I left the training sessions feeling a little less removed from the struggles these youth face. I didn’t have any more understanding of their experiences, but a greater appreciation for their choices – their human choices. I could see why they were stuck. I would be stuck too.

June 2015: The best & worst of times

If a single month can embody the best and worst of our nation, then I think June 2015 is such a month. I was numb from the horrific murders of nine innocents in Charleston, SC, and disappointed by southern conservatives’ defense of the historically controversial Confederate flag.

A week and half later, I was filled with relief by the Supreme Court’s ruling that over six million United States residents will not lose their affordable health care. The possibility of losing affordable health care was a result of political battles by persons with copious amounts of power and privilege, ironically, many of whom already benefit from government-provided health care.June FYI

Two days later, my belief in the importance of equality was affirmed by the wisdom of the United States Supreme Court as they ruled that same-sex partners have the legal right to be married and for those marriages to be recognized in all parts of our country. All of this, and in just the last two weeks of June.

The design of our federal government to maintain a healthy balance of power is exquisite. The recent rulings by the Supreme Court regarding free speech, Affordable Health Care, fair housing and marriage equality underscore the historic and continuing role that our independent judiciary has in changing our systems to address oppressions in favor of equality and equitable opportunities.

As I reflect upon the killing of African Americans while worshiping in church by someone heralding the hateful symbolism of white supremacy, playing politics to deny low-income persons the benefits of a rich and prosperous nation, and the continuing resistance to recognition of the rights of some to have legal and recognized loving relationships, I come to the conclusion that we are in a fundamental struggle for the soul of our nation. Our struggles in the 21st century are painfully reminiscent of the civil rights struggles of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. What is clear to me is that the same race, societal, economic and health inequities that birthed the community action movement remain relevant and ripe five decades later.

With this degree of challenge and change, we are exposed to too many 21st century soundbites and much too short on serious civic discourse. We need more thought-provoking and actionable input to encourage and support forward movement. In the month of June, I did hear several statements worthy of sharing with you:

As a nation, we are addicted to incarceration.” -Kimberly Ambrose, UW School of Law, Director of the Race & Justice Clinic: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“I’m preparing my children for the world while I’m preparing the world for my children.” -Craig Sims, Chief Criminal Division, Seattle City Attorney’s Office: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“For all the houses we had, I never had a home.” -Jason, an adult Moth Radio participant, sharing his childhood experience with homelessness since age seven: Committee to End Homeless Conference

“Racist teachers? Not intentionally. But as a district, if we know this is going on, why haven’t we taken any real steps to address it as a system?” -Ted Howard, Principal of Garfield High School in Seattle, reflecting on disparities in school discipline correlated to race

This is both the best and the worst of times. While some work has been done, some changes made and some goals realized, there is no room or time for complacency. June 2015 was another call to action, bringing focus and attention to serious issues requiring serious people who are committed to action. I’m glad that at Solid Ground, we are those people.

Just keep driving

A pearl white bus, with the Solid Ground logo painted on the side, pulls up to the Harborview Medical Center on the corner of 9th and Alder. As the doors slide open, the bionic whine of the wheelchair ramp greets us. The ramp does not discriminate between those who need it and those who don’t. Every passenger, whether able-bodied or living with disabilities, benefits from one fewer step to climb. This is the Downtown Circulator Bus – a free transportation service that drives a 30-minute fixed route in downtown Seattle.

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Circulator bus driver Joe McCrea

We drive from one side of downtown to the other. Pass the hospital. Pass the ACRS Food Bank, the Public Library, Pike Place Market. Pass the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Every stop along the route was specifically chosen for the practical help it provides to people living on low incomes or who need access to health and human services.

The driver, Joe, is easygoing and genuine. He’s humble about the service he provides, briefly commenting, “The people who use [the bus] can use the financial help.” But he’s careful not to put people in boxes, recognizing that the $2.50 Metro fare is “kind of a lot, for a lot of people,” and that working class people compose a significant portion of the riders. A lot of people just ride the bus – in fact, will take the whole route around – to get from the bottom of the hill to the top. The biggest issue for many people is the hills.

I look around the bus to face an eclectic group of passengers. The high proportion of riders with injuries and disabilities creates an in-the-moment reminder of why the Circulator Bus is necessary – to get people the services they so clearly need. We pass the Downtown Public Health Center, the Community Psychiatric Clinic.

Two passengers in the back chat amiably for 10 minutes before exchanging names and phone numbers. Passengers voice observations about the constant construction, the ever-taller Seattle. They notice things out their windows. A man named Dean calls me over by name. He overheard me introduce myself to the driver and jokes that Joe always tries to hit the potholes. He asks me about my hometown, and shares how important the Circulator has been for getting him to his appointments. His warmth shakes me. There is a certain humanity here not present on the average Metro bus.

We round out the 30-minute trip on Boren Ave, passing The Salvation Army. Soon we’re at the hospital where we started. He tells me how positive his experience driving the Circulator Bus has been. I believe him. He shares that his mantra is to just keep driving. I think we need him to.

We have a lot to be proud of: Seattle Pride 2015

 This post was contributed by Lara Sim, Senior Public Policy Campaign Manager, Statewide Poverty Action Network and Debbie Carlsen, Executive Director, LGBTQ Allyship.

Anchored in the iconic Seattle Pride Parade along 4th Avenue, this year’s Seattle Pride showcased the dynamic community in which we live. Following our victories for marriage equality in Washington state, dismantling the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and advances in transgender rights in Washington, the events this year had a certain electric element.

Dominating the celebration was the jubilant feeling that accompanied Friday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality: It is now legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. The decision is a historic victory for LGBTQ rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states had banned these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide. What a victory for equity and human dignity!

