Lessons from the cutting edge

Edna Sadberry, former program supervisor for Pathways and the MLK VISTA program.

Edna Sadberry, former Program Supervisor for the Pathway to Career Corps and MLK VISTA programs.

Over 40 years, Solid Ground and our forebear the Fremont Public Association have helped incubate many of our community’s most effective responses to poverty. These include the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the Economic Opportunity Institute, Community Voice Mail (now called ConnectUp), FareStart, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, and many others.

Unfortunately not every good idea is successful in the marketplace of nonprofit programming.

Sometimes a principal funder pulls out, such as when the federal Corporation for National & Community Service discontinued funding the Washington Reading Corps, which ended our demonstrated success at closing the achievement gap through literacy tutoring and support for elementary school students.

Other times, the business model does not pencil out, which is what happened with our Working Wheels program, an attempt to provide low-cost cars to people living on low-incomes who needed a reliable vehicle to get or maintain a job.

Sometimes the program design itself is not sustainable. A few years ago Solid Ground pioneered a new National Service model, Pathway to Career Corps (Pathways), designed to provide underserved young people from communities of color a training- and work-based model to prepare themselves for higher education or the workforce.

While designed by experienced, successful National Service Program Managers, Pathways proved unable to meet all of the challenges faced by its team in the first year, according to Program Supervisor Edna Sadberry. Looking at a large fundraising goal to support a second year, Solid Ground’s Board of Directors chose to close the program.

Sadberry went on to manage Solid Ground’s Martin Luther King VISTA program, a National Service-based program Solid Ground ran from the late 1980s until 2014, which was a groundbreaking effort to infuse anti-oppression analysis, training and action into the service model. Though the legacy of MLK VISTA’s work was incredibly powerful, this anti-oppression focus was ultimately not in alignment with state National Service leaders’ priorities, and the program was forced to shut its doors this past summer.

What lessons can we learn from these program closures, and how do we incorporate Solid Ground’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression principles in our anti-poverty work?

In this video, MLK VISTA and Pathways Program Supervisor Edna Sadberry shares some of her insights, learned on the cutting edge.

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Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

In 1985, with Dr. King’s words ringing in their ears, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) launched a VISTA program to develop community leadership and fight poverty through National Service. In 1989, the program was christened the Martin Luther King VISTA Corps.

“The brilliant thing about the program,” remembers Lynn Livesley, one of the initial corps members and current Executive Director of Literacy Source, “was always the attitude that ‘We can do this.’ The glass was always half full. It was always very positive and we got things done. … The idea of bringing literally hundreds of people into this work is ‘power in numbers,’ and working towards social justice by working with the passion and commitment of people who want to see change in our community. It was an exciting time.”

In subsequent years, Solid Ground developed National Service programs to effectively address literacy, develop community-based violence prevention, and support anti-poverty capacity building throughout King County. At one time, we managed the state’s largest group of National Service programs, with 150 AmeriCorps & VISTA members. Backed up by a deep anti-oppression training program, Solid Ground’s National Service programs developed a strong reputation in the community.

 

AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985. Lynn was later program manager and director of the agency's national service programs

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985; Lynn later became Program Manager and Director of the agency’s suite of National Service programs

MLK Corps member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

MLK VISTA member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

On August 31, 2014, we ended the MLK VISTA program, marking the end of an era. The Washington Reading Corps, JustServe AmeriCorps and Pathway to Career Corps had closed in recent years. All were afflicted by variations of the same fatal challenge: changing priorities and practices mandated by the federal contracts that funded them.

For instance, changes in the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) meant that “for the first time in our long history of partnering, (we) were not in agreement (with CNCS) around creating leaders who understood the connection of racism and poverty,” noted former MLK Program Supervisor, Edna Sadberry.

For over 25 years, these programs helped develop countless resources, organizations and leaders in the fight against poverty. More than 2,500 corps members graduated, and former members now hold leadership positions in many innovative and effective organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Literacy Source, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others.

“It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow,” stated former MLK team leader Nicole Dufva. “You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.”

Our sadness at closing the program is leavened by our pride in its accomplishments and enduring contributions to our community. Edna, Nicole and Julz Ignacio were the last in a long line of incredibly talented and dedicated staff of our National Service programs. Please join me in honoring their work, the many great leaders who preceded them, and the lessons this agency has learned through their service.

And we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1989_MLK-edited

November 2012 Groundviews: “Thank you for all of your help along this journey”

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our November 2012 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

November 2012 Groundviews cover image

November 2012 Groundviews cover

The impact of Solid Ground’s work is no more powerfully expressed than through the words of gratitude from the people who access our services. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we have collected here a tiny sampling of thank you notes passed on to program staff by people who have come to Solid Ground for a wide variety of reasons, and who were moved to let us know how their lives have positively changed through their experiences here.

