Cooking Matters: A recipe for changing lives

Cooking Matter class at Brettler Family Place

At the end of their second class, participants and volunteers line up to share the dinner they’ve just prepared together.

There aren’t many activities that can compete with sharing a home-cooked meal with family, neighbors and friends. That is until you combine it with lessons that put a smile on your child’s face and give you a repertoire of resources and know-how to keep your family healthy.

Cooking Matters is a Solid Ground program offering six-week classes designed to teach healthy habits, mindful shopping, food competence and meal planning – all with a dash of fun.

At the start of one recent class for Brettler Family Place residents, two families queued up outside the community kitchen bathroom to wash their hands while volunteers unpacked ingredients on the chef’s table. After washing their hands, the father and mother of one family automatically grabbed a can of beans and began reading the label and asking questions. This was only their second class, but they were already forming healthy habits.

Describing the healthy lifestyle changes Cooking Matters promotes, Program Supervisor Raquel DeHoyos explained, “It’s like brushing your teeth. You just have to make a habit out of it. Our format is pretty basic. We just want to give everyone the same foundation – some basics and go-tos – if you’re looking to incorporate healthy eating habits.”

Solid Ground partners with Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger, which provides curricula, supplies and staff training for the program – along with tasty recipes. The simple recipes prepared during this class were nutritious, quick and packed a punch of flavor. The families and volunteers unanimously voted the appetizer – a spicy white bean dip served with pita slices – as the new football game snack favorite.

One rule of the class requires each participant to taste everything once to expand food choices and sharpen palates. The families played a blind taste test game with this rule in mind. While the parents were pleasantly surprised by jicama, the kids enjoyed pomegranate and grapefruit the most – sometimes sneaking to the bowls on the back table to grab more. Volunteers provided tips on how to incorporate their favorite items in future meals and suggested alternatives if those ingredients weren’t available.

Cooking Matters is funded through SNAP Ed and an annual fundraiser called Chefs Night Out. Program sponsors, Whole Foods Market and Charlie’s Produce, donate all the food for the program, so families living on a limited budget have at least one fallback meal for the week. The families were given a helping of each selection from the taste game, as well as all the ingredients for the meal they prepared for dinner to experiment with at home. Not only do families get to practice cooking the recipes, but they have the opportunity to share quality time cooking and eating as a family at home.

“It’s so easy for people to connect over food and cooking,” Raquel affirmed. At the end of class, when everyone sat down to eat the meal they had prepared together, there was a sense of shared accomplishment – delight evident on everyone’s smiling faces. The class is a social event as much as a learning opportunity – a chance to escape from the stresses of life.

Raquel recalls a past participant’s gratitude for the stability the class provided in her hectic life. “A mother of two kids experiencing homelessness took who knows how many buses to get to class each week. She said that every other aspect of her life was so discombobulated, and this class was the only thing that kept them together.

“They needed something routine and structured,” Raquel explained, “because they didn’t have that in the rest of their lives. This mother was able to go to class with her children, which was fun and an escape from worries. At the same time she looked forward to having at least one meal at home with her family. And now she can’t keep her youngest away from vegetables. She has to constantly watch him at the farmers market because he is always trying to eat the veggies. That’s a true testament to what this class can do,” Raquel laughed.

In 2013, Cooking Matters served a total of 740 participants in 58 sessions. This year – Cooking Matters’ 20th anniversary – the program is reaching toward a goal of 65 six-week sessions, and expansion statewide through satellite partners.

Raquel believes in the positive influence these classes have on the lives of those living on low or middle incomes. “For me, this program is about much more than cooking. This program can change a person’s life forever. Even if you’re only working with these people for six weeks, they take it with them, and they will continue to cook. They may not take everything, but they will take what works for them.”

Look for the Cooking Matters app available on iTunes and Google Play. If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information, please contact Cooking Matters staff at 206.694.6846 or at cooking@solid-ground.org

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University Rotary Club’s gift to Solid Ground has the kids jumping with joy

joey jumpsThe Rotary Club of the University District selected Solid Ground to receive a gift in honor of the club’s 75th anniversary. During the club meeting in Dec. 2013, Solid Ground’s Resource Development Director Dean McColgan and Director of Residential Services Dee Hills received the generous $50,000 gift from Marella Alejandrino, University Rotary President.

The gift funded the creation of a playground at Brettler Family Place, projected to open in March 2014, on the Rotary Club’s anniversary month. This partnership and gift will benefit the families of our Sand Point Housing Campus, and will be a step towards helping children overcome the impact of homelessness.

Solid Ground’s President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. stated, “University Rotary truly understands what it means to be a good community partner. This generous gift will go a long way in helping our Sand Point families continue to move beyond the issues they face due to poverty and help them build a better future.”

