March 9, 2017

Gifts That Keep Giving

It has been two months since the gift giving season ended and most of us are looking forward to Spring and maybe even a little bit of sunshine, yet some gifts and memories continue on giving.

As a counselor at Rays, I have the opportunity to witness what Richard Sherman and his foundation Blanket Coverage do for our families for each holiday season. I also get to see the lasting effects of their generosity.

In December 2016, for the third year in a row, some of our families here at RAYS had the opportunity to participate in Richard Sherman’s Blanket Coverage Event. Thirteen of our RAYS clients and their families attended a holiday celebration, where they had the chance to meet some Seahawks players, and take a picture with Richard Sherman himself! Mr. Sherman’s foundation donated much needed and wished for gifts to each of our families. Items ranged from clothing, gift cards, toys, mattresses, dishware, and for the most part, whatever they wished for most.

The need in the community is undoubtedly apparent. One nominated family became homeless two months prior to the event and were certain there would be no holiday season for them. The family’s RAYS’ counselor commented on the situation saying:

“My client tried to remain positive no matter the situation, which is a great mindset to have, but hard to maintain when the holidays are celebrated for weeks at end and you have nothing to look forward to”.

Mr. Sherman’s foundation donated much needed and wished for gifts to each of our families. Items ranged from clothing, gift cards, toys, mattresses, dishware, and for the most part, whatever they wished for most.

Now, we are in March and I still talk to kids and their families about the impact of the event. Often the physical gifts are more than a simple one time experience; recently a counseling client told me, “I just spent the rest of the money on my gift card from Christmas on a pair of shorts for soccer practice.” Sometimes, a pair of shorts are enough to help a child to participate in a sport that keeps them busy, active, and out of trouble after school.

In addition to this generous gifts, for most of our families, it’s the memory of the event that truly makes the difference. Drawing on a positive memory can often shape how individuals deal with present and future stresses. If you are fortunate, as many of us are, you have a well of these pleasant memories to choose from when times are hard. Unfortunately, for many of our RAYS families these memories are harder to come by because of unfortunate life circumstances and tragic events. As a clinician, it is not uncommon to hear the Richard Sherman event is THE memory a family holds on to which tells them they are worth someone else’s time, effort, goodwill, and care.

Yes, the Blanket Coverage event is an overwhelmingly generous and appreciated gesture in the moment; however, it would be a disservice not to point out the lasting effects that continue to bring joy and benefit our clients beyond December and the holiday season.

This is all to say, we know it is March but…

Thank you again, again, and again, Richard Sherman and Blanket Coverage!

For more about Blanket Coverage:

For more about this last year’s event:

December 11, 2015

If You Think You Got a Plan for Your Life, Forget It

Ms. Alesia’s granddaughter is nicknamed Yaya. When asked about it, Ms. Alesia smiles. “For me, it means ‘yes yes,’ and it also comes from ‘hallelujah.’”

It fits. Yaya has come a long way since her premature birth to parents unable to care for her. At 18 months, she’s affectionate, bright, and a force to be reckoned with, just like her grandmother.

Ms. Alesia had already raised four children—two sons of her own, and two nieces—when she got the call. She had recently retired. A talented seamstress and poet, active in her church, and a confident community leader, her days were hardly dull. Still, her life was quiet and independent.

That all changed when Yaya was born. Ms. Alesia says with a wry smile, “if you think you got a plan for your life, you better forget it.”

She is raising Yaya on her own. “She’s rambunctious,” Ms. Alesia says. “And she’s smart!” She has to chase her down for diaper changes, find babysitters, and create predictable routines for the little girl. Even with these challenges, she’s completely committed to Yaya.

“She’s my heart,” Ms. Alesia says.

It’s About Love

The evening Yaya was born, Ms. Alesia knew something was going to change. It was late in April, and she was worried about her son and his girlfriend, who were expecting a baby. She said a prayer for them, and then felt inspired to write a poem about the clouds rolling by her window. Not long after, her son called. Yaya had arrived early.