To Family Shelter staff:
     “I would like to start off by thanking you for always treating me with the utmost respect, for always returning my phone calls, for the advocacy you provided for me when my voice wasn’t that strong, for going above and beyond, for researching other resources and options when I felt like I had nothing left. I could only imagine if there were more individuals such as yourself how much greater it would be. You’ve helped me, so that I can be able to help my son in life. Thank you.”
~ Family Shelter mom

To Apple Corps ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’ nutritionists:
     “My favorite food we cooked was the Frittata because it was very tasty and has a lot of veggies. I learned a lot about different foods in the world like tofu and sushi. At first I was nervous to taste it but when I did it was good. Don’t be afraid to try anything from another culture! Thanks ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’!”
~ Seattle Public Schools 5th grader

To Washington Reading Corps (WRC) staff:
     “I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My year with WRC Solid Ground prepared me beautifully for what I would encounter later in my MIT program at Evergreen. We have been having beautiful discussions related to race and privilege and our role as teachers to be inclusive. I feel I would have not been prepared if I did not go through all the trainings and workshops you and the team leaders arranged for us. This is why I just wanted to thank you and Solid Ground for doing such a great job making people reflect on assumptions and biases related to race.”
 ~ Graduate student & former Washington Reading Corps Member

To JourneyHome staff:
     “I am grateful to you for comforting me and my family during the unexpected domestic violence incident and the overall follow up. It was one of my luckiest days that I came to know and work with you. Running away from the threatening and hostile Ethiopian political scenario, [our] family has experienced several ups and downs. But, human beings could be tested in various scales, and it would be rewarding and educational to pass through challenges and be able to stand on both legs safely. I remember a note below a picture of a very big woody-stemmed plant with branches saying that, ‘Like a tree, we each must find a place to grow and branch out.’ Yes, in our case, it reads as we need freedom to use our maximum potential to educate our offsprings. All is to say ‘Thank you’ for your exceptional multitude of help.”
~ JourneyHome family from Ethiopia

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

To Lettuce Link staff:
     “Thank you for helping me with my vegetables. Also giving me my own garden. Also help my mom save a few dollars. P.S. Thank you”
 ~ Concord Elementary School 3rd grader

To RSVP Knit-It-Alls volunteers:
     “Two years ago I was homeless and living in a garage during the winter season, and gifts of socks and hats kept me warm and able to go on. It was not only the material goods but the thought behind the gift which was important. I was given a gift of an especially warm blanket to keep me warm and it not only warmed me but warmed my soul.”
 ~ DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) shelter resident

To Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) staff:
     “Thank you for all of your help along this journey. If it wasn’t for you and the help that Solid Ground has given me, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. Hell, I may have still been on the streets somewhere and that isn’t a good place to be. But you were able to give me the tools to move forward. Now I also know that it was a hard road getting here, and I had to put in a lot of the work myself. But the support that you gave me along the way is what really got me moving forward.

     “When you look over the sound, there seems to be no way to the other side without taking some kind of boat. Well Solid Ground was able to give me the tools, and a lot of little stepping stones, to slowly move across the bay to get to where I will need to be in life. Thanks to all of you there, even the ones that don’t know me. For it is the ones in the background that really do the work to keep things moving so that you can do the job that is set before you every day.”
 ~ Housing Stabilization Services participant

To Community Voice Mail (CVM) staff:
     “Community Voice Mail has literally been a life saver. I’m presently an outpatient cancer person. And the phone to contact with my pharmacy and with my doctor, as well as my primary doctor that referred me, was absolutely necessary. Without your phone assistance, I couldn’t have done it I don’t think. And also, a safe place to live – I found this place. So anyway, thanks a lot. I sure appreciate it.”
 ~ Community Voice Mail participant

To Broadview Shelter staff:
     “I still believe that there is power in gentleness, that there is more to us than flesh and bone, that life will bring more happiness if lived for peace and not possessions. I still believe people of gentleness and faith can change the world – one unseen, unsung, unrewarded kindness at a time – and nothing in this world can make me stop. Thank you for proving me right.”
 ~ Broadview Shelter mom

Financial Fitness staff:
     “Thank you for getting the pay day loans off my back! I really am feeling blessed for finally reaching out for help. Thanks to your phone calls, the pressure is off and I have a manageable payment schedule.”
 ~ Financial Fitness Boot Camp participant

Housing Stability Program staff:
     “Solid Ground, thank you so very much for helping me and my two autistic twin sons remain in our home. Were it not for your generosity we would be in a very dire situation. I am so thankful to everyone at Solid Ground who works so diligently to keep this project going. It was such a HUGE relief when I received that grant. I had not slept in days from worry which was making me ill and since I have Multiple Sclerosis and I work, I need to get sleep to remain healthy and mentally alert. You are my earthbound Angels – Thank You!”
 ~ Housing Stability participant

Thank You! children's art

Solid Ground names new leadership team

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Solid Ground is pleased to announce that Gordon McHenry, Jr. has been named President & Chief Executive Officer. McHenry most recently served as the Executive Director of the Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based academic enrichment and leadership development agency. Rainier Scholars increases college graduation rates for low-income students of color by providing comprehensive support from 6th grade until college graduation.

