Seeds of hope

In Washington, approximately 1 person dies by suicide every 8 hours. That is 3 people each day.

From the shores of the Pacific, through the beautiful Cascade mountains, across the rolling hills of the central valley, across the Palouse and up and down the landscape in every direction – it is an issue that affects us all.

In 2016, 38% of tenth graders in Pierce County reported that they were so sad or hopeless for two weeks that they stopped doing usual activities. In that same year, 11% of Pierce County youth aged 12-17 reported having one major depressive episode in the previous 12 months.

It was in the fall of 2010 when 17-year-old Jordan Binion died by suicide. Since then, his parents, Deborah and Willie, have dedicated their lives to helping others through legislative advocacy and mental health education. They discovered an evidence-based training for educators called the Mental Health and High School Curriculum and made it their mission to integrate these lessons into schools all over the state. In the last two years, over 75,000 kids in Pierce County have been educated using this curriculum and it is currently being taught in 106 districts across the state.

I could tell you about how this curriculum is designed to support teachers and improve students’ knowledge of mental health. And I could show you statistics about youth suicide rates and the prevalence of mental illness. Or I could go on and on about how necessary it is to talk about mental illness with our children, but nothing would be as impactful as hearing it from someone with lived experience. Here is Brittni’s story.

Throughout my school years, mental health was seldom talked about. Bullying was talked about frequently. If you saw something, say something. But mental health? It was taboo. Nobody wanted to be crazy so whatever feelings you had, you dealt with them alone. Teachers strayed away from such serious conversations because we were young and it was viewed as being too mature. This was a significant disadvantage as a young female dealing with mental illness and I often felt isolated.

Occasionally, I found others dealing with similar issues. We confided in each other, trading bracelets to hide our cuts and guarding bathroom doors as battles with bulimia raged on. With no adult help and no clue how to handle what we felt, we relied on each other until the unhealthiness of it all caught up to us and we ended our friendships. 

Now looking back, I can see the ways in which I failed others and the ways in which others failed me. In eighth grade our class was doing a game of getting to know each other. Everyone was saying fun facts about themselves, but the only thing I could think of when it came to be my turn was how much I wanted to die. “If you really knew me,” I said “You would know that every day I go home and I think about killing myself.” After I spoke these words, the teacher allowed me to use the restroom where I cried for twenty minutes before she came and got me. She never contacted my parents or talked with me about what I had said. After that day, it was never brought up again and six months later, I attempted suicide for the first time.

During high school, the pressure began building for me to write essays, read history books, and pass science and math classes. These were the most important things.

I remember being so overwhelmed, all the time.

I was losing sleep, staying up all hours of the night to finish projects for school all the while dealing with troubles at home. Every day at school, I was like a zombie, mindlessly walking from class to class, praying I wouldn’t get called on, hoping only to survive. I tried to seek out help at this time.

We were allowed at times to discuss difficult topics with teachers and peers, but none of the classes I took ever purposefully incorporated mental health education. I talked with guidance counselors, teachers, friends, but everyone seemed burdened with my problems like I was being dramatic or they didn’t have time. If any of my peers were struggling with their mental health, or felt like the schools were unsatisfactory in meeting their needs, I never knew about it. I think it’s a pretty common thing as a teenager to want to hide your problems, wanting to seem cool to your peers. Two years after my first suicide attempt, came my second.  

It wasn’t until I transferred schools and began attending Oakland, that things started to change for me. Oakland is an alternative school in Tacoma for students who are behind for one reason or another. The teachers at this school were so dedicated to not only getting kids back on track to graduate, but also to teach real and lasting life lessons. I was immersed in education about gang violence and statistics, teen pregnancies and its generational effects, as well as meaningful discussions about mental health.

My story with the Jordan Binion Project began in the spring of 2016 while I was attending Oakland. In a portable classroom filled with 20 juniors and seniors, Deborah and Willie Binion began the most influential and life changing presentation I had ever heard. They began by telling the story of their son, Jordan. They spoke of his beautiful life, the struggles he faced and his tragic death by suicide. They spoke about mental illness being a disease, like any other, and focused on reducing the stigma behind mental health. 