RAYS-WestHill-Holiday-102315-0041She met the little girl the next day. Ms. Alesia touched her through the incubator. “She was just a little thing,” she says. She didn’t know what would happen. Her son and his girlfriend asked if she could take in the baby, but she wasn’t sure. However, just a few hours later, she felt compelled to step in.

“I knew I’d care for her,” Ms. Alesia says, “because it’s about love.” And so, at six weeks old, Yaya was released from foster care into her grandmother’s custody.

“I didn’t want to take [her parents’] rights,” Ms. Alesia explains, “but this is the choice her parents have made.” She’s honest about this, and she will be with her granddaughter as she gets older. “I want her to know that her parents couldn’t take care of her, and I have her because I love her.”

RAYS Kinship Care

Ms. Alesia doesn’t have much family support, and she has limited resources. Childcare alone is difficult to cover. Having raised her sister’s children years ago, she knows how challenging being a kinship caregiver can be. This time, she’s determined to get the support she needs. Now, she says, “I want to learn everything I possibly can.”

One place that she finds community and companionship? RAYS and the Kinship Care group at the West Hill Family Center.

RAYS-WestHill-Holiday-102315-0012“My spirit kept telling me to come back here,” Ms. Alesia says of how she found the group. She comes every week to meet with other caregivers in situations to similar to hers. She finds that many of them feel “such despair” because of the care and the work of raising their grandchildren. Ms. Alesia feels called to offer inspiration via poetry and storytelling. “I choose to spread to love,” she says.

She advocates for a “positive mindset,” and says that it’s important for her and the other women in the group to tell their stories. “Not just their grandma stories,” she adds, “but their whole story, their trials and triumphs.”

Most of all, the women know they aren’t alone. “It’s the number one thing that keeps us going,” she says.

Ms. Alesia helps support that sisterhood through the Angel of Hope Play Place, as well. She’s taken it upon herself to host this event frequently at her home so that other foster caregivers can meet and take a break while their children play. The Play Place is inspired by her granddaughter, who she calls her own “angel of hope.”

Meanwhile, Yaya is thriving in Ms. Alesia’s care. Her grandmother firmly believes that she is a “little light” in the world.

“We’re lucky to have each other,” Ms. Alesia says

By Alesia

When the clouds move, where do they go?
Gliding across the sky to and fro.
When the rain falls where does it land?
On a soft tongue or an open hand?
When the snow falls, Why is it cold?
To remind us of the young and the old.
When I whisper your name, what do you hear?
I love you my child have no fear.
FO Day Poetry ©April 2014

Yaya Shoes

October 19, 2015

Please Support the Best Starts for Kids Levy on November 3!

The Best Starts for Kids Levy (King County Proposition 1) is a very important issue that will be on the November 3rd ballot that will arrive at your home this week. Best Starts deserves your strong support as it will provide funds on a County wide basis for proven, effective programs that will significantly improve the health and well-being of children and youth in our communities.

BSFK_1_fbAt a cost of $1 a week for the average home owner, nonprofit organizations can provide programs based on science and research at key stages in the life of children and youth, from prenatal care to programs directed at keeping youth in middle school and high school, and giving them grounding for training or college.

We know that intervention at an early stage in a child’s life will help kids grow up healthy, and arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, and that their odds for completing school successfully dramatically impacts the likelihood of a positive, contributory adulthood. Programs such as the Nurse Family Partnerships and Healthy Start for Kids are existing best practice programs that would be eligible for expansion under this Levy. These programs provide support and education to young parents with first children learn to nurture their new babies and to move through the first year of their children’s lives and provide the basis for later healthy development. We are very clear on the impact of positive intervention on the first 18 months of a child’s life from brain research. This is the crucial support that literally lasts a lifetime.

Research provides a solid basis for the fact that early intervention in a child’s life through the provision of mental health services can effectively combat adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or domestic violence as an example.

We urge your support for the Best Starts Levy. It is an affordable and effective way for each of us to make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of children and youth who live in our community. The Board of Directors of Renton Area Youth and Family Services fully endorses this Levy. We kindly encourage you to read more about the Best Starts levy.