Solid Ground also announces that Sandi Cutler has been named Chief Operations & Strategy Officer. Instrumental in the growth of Bastyr University and other agencies, Cutler brings significant strategic, operational and organizational development experience.

The hirings highlight a time of intentional introspection and change at the King County nonprofit, as the agency implements a new strategic plan calling for increased collaboration and coordination among its services.

“We are thrilled to bring this talented leadership team to Solid Ground,” stated Lauren McGowan, Solid Ground Board Chair. “We undertook a national search and in our own backyard found leadership whose careers and life stories embody the notion of creating opportunity for all to thrive,” she said.

“People in our communities continue to suffer from the prolonged economic downturn,” McGowan said. “As an agency, we are being called on to do more, often with less. Gordon and Sandi have the vision and skills to expand Solid Ground’s response to poor and oppressed people, as well as our advocacy to address root causes of social injustice.”

“Fundamentally, it’s about leadership,” McHenry said. “We envision Solid Ground being perceived as a key leader when it comes to addressing economic disparities.”

McHenry previously served in a variety of executive leadership roles in The Boeing Company, most recently as Director of Global Corporate Citizenship in the Northwest Region. A lifelong member of the Seattle community, McHenry has served on many local boards, including the Central Area Motivation Program (now called Centerstone), United Way and The Seattle Public Library. He currently serves on the boards of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Seattle University.

McHenry’s father was the first African-American engineer promoted into management at Boeing, as well as the first person in his family to graduate from college. His mother grew up and was educated in a segregated community in Texas. Their experiences gave their children deep respect for education and a strong belief in being active community leaders.

Cutler’s father led efforts to desegregate public schools in the Central Valley of California. His legacy bore fruit in Cutler’s early work as a political activist and management of progressive political campaigns and reform efforts.

“I am delighted to team up with Sandi Cutler. His activist roots and organizational development experience will help Solid Ground strengthen our community by giving more people the firm foundation they need to succeed,” McHenry said.

Ruth Massinga, Interim CEO since August 2011, will continue working with Solid Ground through the fall on several strategic initiatives.

“Ruth stepped out of retirement and guided us through a strategic refocusing. We are indebted to her for the gift of leadership,” McGowan said.

We need YOU: Join the Washington Reading Corps!

WRC logoWant to make a long-term difference in kids’ lives? Consider a year of service with the Washington Reading Corps (WRC) of King County!

WRC is a statewide program that helps struggling preschool to elementary students improve their reading skills and succeed in school. WRC believes access to education and closing the achievement gap are key social justice issues with far ranging consequences directly related to our mission to end poverty and undo racism. Literacy is one of the most important factors in school success, and our goal is to ensure that all students can read by the end of 3rd grade. We also support family and community involvement in schools.

Solid Ground coordinates the WRC of King County, which serves over 1,600 students a year at more than 20 schools and community sites. Since 1997, WRC has boosted the literacy skills of close to 150,000 students statewide. Each year we place stipended AmeriCorps Members to tutor and coordinate family literacy events at WRC sites across King County.

During your year of service as a stipended, full-time AmeriCorps Member with WRC, you’ll receive extensive para-educator reading training to:

  • Tutor struggling readers, both one-to-one and in small groups.
  • Coordinate Family Literacy Nights to engage families in their children’s schools.
  • Develop analyses of institutionalized racism and low literacy, and their connection to poverty.
  • Recruit, train and support community volunteers.

Solid Ground’s WRC program is unique in the level of training Members receive in understanding and developing the skill set to be an active member of the anti-racism and social justice communities. In turn, AmeriCorps Members help recruit and train community volunteers and provide one-to-one and small-group tutoring for students.

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson describes the Reading Corps experience for people considering a year of service:

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson I would tell them that it would be challenging, but it would be the best challenge they’ve ever had of their lives. I would tell them the reward of a child’s smile is immeasurable, and you can’t even understand unless you get one. I would tell them that there’s something really magical when your students start to really understand words and language – when they really start to get it. Oh, there’s nothing like it!”

How to become a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) Member:

WRC of King County is currently seeking full-time Members for the 2012/13 school year. Benefits include:

  • bi-weekly living allowance totalling $1,050/month
  • $5,550 education award at the end of your year of service
  • health coverage

To apply, go to the My AmeriCorps website and use the Seattle WRC Listing ID #: 5006, and visit the WRC ‘s webpage for more information.