At the time of this presentation when I was just 17 years old, I had already been bounced around from doctor to doctor, a plethora of prescriptions and treatment plans that never seemed to work, two psychiatric hospital stays and two suicide attempts. I felt like my brain was a volleyball being hit back and forth with no care. I had always felt tremendous shame over my problems and guilty because I couldn’t fix myself. I was passively suicidal, with no hope of getting better, constantly living in fear of others finding out.

No one before had ever told me that my mental illness was not my fault. I remember staring up at them during the presentation with wide eyes, as the puzzle pieces in my head began putting themselves together. Mental illness isn’t my fault so I can talk about it like any other disease such as cancer or diabetes. I learned that if I can freely talk about it, I can get real, beneficial, lasting help. If I can get help, I can be happy. 

Deborah and Willie asked us questions, gave us answers and encouraged us to get help if we needed to. I’ll never forget the moment when Willie handed me a tee shirt after I raised my hand and announced that I was a survivor of suicide. Though Willie and Deborah were in my class for maybe an hour or so, I felt I learned more from them about mental health than any doctor or teacher I had ever seen.

It’s such a shame that mental health education is not required in every school nationwide. The teachers who wanted to help us with our mental health had to find ways to incorporate it into the lessons that were mandated, and most of the time it felt insufficient. Mental illness can occur in anyone. Suicide is an epidemic and we need adequate teaching and understanding to fight against it.

After learning of the Jordan Binion Project when Deborah and Willie spoke to my class, I felt inspired, understood and enlightened. In the subsequent years to follow, no matter how bad things got, I always remembered Jordan.

I remembered Jordan’s parents and how they turned their tragedy into a seed of hope, planting their story all around.

The Jordan Binion Project taught me how to persevere. They reduced the stigma of mental illness for me and helped me regain confidence and control over my situation. 

I can now proudly say that I am doing well. Mental illness is not something that ever goes away completely, but rather a disease to be managed. I am still learning and some days are better than others, but I now have the knowledge and support I need to stay in the game.

Since that presentation, I’ve graduated high school and traveled across the country to different places doing long-term volunteer work for those less fortunate than myself. I realize that my life is a gift, and not a mistake. Wherever I go and wear the Jordan Binion Project t-shirt, I am asked about the meaning behind it. I feel so thankful for the opportunity to share my experience and Jordan’s story. I will always gladly, and proudly, share about my journey with mental illness, just as I will always proudly display my Jordan Binion Project shirt.    


Brittni Robinette

Brittni Robinette, 2018


















The Jordan Binion Project offers Mental Health and High School curriculum training to all teachers in Washington State for free. The training is so successful that educators from Florida, Kansas, Colorado, Michigan and Idaho have already reached out and requested the training so they can bring this necessary curriculum to their students.

This week is National Suicide Prevention week. I challenge you to reach out to someone in your community that may be having a difficult time. Suicide is preventable and we need to come together to raise awareness and fight for prevention. Help is out there. You are not alone.

Thank you Brittni, Deborah and Willie Binion, and the Jordan Binion Project for your work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. You are changing the world.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Pierce County Crisis Line 1-800-576-7764

Crisis Text Line 741-741



Gardening is always a fun thyme

Eight years ago, Jane Ostericher’s garden wasn’t thriving, so she asked her green-thumb friend for help with the problem. Within a matter of seconds, she was told frostbite was to blame for her decaying shrub. Impressed with the diagnosis, Jane asked her friend how she knew the answer so quickly. That was the first time she had ever heard about the Master Gardeners.

What started off as a small clinic at the Tacoma Mall in 1973 in response to increased demand for home gardening advice, quickly turned into an international phenomenon that is now found in every state in America. Each year, Master Gardener Programs provide hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh produce to senior centers, food banks, and other communities in need. There are Master Gardeners in every county in Washington State, with over 400 volunteers residing with us locally.

Pierce County helps fund the Master Gardener program, part of Washington State University’s Extension. Extension works with residents, businesses, and organizations to build their capacity to find solutions for local agricultural issues and improve their quality of life. The Master Gardener program trains individuals in the science and art of gardening, and focuses on conserving and enhancing natural resources.

Summer interns at Sehmel Park in Gig Harbor

But you don’t need a biology degree to become a Master Gardener. Sometimes you just need a big heart. Since 2009, Pierce County Master Gardeners have supported the Tacoma Community College horticulture program at the Washington Correctional Center for Women by supporting faculty in educating inmates about sustainable gardening. With the program’s support, the women grew over 8,000 pounds of fresh produce that was served in the prison cafeteria.