June 5, 2015

Graduation at the Most Diverse High School in the Country

One of the many schools that RAYS is happy to support is Foster High School in Tukwila. The Tukwila School District is one of the most diverse in the country. With just 5 schools, the student body represents many cultures and ethnic groups and speak more than 60 world languages. Over 80% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch and many of the families live in transitional housing. The students at Foster are truly inspiring.

Graduation is a time to celebrate achievements, reaching goals and overcoming obstacles. Perhaps even more so at Foster High School. Jennifer Nuckols, one of our counselors at Foster, was honored to attend the ceremony last year. As the 2015 class comes close to their graduation day (June 12th), Jennifer shares her thoughts about Foster’s graduation. We at RAYS wish all of the graduating students a happy, healthy future. We can’t wait to see how you impact our world.

Foster High School Graduation

By Jennifer Nuckols

The most diverse school district in the country
African-American, Argentinian, Bhutanese, Black, Bosnian, Ethiopian, Hmong, Mexican, Mixed, Samoan, Somali, Vietnamese, White
All have sat in my blue Ikea couch chair.
The loudspeaker warbles the words of the commencement speaker, the daughter of a
Bosnian refugee:
We represent the unity of the worldbeauty

When the principal leads the pledge of allegiance, I am the only one in my section of the bleachers who knows the words.
But even without reciting it,
they understand the dream, the promise of
liberty and justice for all
because today, their daughter is the first from their family to graduate high school.
This is what they have worked for, yearned for –
for their next generation.

Today they celebrate with
Congrats Grad! balloons (some float up and away during the ceremony),
layers of peanut butter cup and bubble gum candy leis,
an out-of-tune performance of Pomp and Circumstance,
new high heel shoes,
posters plastered with computer print-out pictures of their grad,
yells and screams and chants
that are occasionally drowned out by the airplanes passing overhead
– this is the town that neighbors SeaTac airport –
where some first arrived from their country,
where others will never walk onto a plane.

For almost every student who proudly hoists up their diploma,
there is one who has not, who will not.

I know both their stories.
She had a baby April, came back to school and finished all her missing work.
He struggled with depression and in the end, could not make it out of bed to come to school.
He won a turn-around scholarship, raising a 0.4 GPA to a 3.4 GPA in two years.
She was suspended three weeks before the end of school for marijuana possession and never came back.
She stayed on the honor roll after her parents kicked her out and she couched surfed with friends.
He got his girlfriend pregnant and left school to start working for diaper money.

Today with their families
we celebrate the victories
the sacrifices
the future plans
the diversity,
and work and yearn for those who are absent

January 16, 2015

Richard Sherman shares some NFL sized love with RAYS!

Unless you’ve been holed up in a concrete basement awaiting the apocalypse, you’ve almost certainly heard of Richard Sherman, the star cornerback for our beloved Seattle Seahawks. So you can imagine our self-doubt when his partner Ashley asked us to keep his identity a secret from the RAYS families he wanted to support for the holidays. How can we keep Richard Sherman a secret? His foundation, Blanket Coverage, lived up to its name by keeping the details of the operation under wraps. While most families guessed that the “special community member” inviting them to the Seahawk’s training facility to shower them with gifts might just be an NFL player, his name did indeed remain a mystery.

The Keymolen family at the VMAC

The Keymolen family at the VMAC

The night of the event began with a surprise when two flashy buses complete with LED screens, state-of-the-art sound systems, and electric blue light fixtures came to The Cynthia Green Family Center to pick up the first round of our families going to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. I raised my eyebrows in slight disbelief and chuckled: this was certainly a first. I’d seen school buses and Astro vans grace our parking lot for field trips, but never party buses that reminded me of MTV’s Real-World. Two drivers donning Seahawks jerseys cheerfully invited our diverse bunch – four families, two staff, and a Burmese interpreter – aboard the sleek black buses. Within moments of taking our seats, 12-year-old Chit Laing asked me to connect his phone to the speaker system; he wasn’t about to waste a second of our posh transportation experience. So I glanced at the driver who gave a casual nod of consent, then cranked up the Burmese hip-hop.