PrideHands

Pride parades began as a result of years of repression by the government. This year’s 41st Seattle Pride celebrated the progress we have made in equality and social justice and put a spotlight on the work still ahead of us. That work includes addressing barriers, such as laws on the books that still legalize discrimination.

In his welcome, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray shared some harrowing numbers and reminded us that “in 76 countries, it is still illegal to be LGBTQ and in 10 countries, the punishment is life in prison or death. We know these laws are on the wrong side of history.” During Pride and beyond, we saw our community and our allies come together to make the call for equality and non-discrimination. At Pride, this was the call to action, and we intend to take up the mantle.

The parade itself was humid, rowdy and loud. And it was filled with glitter and love. Over 200 groups pranced, waved and blew kisses from Union StPrideBeadsreet to Denny Way. We found the 2½ hours of revelry grounded in respect, courage and commitment. Organizers reminded us that Seattle’s Pride Parade is one of the top five parades in the country and that the head count was upwards of a half a million people! As the parade wound down, the crowd made its way to the Seattle Center. To see so many rolling around in the International Fountain after the drizzle of rain earlier in the morning was the perfect blend of silly, celebratory and quintessential Seattle.

Alongside all the merriment, State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu reminded us the fight isn’t over. From her published bio, Justice Yu is the state’s first out lesbian Justice, the first Asian-American Justice, the first Latina Justice, and the 11th woman to ever serve on the Washington Supreme Court. She prompted us to get involved:

For so many of us, acceptance and subsequent success came from an adult or mentor who reached out during a critical time in our lives. You too can be that beacon of hope or voice of comfort for a young person struggling through one of their toughest periods of life. Together we can assist and empower our youth to embrace their identity as they strive for self-sufficiency.”

She is right, of course: The fight isn’t over. For 40 years, in the long arc of struggle for acceptance, we see history changing at breakneck speed. As more LGBTQ individuals pick up the mantle of advocacy, they will help create a world our community never dreamed possible.

Sand Point Housing’s young artists

Eleven young artists discovered the Officer’s Club at the Magnuson Park Gallery. This former office of a naval commander became a worksite for young residents of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing community. These teens now look out the window to see the fruition of their own leadership – 12 vibrant art panels breathing life back into a decrepit brick building.

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Eight finished panels installed on one side of the building.

The Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange (SPACE) has long sought a solution for the slowly deteriorating building across from the gallery. With the City of Seattle investing funds to stabilize it, and future development projects expected, installing art panels on the exterior walls provides an immediate solution for threading cultural value into the building. The Department of Neighborhoods’ substantial contribution and the Seattle Parks and Recreation staff and financial help made hiring a contractor and art teacher feasible. The 11 teens infused the spirit of their community into the artwork.

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Sand Point youth paints the corner of a panel.

The teaching artist, Angela Larsen, implemented a process that promised a professional product while staying true to the young artists’ vision and work. The teens began their project by exploring color palettes, and learning how to adjust color shades by mixing paint. They then walked through the park, finding inspiration in plant textures and nature’s own artwork. Angela combined the feedback from the kids, and her own Scandinavian design ethic, and created a design outline that exclusively used three shades of green and three shades of red. In the coming four Saturdays, the young artists put paint to panel and brought the design plan to fruition.

As all good work deserves, the young artists will be paid a $150 stipend at a celebratory barbecue in the near future. However, that paycheck does not fully represent the value the panel project provides to the community and the participants. The Executive Director of SPACE, Julianna Ross, observed “how their skills improved from the first session to the last session. They knew how to load the brush, and make the lines… they gained some skills!” She commented on the warranted pride many of the teens felt for the panels. Working so many hours on the panels familiarized the resident teens with the gallery building and other areas they had not known existed. Showcasing their artwork on a main street bridges a comfort gap between the families living in the park and the community park buildings.

The young artists look up at the paintings and recognize that it’s their work, that they made it for the community. If you can afford their rate, enlist them in another mural project. Their paint brushes are ready.

DukeEngage: The Mountain Movers

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Left to right: Motin Yeung, Kyle Harvey, Kristen Bailey, Annie Apple

DukeEngage is a Duke University undergraduate program that provides an immersive service experience in either a domestic or international location. Funded by the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, over 3,000 Duke students have served 600 community organizations, in 78 nations, on six continents. The expressed mission of DukeEngage is to educate students through civic engagement and encourage them to share those learned values with the university community.

The 2015 DukeEngage Seattle group came up with our own mission statement: to service the Seattle community through authentic partnerships and meaningful reflection. During the next two months, 15 students will work at 11 placements around the city, aspiring to develop an understanding for nonprofit service work .

For the past several  years, Solid Ground has had a strong relationship with the DukeEngage program and will host the following four students working in various positions this summer:

  • Kyle Harvey’s experience as an editor and writer for the university paper made him a good fit for working with the Communications team at Solid Ground. He will write and edit blog posts, help manage the social media accounts, and potentially create and edit videos.
  • Motin Yeung will work with the Financial Fitness Boot Camp to develop curricula and tools to help low-income households increase financial stability. At school, he concentrates in Markets and Management studies and has a deep appreciation for how financial wellness contributes to stable living.
  • Annie Apple will work with Lettuce Link, splitting her time between helping on the two farm sites, working at the food bank, and performing administrative tasks. Her ongoing interest in public health, social justice, and youth empowerment inspired her to take on this unique combination of work.
  • Kristen Bailey also works with Lettuce Link at Marra Farm. Her work helping to harvest the Farm diverges from her past experiences in Chicago. However as an EMT, Kristen’s seen firsthand how food accessibility creates health disparities between communities.

We named our DukeEngage group the Mountain Movers, as testimony to the substantial challenges Solid Ground and other nonprofits take on, and their ability to incrementally make a large difference.

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