Jane Ostericher



“It’s very rewarding to know that we can help provide healthy vegetables and fruits to those in need in our community.” – Jane Ostericher, Master Gardener since 2011

Master Gardeners provide a valuable public service by sharing sustainable gardening information through a variety of programs to people of all different skill levels. Last week, they wrapped up their summer gardening program for children with the Dr. Seuss Extravaganza, where themed costumes were encouraged. To engage youngsters, volunteers relate the fundamentals of gardening to favorite pastimes of children to create classes that are fun and informative. With fun topics that include fairies, gnomes, and tic tac toe gardening, it’s no wonder this summer program is popular with families in the South Sound.

Fairies & Gnomes Children’s Activity, June 2018

Even though many of their activities are kid-friendly, Master Gardeners say people of all ages can find something they enjoy. If you’re passionate about sustainability and helping the environment, attend a rain garden workshop this fall to learn how to design your own, which can effectively remove 90% of nutrients and chemicals in rainwater runoff. If you are looking for low-impact exercise, work in a demonstration garden to provide safe and consistent movement that burns calories and keeps you limber. If you enjoy problem solving, volunteer in the clinic where you can examine live samples, conduct research, and diagnose plant problems that are damaging residents’ gardens.

Jane has found her seven years as a Master Gardener very rewarding, and it has inspired her to give back. “A client visiting the park and garden last week told me that walking the trails and seeing our gardens have been very therapeutic for her son, who is recovering from serious illness and life stressors. I want to look into starting a program at the garden to help Veterans suffering from PTSD.”

Demonstration garden in Puyallup

To learn more about the program, attend an informational session, check out their Facebook page, or visit a demonstration garden near you to see (literally) the fruit of their labor. There are two learning tracks you can choose from, and training is held from January to March each year. You can apply online or in person, but applications are due no later than October 31st. There is a small fee associated with Master Gardener training, but there are funds available to financially assist those in need. If you are passionate about gardening, looking for a new hobby, or want to further your education, I encourage you to become a Master Gardener.


A Home for Maria


Maria* was already sitting up in bed before her alarm went off. Since she moved into her new home three days ago, she has been too excited to get a full night’s sleep. She turned off the alarm clock and sat on the edge of the bed with the morning sun peeking through the blinds, warming her cheeks. She swung her legs around giddily before getting out of bed to take a shower and get ready for the day. She still couldn’t believe all the space she had! Maria has visual challenges, and up until last week, was living in a home with an unsafe, inaccessible layout. She shook her head at the memory of eating dinner with her legs pressed up against the furniture, cramped in her tiny bedroom, unable to move around freely or comfortably. But she didn’t want to think about that anymore. Those days are long gone.

It was December 2016 when Vadis submitted a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application to Pierce County Human Services requesting funds to purchase and renovate a home for low-income individuals with disabilities. Vadis, an employment agency with locations in six counties, specializes in providing opportunities for people with disabilities, such as housing and employment, to fulfill their economic and human potential. They know that to help people succeed, they need to look at the bigger picture, and safe, affordable housing was another way they could help. Since then, Vadis has purchased 10 single family homes and 5 duplexes in Pierce County, all for people with disabilities.

In the fall of 2017, they received news that their grant application was approved! They immediately started house hunting and within a few months, they closed on a home in East Pierce County. This is the 11th home in Pierce County that Vadis has acquired and rehabilitated, but it is special because it was sold below the asking price because the owners fell in love with their mission and wanted to give back to the community.

CDBG fund applications are reviewed and recommended for funding by the Citizen’s Advisory Board (CAB), a group of community members, elected officials, and volunteers who represent low and moderate-income residents of Pierce County. The board is responsible for selecting projects that help reduce the impact of poverty and homelessness by increasing access to affordable housing, providing services to the most vulnerable populations in our communities, and creating jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses.

Sherry Martin, a CAB member of two years, recalls Vadis’ grant application. “Everyone’s number one priority was housing and Vadis is a well-respected agency that does a lot for the community. They had a good proposal that served the population and needs of the community we stand for.”

