Voices of Community celebrates Solid Ground’s roots

Forty years ago this season, Solid Ground’s forefathers and foremothers came together dedicated to a singular mission: They would lift up the depressed neighborhood of Fremont, building community through art, activism and a wildly positive attitude. The fruits of their labor are visible in the art-saturated Fremont community of the 21st Century; in the thriving culture of recycling started by the early Fremont Public Association (FPA); and in the legacy of good works strewn across King County in fighting poverty and oppressions.

This legacy was built not only by the FPA and Solid Ground, but also via the groups and organizations that have spun off from us: Fremont Arts Council, Seattle Workers Center, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), Economic Opportunity Institute, our Broadview Shelter & Transitional Housing, our Giving Garden at Marra Farm, our Sand Point Housing campus, and countless others.

On Thursday May 8, founders, friends, current staff, volunteers and program participants came together at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center (located in the neighborhood now known as the “Center of the Universe“!) to rekindle our founding impulse through story, socializing and celebration.

Some of the highlights are captured in these video clips of stories told by Armen Napoleon Stepanian – the honorary but official Mayor of Fremont, self-declared Christopher Columbus of Curbside Recycling, and legendary political rabble-rouser – and Frank Chopp, for many years the irrepressible Executive Director of FPA, now Senior Advisor to Solid Ground, and Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives. More clips will be posted on this blog soon. Enjoy the power and the passion (and sorry for the compromised audio; we’ve got subtitles to help you along!)

 

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It was 40 years ago…

Come meet founders, myths and urban legends at:

VOICES of COMMUNITY, Thursday May 8, 7-9pm
The Fremont Abbey Arts Center (4272 Fremont Ave N)

Hear from the horse’s mouth, or at least from the dog on Waiting for the Interurban, about  40+ years of innovation, partnership, hell-raising and action to end poverty.

Thanks to Fremont Brewing Company for creating a special 40th Anniversary Ale that will be on sale!

Sgt. Pepper cover with FPA faces

 

Teens going to Olympia to change the conversation

Editor’s note: Anthony Bencivengo is senior at Nathan Hale High School. For his Senior Project he is working with Solid Ground and the Statewide Poverty Action Network to engage his peers in the state political process. In this, the first of his reports, Anthony talks about recruiting youth to join him for today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Lobby Day in Olympia.

January 17, 2014 – Robert Mercer has wanted to make his voice heard for a long time. His mother works at a psychiatric clinic that serves homeless and low-income people, and she has never shied away from discussing the obstacles they face. “Ever since I was a kid she was always grubbing about some legislation or another,” Robert recalls. “I guess it kind of rubbed off on me.” Robert is worried about homeless people who suffer from mental issues but can’t afford treatment. He fears that access to mental health services is becoming increasingly scarce as state funds dry up in an era of budget cuts. The result, far too often, has been homeless people suffering from psychotic breaks he believes could have been prevented if they had somewhere to turn for help.  “They’re in really bad situations,” Robert says, “That more state funding could have prevented.”

Anthony (l) talks to sophmore Tanner O'Donnell about Lobby Day

Anthony talks to sophmore Tanner O’Donnell about Lobby Day

I feel it’s extremely important for our politicians to hear about these issues. That’s why, as my senior project, I’m organizing a group of my fellow Nathan Hale High School students (Robert included) into a youth contingent that will join the Statewide Poverty Action Network (a social-justice advocacy organization closely linked to Solid Ground) in its annual MLK Day legislative lobbying session in Olympia. In a few days, we’ll be meeting with our state legislators to discuss issues facing our state’s homeless and low-income communities.

For me, this is an exciting opportunity. I’ve always been deeply involved with social justice – volunteering at food banks, participating in rallies and frequently writing to newspapers and my state legislators. I feel political discourse at the state level has been overly focused on cutting safety-net programs just as the Great Recession makes them more needed than ever. I hope that by speaking personally to our legislators, my fellow students and I can help change the conversation.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. The group I’ve organized is filled with a wide variety of students who each bring in different perspectives and experiences. The common thread is their passion for social justice.