“Rotary’s motto is Service Above Self,” Alejandrino said. “We seek community partnerships with organizations like Solid Ground that provide vital services to our community. We’re delighted to have chosen a project to bring exercise and joy to the children of the Brettler Family Place.”

This partnership with the University Rotary Club will play a positive role in the lives of Sand Point Campus children, giving them a joyful place to play and grow for years to come!

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Visit the University Rotary Club website for more information about the organization.

Kids’ programs spark interests and create bonds

4-H Puppy Power

Puppy Power encourages reading on the Sand Point Campus

For families who have experienced homelessness, finding the time and money to participate in afterschool programs can be challenging. However, these activities and programs play an important role in building a foundation for growth and healing after families enter permanent or transitional housing.

With this in mind, staff at Brettler Family Place and Sand Point Housing have been busy building relationships with community program providers to make sure that the children have opportunities to learn and enjoy their childhoods.

Joanna Tarr, a Children’s Case Manager at the Sand Point Campus, is grateful for the wealth of events and activities community partners and local programs provide. “Brettler Family Place has a small staff,” Joanna says, “so outside programs are very important.” Once all the construction is complete, Sand Point Housing and Brettler Family Place is estimated to house up to 250 children. Community partners’ and volunteers’ continued support is greatly appreciated and necessary to ensure the kids receive the best opportunities.

“Offering a variety of activities,” explains Joanna, “ensures the kids have the opportunity to find what they want to do in their lives, gives them a lot of interests, keeps them busy and active, and creates opportunities and positive experiences they might not have otherwise.”

The activities and programs vary wildly. Some kids have dirtied their hands refurbishing old bikes (a program at the Cascade Bike Club) and building remote control cars, while others play sports, learn to cook nutritious meals (Cooking Matters and Apple Corps), or create works of art (curriculum provided by A Window Between Worlds as a means to use creative expression to overcome trauma). As Joanna states, “You never know what’s going to catch a kid,” and so the more exposure to different arts and occupations, the more possibilities each child has to find a passion, deal with stress, and learn skills for the future.

There are plenty of ways for the children to study. Kumon, a learning center in University Village, provides free program admission for the Sand Point children who are able to make it out to their location. Local high school students and adult tutors also volunteer their time four times a week to tutor the kids and help with homework. Science and engineering events and exhibits, provided by the Museum of Flight and Pacific Science Center, have also been held onsite.

Perhaps the most adorable educational program at The Sand Point Campus is offered by Puppy Power, a 4-H group that trains service pets. Once a month, kids and canines convene for an hour-long reading session. The relaxed atmosphere and open puppy ears encourage reading and help the children keep up with school reading assignments.

Building life skills and teaching cooperation is also a focus. The Girl Scouts have been an integral part of learning and fun in the community. Two times a week, the Girl Scouts nurture confidence and responsibility through leadership training, cooperation activities with the troop, community service projects and, of course, the peddling of their scrumptious cookies. In acknowledgement of their hard work and progress, the girls of Brettler have performed the flag-raising ceremony at a Mariners game and at the Girl Scouts’ annual luncheon.

The Mountaineers have been active with Sand Point kids as well – crafting a new generation of fit and rugged Pacific Northwest outdoorspeople. With the help of University of Washington volunteers, the Mountaineers open their facility and offer their expertise to teach the kids rock climbing, survival, first aid and navigation – all of which culminates in a final ‘survivor’ event.

In addition to keeping minds sharp, the programs keep bodies busy. The recently finished Tennis Center Sand Point contributes tennis instructions for kids during half-day and no-school days, and even offers exemplary students scholarships for regular classes. Soccer and football are staple activities for many of the kids, and the kids have even canoed and kayaked on Lake Washington. The local YMCA also opens their facilities to the kids at much appreciated discounts, and the City of Seattle Magnuson Community Center holds events and activities at Brettler throughout the year including hiring and training teens to work as counselors at the summer camps. This amazing program provides teens with jobs skills and experience, and gives the younger children a productive way to spend the summer.  

While it’s never certain which activity might ignite a passion or spark a future career, we are certain of the influence these activities can have on the kids. The success rate at Brettler is high, according to Joanna. “There’s a great sense of community. There’s a Brettler clique. The kids have bonded to each other and support each other.” While she admits a large part of the supportive relationship comes from the stability permanent housing affords, Joanna, who has been at Brettler practically since it opened, concedes she’s seen a change. “The kids get to know each other in different ways than if they were just neighbors. When they participate in all these activities they get to know each other on a deeper level – doing activities like rock climbing where they have to support each other.”

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We are looking for great volunteers to support our children’s programming at Sand Point! If you’re interested in getting involved or would like more information, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteers@solid-ground.org or at 206.694.6825.

Seattle employs financial empowerment to help families thrive

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp’s Coach Judy

Seattle will be the first city on the West Coast to open no-cost Financial Empowerment Centers. Solid Ground will partner with Neighborhood House to provide a satellite center, likely at Sand Point Housing at Magnuson Park, in order to offer easy access to financial counseling for families and individuals in our transitional and permanent housing programs. 