On an upward continuum

Our November 2011 Groundviews newsletter features a remarkable young woman who is both one of the first residents in permanent housing at our Brettler Family Place and is giving a year of service through our Washington Reading Corps. To read the entire issue, visit our Publications webpage.

Silhouette of a mother and daughter at a jungle gym

By serving with WA Reading Corps and living at Brettler Family Place, Penni Carter accesses services while giving back.

A year of AmeriCorps service can be challenging for anyone. Members of Solid Ground’s Washington Reading Corps, for instance, tutor children who read below grade level five days a week – and take intensive leadership development, social justice and anti-racism trainings – all while living on a subsistence stipend. For Penni Carter (not her real name), add to that the struggle of landing on her 27-year-old feet, fresh from escaping domestic violence.

“I was with her dad,” she says, pointing to her two-year-old cutie pie in a pink tutu. “And it was not a healthy relationship. I just got to the point where [I felt], ‘I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want my daughter to end up getting hurt.’ So, I packed up a suitcase and a stroller, and I literally just walked away from my life.”

Accessing support while giving back
Solid Ground provides a range of services that meet people at various stops along their life journeys. When Penni was preparing to exit her domestic violence shelter, she connected with a Solid Ground JourneyHome Case Manager who helped her apply for permanent housing in our new Brettler Family Place program. In addition to housing, Brettler provides support services and case management for formerly homeless families. People accepted to live there must have stable jobs or be moving in a positive direction in their work lives.

Penni moved into Brettler last spring. Soon after, she learned of Washington Reading Corps (WRC) through a coworker and became a volunteer in its summer program, Cities of Service. From there she applied for and was accepted to serve a year with WRC. Thus, she became both a program participant and an AmeriCorps Member with Solid Ground.

Opportunities for self-awareness & growth
Like all Solid Ground employees, Penni and her fellow WRC Members were sent to Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) training, an intensive experience that unpacks the impacts of racism in America.

“I went to the UIR training and that was life changing,” Penni says. “Being white, you have to look at yourself. It is not them that is the problem, it is me, too. And I have mixed kids, so it really hits home. A lot of these things that people of color are expressing, my kids are going to go through, too. I’m a white woman, so it is hard to find that balance: How do I support them and not let them think that being white is bad or being black is bad?”

And Penni says the UIR training helped her learn how to talk to other white neighbors about racial dynamics and make better connections with neighbors of color.

“Talk about being an ally; Brettler is the best place to do it,” Penni says. “It is good to talk to my neighbors about white privilege, and let them know there are people out there that know it is real. It is going on and it is not OK – and you are not crazy for thinking it. It is nice to know that I can be an ally to so many people in my community that live just where I live.”

Building bridges at Brettler
Over the summer, Brettler Family Place turned from a location where 51 formerly homeless families live into a true community. Penni says, “This summer was incredible. A lot of families had just moved in, so they were just trying to get on their feet.”

One night, “Everybody was outside and I just said, ‘I really want to play kickball.’ We ended up having a big kickball game. I think the youngest kid playing was three, all the way up to the parents and everybody in between. People were sitting on the sides even if they didn’t want to play. We had wheelbarrow races and jump rope and handstand contests – just fun stuff. And all the moms got together and everybody watched everybody else’s kids.”

From this stable sense of community, Penni has started to rebuild her life and imagine her new future. “Last year during my internship, I learned so much,” she says. “I definitely want to do my second year in WRC, then I want to go back to school. I want to either be a teacher or work with DV [domestic violence] abusers or inmates, and help them go through treatment, and realize, ‘Just because you did these things, you are not a bad person – but what do we need to do to help you not fall back into that pattern?’ ” 

Raised by a single mom in Section 8 housing, Penni’s experience could have been one of succumbing to generational patterns. But a continuum of Solid Ground programs supported her in finding stable housing, establishing a goal plan, and getting employment training, community service and leadership development that will help her family thrive.

For more information, please visit:
Brettler Family Place
Washington Reading Corps

Washington Reading Corps helps Spanish speaking families on Vashon

This article highlighting the efforts of Washington Reading Corps Members is by Amelia Heagerty of the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter, and appeared on Apr 07 2010:

Seven Spanish-speaking parents gathered in a third-floor classroom at Chautauqua Elementary School one recent Thursday evening, chatting easily as they waited to hear presentations in Spanish about the school’s English Language Learning program and the U.S. Census.

One parent filled out her census questionnaire; others discussed how many native Spanish speakers live on Vashon Island.

It was the fifth weekly informational evening for Spanish-speaking parents at the elementary school, where special topics are discussed and dinner and child care are provided. Continue reading

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