May 30, 2017

RAYS Staff Spotlight: Kristen Raftis

We are so proud of our staff at RAYS and look forward to introducing you to a few of them over the coming months. This month, I got to sit down with RAYS’ new Director of Strategic Relationships and ask her a bit about herself. We talked about everything from her theater background to her role her at RAYS and what she’s excited about for the future.

Well first things first, why don’t you tell us about yourself and anything you want us to know?
Kris Raftis: Sounds good – well, first of all, I’m very excited to be at RAYS and I’m happy to be working at a partner agency to United Way of King County since I was there for several years. It feels like I’m still a part of the United Way family. I have a masters in non-profit leadership from Seattle U and I feel like the job here will allow me to use both my master’s program and the experience that I gained at United Way. I really believe in the work that RAYS is doing and I want to help RAYS serve even more families and kids.

“I think it’s a privilege doing this work. I think being in development is one of the greatest jobs you can have because I get to connect people who want to give back to the needs of the community. It’s a privilege to have found my career and its super rewarding.”-Kris

So how did your theater background and that interest in your life lead you to where you are right now as Director of Strategic Relations?

K: I think I’ve always been a relationship builder and I’ve always been a naturally curious person. I think that curiosity leads people to be comfortable with me. They seem interested to tell me their stories. Also, theater people are storytellers – it’s about translating stories or sharing them in ways that get people excited. So, yeah, understanding stories and getting those stories to the right people – that comes from the theater background. And the strategic relationship part, I didn’t know that I was good at it until I got to United Way. There I was working on some huge projects involving lots of stakeholders and very complex relationships. And I learned how to move a group forward on a goal and make decisions that still keep doors open.

You mentioned a little bit about what drew you to RAYS. How did you decide to start working here?

K: I think it was that the job required some entrepreneurial skills – build on what you have while creating new relationships and partnerships. Also working closely with the executive director, Richard Brooks, to expand the partnerships that you already have was very intriguing to me. But really, I believe in the mission – helping people and their families. People can be vulnerable – it’s hard to talk about when you are in a stressful situation so I think it’s our job to advocate and to get resources for people in order to have a healthy community.

At RAYS we are big on self-care. We talk about it a lot. So what is your favorite self-care activity?

K: Oh, either taking myself to my friend’s cabin on Lake Sutherland or getting a massage. I think it’s important to have fun and laugh. Other fun facts: I’m a reader – I love reading and I’m also a foodie. I love to support local music, go to events, and check out independent restaurants. And you can see from my picture I’m a big Seahawks fan.

Here’s the million dollar question – If you had a million dollars what would you do with it?

K: [Laughs] What would I do with a million dollars? Finally pay off my master’s program! [Laughs] Ah, I would like to engage in some philanthropy – I’d love to be able to be a larger donor to the causes that I believe in. I think I would set up education funds for my kids and also do some other education donations. I think education is the great equalizer, you know, “if you know better, you can do better.” That’s not my quote that’s Maya Angelou, but I think that’s true.

So education sounds like it takes a big role in your life.

K: Yes, it does. Absolutely.

If you could send out a message to everyone involved with RAYS, what would you let people know?

K: I think I would just want to let people know that I have an open door – so I look forward to meeting the rest of the staff and our donors and celebrate the good work that RAYS is doing. I’d like to hear from people who have known RAYS longer than I have and find out why they are passionate about RAYS and how RAYS has impacted you – they can email me. And also watch for an upcoming fun event. It’s in the works.

Anything else you’d like to add?

K: I think it’s a privilege doing this work. I think being in development is one of the greatest jobs you can have because I get to connect people who want to give back to the needs of the community. It’s a privilege to have found my career and its super rewarding.

Before we ended our conversation, Kris reminded me again that she is looking to hear from you! She wants to hear your stories and get to know you. If you have something to share about RAYS or are looking to get to know Kris a little bit better – feel free to email her at

Interview conducted by Christina Campos, MA, LMFTA/Drama Therapy Trainee

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