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.