Richard Sherman and one lucky RAYS kiddo!

Richard Sherman and one lucky RAYS kiddo!

As we neared our destination, the kids pressed their cold little faces against the windows, gawking at the enormous waterfront facility. None of us knew exactly what to do once we got there – the buses had already left to pick up six more families from RAYS – so I was relieved when someone from the foundation came to usher us inside. We wandered onto the practice field and my eyes were immediately drawn to a massive blue banner hanging from the lofted ceiling: Super Bowl XLVIII Champions. I then absorbed the broader scene. At least 30 kids were already darting across the football field while their parents shuffled around in awe. Neat rows of gifts wrapped in bright paper waited along the field’s periphery. Directly in front of us, a girl in her mid-twenties was standing at a table, warmly greeting families and encouraging them to stand in line for pictures. “Richard will be here soon,” she assured us, at which point the excitement amongst our families reached palpable heights. We’re gonna meet Richard Sherman! I’m gonna ask him to sign my hat! I’m gonna ask him to sign my shoes! My friends aren’t gonna believe this!

We waited for a few minutes in front of an elaborate photo backdrop with Christmas trees, wooden wagons, and poinsettias all forming a semi-circle around a plush leather chair. And then Richard Sherman arrived. He entered through a door on the opposite side of the facility, so his impressive size couldn’t distinguish him at that distance, but I recognized from afar his characteristic dreadlocks beneath a blue Santa hat. He strolled up to our line, saying hello to families as he passed and asking if they wouldn’t mind taking pictures with him. Naturally, there was zero hesitation. I waited with Luis, a 7th grader at McKnight Middle School, who confessed that he was “totally freaking out on the bus” because he couldn’t believe he was going to meet a Seahawks player. “I was expecting to watch a practice, but this is actually much better,” he said, laughing. I stepped away from the line, watching family after family approach the Christmas scene where Richard greeted, hugged, or shook hands with every person before huddling them together for a group photo.

Luis and his mom Bertha posing with Santa Sherman

Luis and his mom Bertha posing with Santa Sherman

I was so engrossed in the picture procession that I didn’t notice additional attendees subtly joining the festivities. But when I again scanned the field behind the photo shoot, there were no longer just children running around gleefully. Dispersed amongst the many little people were some not-so-little people. In fact, they were huge and unmistakably athletic. They were Richard’s teammates, and they had come along to support his foundation. Although their burliness made it easy to pick them out of the crowd, the players were just as playful as the kids. The likes of Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, and Doug Baldwin were tossing footballs, signing t-shirts (as well as scarves, hats, pictures and pretty much any other appropriate surface), taking photos, and playing tag with dozens of giddy children. It was a sensational sight, and I swelled with respect for this kind gesture that would certainly be the highlight of many of these kids’ lives.

Deonta, his sister Deyona and his favorite player Earl Thomas

Deonta, his sister Deyona and his favorite player Earl Thomas

By that time, people had finished taking photos with Santa Sherman, and all 25 families (15 from RAYS) were mingling with the Seahawks players. I caught up with Deonta, a middle schooler in our youth development program, after he’d finished a conversation with Earl Thomas. “He’s my favorite player,” he gushed. “And I told him that he’s the best that’s ever played.” I asked him what it felt like to meet so many professional athletes: “Amazing,” he replied with an uncontrollable smile. “They’re a true inspiration to help other people and to work hard.”

The night culminated with Ashley and Richard personally distributing gifts to every family member. Children and adults left with arms, and hearts, full. Personally, I left with a knowing grin on my face because it turned out that Richard Sherman really did have a secret identity: he was, by far, the best Santa Claus I’d ever seen. Go Hawks!
Even the RAYS staff got in on the Sherman love.

Even the RAYS staff got in on the Sherman love.

November 11, 2014

Our Holiday Festival is Coming and We Need Your Help!