One-on-one counseling will help people reduce debt, build credit, guard against predatory lending practices, understand foreclosure, and protect against fraud. Asset development coaching and budgeting will lower monthly costs, increase income, buffer against sudden crises, and prepare people for retirement.

Seattle’s program is modeled after the first financial empowerment pilot, launched in 2008 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The original pilot, according to the foundation, has helped over 19,000 families reduce their debt by more than $9 million.

Six Financial Empowerment Centers will open in 2014, with the main full-time site stationed at Neighborhood House in Rainier Vista. Each center will be positioned close to or within social service facilities that can offer additional resources for those living on low-incomes. Additional offices will be located at NewHolly, the Jim Wiley Community Center, YWCA Opportunity Place and North Seattle Community College.

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation provided a three year grant for the project, and is partnering with City of Seattle, Neighborhood House and United Way.

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves more than just helping people living on low-incomes make ends meet. At Solid Ground, we want people to be healthy, happy and build the skills they need to thrive.

In the coming year, we will implement our own plan to integrate financial empowerment into social service delivery at Solid Ground, developed during a six-month financial empowerment Learning Cluster hosted by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). And with the support from CFED through an 18-month Learning Cluster that began this month, our plan will provide the education and tools people living on low and moderate incomes need to move beyond just surviving to a place of stability, self-sufficiency and financial health.

New construction begun at Sand Point Housing

Earlier this month, Solid Ground broke ground on two new sites on our Sand Point Housing campus to begin building 54 new homes for formerly homeless people.

This building will hold 33 homes for single adults and six homes for families.

This building will hold 33 homes for single adults and six homes for families.

The 21 new homes for families and 33 for single adults fulfill the City’s vision of supportive housing for people overcoming homelessness at the former Sand Point Naval Station, which was articulated in the 1997 Reuse Plan.

“Since the initial transitional housing was redeveloped in old Navy buildings and opened in 2000, more than 2,000 people have used the facility as a stepping stone on their journey back to stability and thriving,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground’s President & CEO. “The program’s ongoing success is based on partnerships among service providers and deep, supportive connections in the local community.”

Future home for 15 formerly homeless families

Future home for 15 formerly homeless families

Site map showing locations of the new buildings

Site map showing locations of the new buildings

View from the south at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the south at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the north at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the north at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

Aerial view looking from the top of Brettler Family Place at the site where 15 family homes will be built

Aerial view looking from the top of Brettler Family Place at the site where 15 family homes will be built

View from the north where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the north where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the east where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the east where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

Construction banners along Sand Point Way NE

Construction banners along Sand Point Way NE

Adrienne Karls, a resident of Solid Ground’s Santos Place transitional housing on the Magnuson Park campus, said, “We’ve come from being on the street or in our car. We’ve come from homeless shelters. We’ve all come from being in despair. This place has been somewhere I have been able to grow and appreciate things that I haven’t before in life. This community has given me tools and skills to build my future on. I’m confident it will do the same for the people who will move into these new buildings as well.”

Major funding for the project comes from Enterprise Community Partners, The City of Seattle and the Brettler Family Foundation. The project should be completed by late 2013!

Where I am from ~Adrienne

Editor’s note: Adrienne Karls is a resident at Solid Ground’s Santos Place, transitional housing for formerly homeless single adults at Magnuson Park. She is a member of the Santos Place Residents Council and Solid Ground’s Advisory Council. Earlier this year she began editing QNotes, a newsletter written and published by Santos Place residents. This piece, entitled “Where I am from,” is taken from a recent issue with permission.

Photo by Adrienne Karls

I am from my mother’s womb, my giver of life, from an infinite bond of love made one very special night.

I am from the deepest place in my soul where my life experiences live. From my loves, my loss to my knowledge and every step walked within.

I am from every breath I take as I walk the beach by the ocean. This is where I find serenity letting flow every one of my emotions. Here my spirit runs free while my heart becomes replenished, where my mind can let go of all that was while creating something new and un-blemished.

I am from love and war, passion and pain, terrible memories of secrets kept and wonderful times that I will never forget.  Never mind what it is if it matters too much then let go of the hurt and hold on to the trust. A bond that’s never broken and a truth that’s never lost.

God and trusting him is my faith. I’ve learned it pays to always treat others as well as I’d like to be treated myself. Through God I’ve learned forgiveness so I can free my heart of anger, moving on to what’s next in this life full of wonder.

From the most passionate of love to the ugliest of resentments, I’m from becoming  renewed while learning from what life has to offer.

Despite the many tears I’ve cried I’ve smiled a million smiles more, for my experiences have made me stronger in everything I do. Every battle has made me wiser and every joy has given me life.

I am from STRENGTH.

Photo by Adrienne Karls

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