Since April 2018, Vadis worked tirelessly to renovate the home, which was finally finished just one day before Maria moved in. Old carpet was replaced with special flooring to allow for easy maneuvering of a wheelchair, probing cane, or other assistive devices. The bathrooms were updated with wheelchair accessible fixtures, like a roll-in shower, to accommodate residents. A ramp was installed for safer entry to the front door. Weatherization updates were made for increased energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs. In addition to accessibility improvements, cosmetic changes like moisture-detecting fans and fresh paint on the inside and outside were completed to spruce up the house.

Bathroom with special features
Open, bright living room
Durable, concrete wheelchair ramp

Once the home was finished, Vadis partnered with a residential service provider that assists tenants with daily living activities such as cooking and cleaning. Vadis acts as the landlord and is responsible for maintenance, repairs, inspections, and yardwork. They charge rent based on the tenant’s income, and ensure they are left with money to spend on other important areas in their life, like social activities and a savings account. Oftentimes, people with disabilities are on fixed incomes and do not have spending money after necessary bills are paid. Vadis is determined to keep rental prices low so residents can enjoy life without the stress of living paycheck to paycheck. “Some of these residents have jobs and families, just like all of us, but the conditions we were seeing them live in were horrible. Everyone deserves to live in an affordable home where they feel safe, important, and part of the community,” says Mary Bushnell, Vice President of Program Services at Vadis, who was instrumental in completing this project. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Citizen’s Advisory Board agrees that this home will benefit more people than just the residents.

“A home like this gives residents some independence, something to be proud of, and furthers their personal journey. But it also is positive for the community because it takes a house in a neighborhood, that may otherwise be broken, and makes it bright, happy, and cheerful again.” – Sherry Martin, CAB Member

The community couldn’t agree more! Neighbors came to the open house to see the finished product and were blown away by the improvements. One woman even offered to help decorate the home for free when she learned who its occupants would be.

These collaborations are essential to the mission of the Human Services Department of Pierce County. This project would not have been possible if it weren’t for every person involved. From the Vadis employees like Mary who wrote the grant and secured the funds, to the volunteer board members who evaluated and recommended the proposal, to the head of the HOA who approved the wheelchair ramp, to the owners who sold their home for less money, to the Community Services staff who made sure the construction invoices were accurate and paid on time – everyone played a crucial role in helping Maria and her future roommates live in a safe, affordable home.

As for Maria, she isn’t letting her visual challenges hold her back. Shortly after she moved in, with the help of her residential service provider, she had memorized the entire layout of her new home. The first day she returned from her job, she walked in the front door with the biggest smile on her face! She is happy and looking forward to this new chapter in her life.

If you want to be more involved in your community, the Citizen’s Advisory Board is a great way to learn about and be a part of programs that help low-income and disabled persons in Pierce County. Apply here, or if you want to learn more about Vadis’ mission and how you can help others like Maria, visit their website at







*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

No Stain is Too Big!

It was late fall of 2017 when Eric Taylor first noticed the small yellow circle forming on the ceiling in his foyer. As a disabled veteran with mobility and memory issues, Eric was not able to inspect the damage. He tried to ignore the growing stain because he had more important things to worry about, like his health. In the months leading up to the discovery, Eric was admitted to the hospital when he developed pneumonia. While receiving treatment, doctors discovered a mass the size of a deck of cards on his lung. His medical team acted quickly to resolve the issue and Eric was back home within one month.

Over the holidays, the stain continued to grow and other signs of damage appeared in other areas of his home. He noticed that the shingles on his roof had started to expand and were falling off. Eric’s friendly neighbors came to the rescue by helping secure a tarp over the damaged roof, slowing down the leak for the winter. “The tarp was a live saver for me over the winter, but I knew I had to do something because the larger the stain got, the harder it was for me to breathe. I knew I had to get help soon because the leaky roof was causing me so much stress.”

The stain inside Eric’s foyer from the leaking roof.

Eric called 2-1-1 shortly after the holidays and was given the number to the Pierce County Minor Home Repairs Program. He contacted the program manager on February 13th, completed verifications of eligibility on February 20th, and County employees were out to assess the property on March 2nd. Eric was approved as a program participant and construction on his home began on May 14th. His roof was completely fixed just three days later.

Eric couldn’t believe it! “Everyone was so nice to me and they worked so hard! I had no problems getting ahold of anybody from the County, everyone I interacted with was very kind and respectful, and the contractors did outstanding work.” Eric was a carpenter by trade decades ago, but he developed arthritis in his hips that prevented him from completing these repairs on his own. “I just appreciate the service. I can’t thank the County enough. It felt like Christmas!”