Our 16th annual Holiday Festival will be happening On Saturday, December 20th at Renton High School and we need your help to make it happen! Each year 500 child youth and adults attend our holiday festival festival and receive a hot breakfast, much needed resources, a picture with Santa and a special gift. This year, thanks to you, they will receive the gift of warmth.

Please bring your donations of NEW coats, jackets, hoodies, fleeces, blankets, hats, gloves or mittens to one of our drop off locations by December 12th. If you have any questions, please contact Morgan Wells at

Community Drive Flyer

October 23, 2014

SPARK T.H.I.S and City Soil: Making Art Work

As seems the case with many cherished experiences and relationships,
RAYS and City Soil,  an artful partnership.

RAYS and City Soil, an artful partnership.

the partnership between City Soil Farm and Spark T.H.I.S. almost didn’t happen. Allison Mountjoy and Casey Plank at City Soil had an elaborate idea for a community project: over the course of two days, local youth would learn about food systems, harvest produce in the garden, and help create art that would attract attention to the surprising location of their farm. Allison and Casey had all of the resources they needed for the project, but they were struggling to find a group of young people to partner with. They were about to give up on the project, but they decided to contact Renton Area Youth and Family Services for one last inquiry.

Luckily, the Spark T.H.I.S. youth development program at RAYS emphasizes community involvement, so we enthusiastically agreed to partner with City Soil.

On a sunny July day, thirteen middle and high school students piled into the RAYS van to venture to City Soil. Upon arrival, we filed into a conference room on the giant premises (City Soil shares space with the King County Wastewater Treatment Plant) where City Soil had prepared a presentation on food systems for us. Small bundles of students huddled around world maps guessing where foods like pecans, black tea, and coffee grow. Allison and Casey facilitated a conversation around the origins of our food, how it gets to us, and the implications of that process. They also discussed the essential qualities of “healthy” soil, which, to the dismay of some of our students, included a lot of bugs.

After the food systems discussion, our group shuffled out into the garden to experience firsthand some of the lessons we’d learned in the classroom. Within ten minutes, our group was outfitted with gardening gloves and tools, ready to harvest tiny potatoes that were hiding a couple inches beneath the soil’s surface.

SPARK T.H.I.S. Youth digging in healthy soil.

SPARK T.H.I.S. Youth digging in healthy soil.

Miraculously, the students who were horrified by the prospect of bugs were still willing to submerge their hands in the very “healthy” soil to unearth the prize produce.

After filling buckets of freshly plucked potatoes and wandering around the garden to taste not-quite-ripe apples and berries, we marched back to the administration building to watch a demonstration on how to make spray paint art. Rico, an employee at the treatment plant, captivated us all with his swift spray can strokes that produced an impossibly precise outline of a tropical flower. The following week, he said, we would be spray painting sharp, vibrant images like him, but first we had to practice. Our homework assignment for the week was to draw a picture of something that we saw in the garden that day on a piece of cardboard.

The following week, we brought back our cardboard sketches as evidence that we were ready to translate our pencil drawings into aerosol art. On a shaded hill overlooking the garden, plywood canvases leaning against plastic buckets sat waiting for us.

All of the students approached their projects with bold creativity and energy.

The crew making art in the garden!

The crew making art in the garden!

By the end of our time at City Soil we had over twenty art pieces depicting everything in the garden from strawberries to sunflowers to spiders to trees. One student gave her piece an alternative touch by slowly dripping different colors of paint from the top of her panel over her original image. Meanwhile, another student was spray painting her hands and using the imprint of her fingers and palm to accent her picture. More than one student took proud selfies in front of their finished products to display on their Instagrams.

In early October, City Soil invited us back for the final chapter of the project.We gathered with over 50 community members for a potluck in the garden where our student’s artwork now formed an inviting and colorful mural along the entrance. We sunk into fold up chairs around a fire pit munching on marinated squash, grilled kebabs, pumpkin pie, and s’mores. Casey unknowingly created one last opportunity for inspiration when she invited one of our students to command the barbeque for awhile. She surprised us all by returning from the barbeque with grilled green apples complete with caramel sauce for dipping. Needless to say, they disappeared quickly.