Nolan Wolf, who recently completed a stint as a state legislature page serving some of the very legislators we’ll be lobbying, is coming because, as a person with arthrogryposis (a physical disability limiting his range of arm motion), he understands what it’s like not to be expected to succeed. People, he says, sometimes see him “as a disability, instead of as a person with a disability.”

Grace Jones’s youth group has hosted middle-schoolers from low-income housing development Yesler Terrace to speak about the documentaries they’re making about the ongoing remodel of their complex to meet safety standards. Aedan Roberts has used his status as an editor for the school paper to publish the personal stories of homeless immigrants. And the list goes on. Conventional wisdom goes that teens are lazy and disengaged, but this dedicated group of student activists is anything but.

All of us are excited to go to Olympia, for a variety of reasons. Besides the chance to make a difference, students in my group see this as a chance to learn more about state government, social justice, and the views of their representatives. Most of us are optimistic that our lobbying will make a difference. “I think it’s important for people to see a large youth presence in groups working for change,” says Grace. “Teens care, we have ideas, and we want to learn more.”

“Maybe, in a year or so,” Robert adds hopefully, “A politician will vote in a different way on something because I swayed them.”

Many of us are nervous, of course. Speaking face to face with experienced politicians can be intimidating for high-school seniors barely old enough to vote. Many of us are afraid of sounding uninformed, inarticulate or timid. But from my conversations with the students I’m going with, I can tell that they have more than enough eloquence, passion and knowledge. We must always first face down our fears in order to face down injustice. That’s another change I hope will be affected on MLK Day – that we will become confident in our own strength and power to create change. Some of us already have. “I don’t really have any fears,” answers Tanner O’Donnell when asked whether the event makes him nervous. “Except for bears. They’re scary.”

To make sure you catch the next report in Anthony’s series, please sign up to have this blog’s posts emailed directly to you!

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

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

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

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

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nourishing healthy kids & communities

Editor’s note: This report was filed by volunteer reporter Tiffiny Jaber.

In the midst of the holiday season, Apple Corps’ message couldn’t be more meaningful: teaching children about healthy eating, exercise and growing  food to perpetuate a positive community. Apple Corps members – national service volunteers placed at area elementary schools – use innovative teaching techniques to get the kids to engage in these topics.

spinach sign 008 Apple Corps teaches students in underserved communities how to eat healthier by showing them where fresh vegetables and fruit come from, and teaching them how to cook in delicious and nutritious ways. They get kids’ hands into the soil, teach them to value the seasons of the year, and empower them to grow food at home. Apple Corps creates hands-on experiences for kids via gardens, cooking in the classroom, and by taking kids to farms to see the land and the farmers who tend it.

I recently had a chance to catch up with three of the Apple Corps nutrition educators who shared some of their experiences with me. Brian Sindel and Lisa Woo divide their time between Sand Point Elementary in Northeast Seattle and Emerson Elementary in Rainier Beach, while Kelly Shilhanek works with Concord International School in South Park.

Spending four days of the week immersed at their assigned schools, Apple Corps members collaborate closely with class teachers. The curriculum is based on the Eat Better, Feel Better program, a school-based effort of Public Health-Seattle & King County that promotes positive change in how kids eat and their activity levels.

MyPlate replaces the food pyramid as a guide for healthy eating

Lessons span a variety of topics over 12 weeks. For example, 5th grade classes focus on healthy eating around the world; 3rd grade covers plant parts; and younger grades integrate food with literacy. Brian said the focus is on a well-balanced diet. “We work from MyPlate, which replaced the USDA’s food pyramid, and we incorporate all five food groups,” he said.

The classrooms that Apple Corps members visit are treated to delicious homemade food. The members set up their mobile kitchen and provide a 45-minute cooking demonstration, which is as involved and interactive as possible for the students. Some of the food can be quite different and new to the children, so it’s not unusual for them to be apprehensive before taking the first bite. Lisa and her classes start off their snack by saying, “Bon appetit! We now may eat.” Then they each take their first “bravery bite” and talk about their likes and dislikes or show their varying approval with a thumbs up.