Eric outside of his home, showcasing his new roof.

The Minor Home Repairs Program is part of the Community Action Division, a segment of Pierce County Human Services that helps residents with home repair, energy assistance, early education, and employment services. In the 2017-2018 program year, Pierce County Minor Home Repair served 106 households with 170 repairs. Most of the repairs are related to leaky roofs and failing water tanks, but they also assist with electrical repairs, heating systems, and home safety additions like bathroom grab bars, deck handrails, and wheelchair ramps. The goal is to improve housing conditions by providing emergency repairs at no cost to qualifying individuals. To qualify, participants must own their home, have an income below 80% Area Median Income (AMI), and reside in Pierce County, but outside the city limits of Tacoma, Lakewood, and Bonney Lake.

Since his roof was fixed, Eric has been on cloud nine. In addition to being able to breathe easier, he now has more to celebrate. Contractors noticed his deck needed improvements when they were inspecting his roof, and he recently learned that he has been approved for this home repair. Construction will start soon and he will be able to enjoy his deck safely before summer is over.

So, what does Eric say his life is like now that the leaky roof is patched and his deck will be repaired? “Every day is like the first day of a love story. I cannot recommend this program enough.”

“I had a wonderful experience and want everyone to know about the help available. It is such a blessing, especially if you don’t have the means or finances to get the work done yourself.” -Eric Taylor, Spanaway

This story should remind us all that no stain is too big to overcome. Nothing is beyond our reach. We can all believe and achieve!

If you or someone you know may benefit from the Minor Home Repairs program, please contact us at 253-798-4400 (option #2). You can also apply online here.

You care for them. We care for you.

When you think of a caregiver, what image do you see? You might imagine someone dressed in scrubs, most likely a woman, helping an elderly patient get dressed, use a walker, or take medications. Perhaps you see them at the end of their work shift, probably still in their scrubs, hopping on the bus to head home or at the grocery store with their families.

But, what if caregiving was not a calling, or paid employment, or a stepping stone to improving the chances of getting into nursing school?

In America, there are some 40 million people who take care of another adult, and 800,000 of them call Washington State home. Most of the time they are family members of an individual suffering from a disability that hinders their ability to complete normal daily living activities, such as bathing and eating.

According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for an older relative — but nearly a quarter of caregivers today are millennials and are equally likely to be male or female. About one-third of caregivers have a full-time job, and 25 percent work part time. A third provide more than 21 hours of care per week. Family caregivers are, of course, generally unpaid, but the economic value of their care is estimated at $470 billion a year — roughly the annual American spending on Medicaid.

Caregiving is not an easy job – it entails seeing people in their most vulnerable moments – and can take many forms. But, the reality is that most people caring for family members don’t consider themselves caregivers. They are concerned and loving daughters, wives, husbands, partners, sons, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends who handle a wide range of responsibilities from buying groceries and cooking meals, to making doctor appointments and assisting with personal hygiene. In small doses, these jobs are manageable. But having to juggle caregiving demands with the demands of your own life can prove to be a challenge over time.

To support those caring for others, Pierce County offers a Family Caregiver Support Program staffed with knowledgeable and caring people who can help you. The top two services we provide are respite care and PERS, a personal emergency response system. Respite enables caregivers to take a break from their responsibilities and recuperate, which is so important to provide the quality level of care your loved ones deserve and need. PERS offers a degree of safety in the home for individuals who many not always have a caregiver close by. We can also help with shopping or other household chores, providing minor adaptive equipment, and connecting you with lesser known but helpful resources.

In 2017, nearly 400 family caregivers received the support they needed. This year, we are on track to exceed that number, but we know many more Pierce County residents need the resources we provide.

We could use your help to spread the word. Have conversations with the family caregivers in your life and let them know that we are only one phone call away. While there are certain eligibility requirements, these services are offered free or at little cost. Through our partnerships, we have a vast and diverse network of agencies and providers that can ease the stress of family caregiving, for you and your loved ones. You care for them, we care for you.

To learn more about the Family Caregiver Support Program, visit our website or contact our Aging and Disabilities Resource Center at 253-798-4600.

Help those who have helped you!



Aging is natural. Abuse is not.