The students along with SPARK T.H.I.S. Youth Life Coaches and City Soil staff

What started out as a last minute proposal from an unknown urban garden transformed into one of the most unique community relationships we’ve built.

We’re grateful for local, grassroots organizations like City Soil that reach out to our youth and lucky to work with young people who are willing to take on new experiences. Even when those experiences involve bugs.

September 12, 2014

RAYS Announces The Cynthia A. Green Family Center

The Skyway area has never been so thankful for its hilltop setting as enough tears flowed this past Saturday to precipitate a flood of biblical proportions when the community honored one of its matriarchs in a rousing building dedication ceremony. Cynthia Green, a 69 year old retiree, spent most of the afternoon unsuccessfully fighting back tears as the building that served as her workplace for almost 20 years was designated the Cynthia A. Green Family Center.

Cynthia Green with Rich Brooks, Executive Director of RAYS and Ms. Carolyn Parnell, RAYS Board President

Cynthia Green (center) with Rich Brooks, Executive Director of RAYS and Carolyn Parnell, RAYS Board President

“She is the most loving, caring person I’ve ever met. She is the most selfless person I’ve ever been around!” gushed Harriett Moore.

Green’s days at The Center rarely conformed to a 9-5 schedule as she spent long hours graciously assisting members of the Skyway community in everything from fighting home evictions, to securing enough money to keep utilities on, to providing food for those who had none- many times sharing her own lunch with those who came to The Center starving- to providing a pillar of strength in the midst of personal tragedy.

“Cynthia was your best friend. Your shoulder to cry on. The person who lifted you up when you had a bad day. She just brought out the best in everyone who came into contact with her. Everyone in Skyway just loves her,” shared Sherry Dione, a daily visitor to The Center.

The celebration’s group of organizers included a myriad of friends, associates, and co-workers who Green had amassed during her time at The Center.The event featured the reading of an original poem written for the occasion by award winning poet Peggy Williams, a performance from Seattle R&B sensation Shaprece, a proclamation by King County Council member Larry Gossett, that declared it Cynthia Anne Green Day across the county, and frequent eruptions of applause as what seemed like an endless procession of speakers shared what Green personally meant to them, almost took place without its guest of honor in attendance.

Cynthia and her husband Phillip

Cynthia and her husband Phillip listen to a community memeber speak at the dedication

“I really didn’t want them to make a fuss over me. There are so many people that need help in the community that I thought they should just give any money they were going to spend on me to them,” said Green. “Up until about an hour before the ceremony I was certain that I wasn’t going, but my husband convinced me that the community really wanted me to be there, and I’d be letting them down if I didn’t attend.”

In addition to the renaming of the building, they founded the Cynthia A. Green Scholarship Fund that will aide families within the community in meeting their basic needs and will be managed by Renton Area Youth and Family Services, the local organization that continues to operate The Center.

“I’m utterly shocked,” an overwhelmed Green said through tears as she reflected on the day’s events. “I just thought that people would get up and say a few things about me. I had no idea that they were going to name the building after me and start a fund in my name. I…I can’t believe all of this is happening!”

Although it had been months since the honoree had stepped foot into the building that now bears her name, her impact and legacy within the community surely would have endured even without her names inscription on one of Skyway’s oldest buildings.

“There’s not a day that someone doesn’t come here asking for Cynthia. There isn’t a day that someone doesn’t tell a story about her or recount a memory about what she did for them,” recounted Cynthia A Green Family Center Director, Morgan Wells.

Ginney Ross, a member of the group that Green founded at the center to help support grandparent’s who were sole guardians of their grandchildren: “She always had this smile on her face that forced you to smile back, no matter how horrible your day had been, and she always has a solution to your problem. We know that there are angels on earth because of people like Cynthia.”

Read the full story in the South Seattle Emerald.
Disclosure: The writer of this article is the proud son of Cynthia Green