Veggie Mike Kim w-Andrew Ku 056Last year Brian led a Garden Recess Club for teacher-selected 3rd graders who needed extra engagement. Club sessions focused on different gardening lessons. At the end of the year, Brian put the mini-lessons together into an hour-long final session that the students taught to their classes. Brian was amazed to see these students, who were usually so quiet and disengaged, have the opportunity to be the experts and leaders for the rest of their classrooms.

The elementary schools each have their own vegetable garden onsite. The children also take field trips to various farms. Lisa notes, “All of (children in) the school have an opportunity to engage with farming in some capacity. … Concord students go to the Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a production farm Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link runs to support area food banks.” Emerson Elementary visits the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Kelly is looking forward to spring when three of the six grades she works with have the opportunity to experience basiccarrots garden education at Marra Farm rather than in the classroom.

Both Lisa Woo and Brian Sindel were awarded the title of Conservation Champions last year by the Seattle Public Schools. In addition, their respective schools received $400 to recognize their work. The money went toward greening the schools. Emerson Elementary plans to initiate a composting program with the awarded funds.

Not only are the children benefiting from the Apple Corps program, so are their parents and communities. The entire school community takes part in  the Farmers Market nights Apple Corps organizes for the school families. The events are free, with all of the produce donated by PCC. Concord International Elementary holds a multi-cultural night where families bring prepared food and share an amazing feast. Marra Farm hosts a Community Kitchen where farm volunteers and sometimes students set up a primitive kitchen to prepare freshly harvested organic produce for families and volunteers.

Apple Corps members also rally the community together outside of their classrooms and teaching gardens. Third to 5th grade girls from Concord take part in a bi-yearly 5K run with the internationally-renowned “Girls on the Run” program.

This link to the “Plant Part” Potstickers activity page and recipe gives an idea of how the children are taught about plants with a delicious recipe.

You can support Apple Corps by donating through Solid Ground’s website and designating Apple Corps. If you have any questions about Apple Corps, or to see how you can get involved in this amazing program, please contact Apple Corps Supervisor Samantha Brumfield.

Day of Caring Resource Exchange

Editors note: This report was written by Solid Ground Tenant Counselor, Jeanne Winner

Photo courtesy of United Way of King County

Photo courtesy of United Way of King County

On September 17th, I had the honor of participating as a service provider in the United Way’s Day of Caring Resource Exchange along with a few of my coworkers. There were over 1,400 homeless adults who attended in order to receive information, products and services for themselves. This was an impactful and deeply meaningful event for those who were there.

The 600 service providers and volunteers were encouraged by United Way staff “to treat people as ‘honored guests.’ Most of these folks walk the streets and people look away from them. By giving them your full presence and assistance, you are giving a great gift to them, and to yourselves.”

My colleague, Judy Poston, and I shared a table where we did outreach about Solid Ground’s Tenant Services and Financial Fitness Boot Camp programs. We passed out printed materials and talked to 100 people about the challenges they face while trying to find affordable housing.

Judy spoke with people about ways they could work towards repairing their credit, and I talked with people about housing search and tenant rights.

It was apparent that the tables which provided information and products were important to the attendees; yet, it seemed that the booths which offered services right there touched the individuals at a much deeper level. Vince Matulionis, Director of Ending Homelessness for the United Way, told KUOW reporter, Deborah Wang, “The importance of getting a haircut, getting your picture taken, making a phone call, getting your feet washed – most of us in our daily lives tend to take for granted. But when you are homeless, rarely do those types of things come easily and quickly to you.”

The day’s results were amazing. Not only were the participants appreciative and grateful, but for many of the providers and volunteers, it was a deeply-felt experience.

The United Way has organized this event for the past nine years, providing one day a year for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle to get their basic needs met all in one place. The next one is in April. To me, one day a year isn’t enough. I am hopeful that people in our community will come together collaboratively to hold events like these on a more regular basis. It would make a world of difference for so many people.

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

Solid Ground's Community Report 2012

Solid Ground’s Community Report 2012

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

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

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

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

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