Renton Area Youth and Family Services (RAYS) opened in the spring of 1970. At that time, existing agencies were largely adult-focussed; there were few services available for youth and families in Renton and South King County. The need for youth-specific services was large and growing due to the emerging drug use and related mental health issues for this age group. The agency operated the Berry House, which was a community drop in center. The purpose of the Berry House was to provide crisis intervention and support services to youth and families who were impacted by drug use. The program was developed and administered under the auspices of the Renton School District, working collaboratively with many community groups. The Berry House was staffed by volunteers who provided youth and families with a place to talk over their concerns and be referred to other very limited resources.
In 1971, Berry House services were moved from their original location near Renton High School to school district facilities on N. 4th Street in Renton. At this time, the agency Advisory Board wished to create a broader base of services to more effectively address the needs of its clients. With funding support from a federal grant, the program, now called the School and Community Drug Intervention Program, expanded to provide, professionally staffed services in the area of crisis intervention, counseling, foster care, job placement assistance, and community education services. In recognition of this expanded service focus, the name of the agency changed to Renton Area Youth Services, or RAYS, in May 1972. The agency also began to receive funding support from the City of Renton and King County. Following the expiration of the federal grant and after reviewing future funding options the Advisory Board determined that RAYS should become a private, non-profit agency and in June 1975, this change in organization status took place.
Family Focused Services
The program continued to emphasize services to youth and families who were impacted by drug use (RAYS was and is a Washington State licensed substance abuse treatment agency), but the program focus gradually began to broaden to serve youth and families with a variety of presenting problems including family conflict, school problems, mental health issues, and physical and sexual abuse. Increasingly, the program staff worked with entire families as well as extended families, recognizing the family system role in behavior change. The agency became more and more involved with prevention and early intervention services and began to work with pre-teens and children more frequently. Our school based counseling services continued to expand in Renton and Tukwila to promote service accessibility for children and families. The agency programs in the area of foster care and employment were discontinued due to changes in program emphasis.
In 1984, the agency relocated into the Renton Area Multi Service Center in downtown Renton, a registered historic site, and one of the current agency service sites. As the agency moved through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, its mental health service capacity continued to expand and the service population continued to broaden as we addressed a regional need for services to children under 12 years of age. While the agency continued to serve adolescents, early intervention and prevention oriented services with children as young as age 4 became increasingly significant as part of a more family focused, early intervention service philosophy. This addition to our services resulted in a change in the agency name to Renton Area Youth and Family Services in 1988.
Renton Area Youth and Family Services has undergone many changes since its Berry House beginnings in 1970. What has remained constant throughout the agency’s existence is its commitment to serve children, youth and families in need through the provision of effective, quality, accessible services. The agency maintains a strong sense of connectedness to the communities it serves in many ways such as through community partnerships with schools, churches, and community service groups, but importantly through its Board of Directors which is composed of persons who have a vital interest in the life of the community. In response to an ever-growing community need for its services, the agency has broadened its service area to include Renton, Maple Valley, and Tukwila. Funding for services is provided by the cities of Renton and Tukwila, The United Way, King County Government, Medicaid mental health, foundation grants, contributions and fees for services.
As RAYS moved toward its twenty-fifth year of existence in 1995, certain hallmarks were evident. The agency had been and continued to be provider of quality services that address particular needs of children, youth and families; the agency continued to respond dynamically to the long term and emerging needs of the community. In 1995, the agency became a Washington State licensed mental health provider for case management and outpatient services, expanded its school-based services to include mental health, youth development, and drug treatment services and in this way, made services more accessible to children and families. The West Hill Family Enrichment Center opened in 1996 to provide a range of family oriented prevention services to the Skyway, Campbell Hill, Lakeridge and Bryn Mawr communities. Specialized youth development services (SPARK T.H.I.S.) are also available at this site.
The new millennium brought continuing challenges to RAYS as the communities we serve have become significantly more economically, culturally, and ethnically diverse. The agency is called upon to respond to community needs in ways that are mission-driven, creative, effective, and culturally appropriate. RAYS continues to be in conversation with our community, our funding groups, and our agency partners to explore the best ways to be responsive and to significantly impact the lives of children, youth, and families. One of these opportunities is the Affordable Care Act of 2014, which brings with it the opportunity to form new partnerships with primary health care providers that offers coordinated care for our clients who are without health care. Additionally, our Healthy Start and Kincare programs serve young, first time parents and grandparents raising grandchildren respectively Our history indicates repeatedly that, working in concert with our community and with individuals and groups who are concerned with and invested in the quality of life for families, we can continue to build positive futures for children.