The mornings were still a bit cold in her house, even though spring was right around the corner. As she sat in her chair to enjoy a cup of tea and read the newspaper – the same routine she has enjoyed for the past 25 years – her phone rang. She was surprised when the caller ID read the incoming call as a Washington D.C. number.


“This is the Federal Government. Your personal information is at risk and you may be a victim of identity theft. We can protect you online from this type of fraudulent activity for a small fee.”

The caller went on to explain that for only $2,000 she would be protected from online scammers and her information would be safe. The service was only available for a short period of time and was an easy 3-step process that she could do over the phone. She pulled out her bank information and was ready to pay for this seemingly necessary protection when she thought to call the Pierce County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) to see if this was a service she could pay for locally.

Hongda, a Case Manager with the ADRC, answered the call. “She was very convinced that this was a legitimate government service and I believe she would have paid them. It took some time to convince her otherwise.”

Each year in America, an estimated 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited. This is a global problem, with the United Nations estimating that 1-10% of older adults are victims of elder abuse each year.

With such staggering numbers, what can we do here at home to solve this problem? On Friday, June 15th, Pierce County will be joining millions all over the globe to recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

The ADRC is an integral part of the Aging and Disability Resources division of Pierce County Human Services, fielding over 1,000 calls each month. Most of the calls are seniors looking for financial assistance, housing support, or in-home care services, but many of them are people calling to receive information on elder abuse.

Hongda and his colleagues encourage people in the community to call the ADRC for non-emergent situations if they are concerned about an elderly or disabled neighbor, friend, or family member. Callers can use the ADRC as a sounding board before calling Adult Protective Services if they are unsure where to turn. “We can conduct telephone reassurance calls to provide wellness checks for vulnerable adults in the community. We have had doctors, coworkers, and even mailmen call to understand the different types of elder abuse and what warning signs to look out for.”

Financial exploitation of seniors has skyrocketed over the past decade, but unfortunately, it isn’t the only type of abuse that elderly citizens suffer.

Elder abuse can be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect, and may take the form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Unfortunately, it occurs in every demographic and can happen to anyone – a family member, a neighbor, even you.

There is stigma attached to elder abuse that keeps many victims from coming forward, while others are not capable of reporting crimes due to physical or mental ailments. As older adults become more physically frail, they are less able to take care of themselves, stand up to bullying, or fight back if attacked.

As a community, we need to look out for one another. If you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or check on someone’s wellbeing. Pierce County staff is willing and able to help you. Please join us in our effort to raise awareness of this global social issue and contact the ADRC at 253-798-4600 or 1-800-562-0332 if you or someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse.

You can also call Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) ENDHARM toll free at 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276) to report vulnerable adult and child abuse and neglect.

Learn more about the warning signs and prevention of elder abuse, as well as how to protect yourself or someone you know from financial exploitation.

To contact Adult Protective Services in Pierce County for reports on allegations of abuse, abandonment, neglect, self-neglect and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults living in the community and in facilities, fill out the online form here or call 1-877-734-6277. You can also call     9-1-1.

To file an elder fraud complaint and learn more about senior fraud, click here.

Elder Abuse takes many forms – physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, financial abuse and sexual abuse, making it multi-layered, complex and insidious. Many older adults are abused in their own homes, in relatives’ homes and even in facilities responsible for their care. It is important that if there is suspicion that an elderly person is at risk of neglect, physical abuse, undue influence or being preyed upon financially, that it is reported immediately. If you see it, report it.

Second Chances


More than 3 sold out games at Cheney Stadium.
Enough people to fill the Washington State fairgrounds in Puyallup 2 times.
And nearly enough to fill the Tacoma Dome.

What is it? The estimated number of people in Pierce County who are unemployed. Until a few months ago, Randy was one of these people.

Randy was placed in foster care at the age of three after his parents were unable to care for him due to issues with alcoholism. He spent most of his childhood living on a farm in Sequim with his foster family. It was there that Randy developed a strong work ethic and learned how to take care of himself. His days were spent bucking hay, cleaning stalls, building fences, and taking care of farm animals. As a young adult, Randy began to drink heavily and eventually got into trouble with the law. Since then, Randy has had an extremely difficult time finding and keeping a job.

It is a cycle that we see all too often in our line of work. Someone is unable to get hired, which means they can’t pay bills or make ends meet, which eventually leads to losing their home, which often leads to depression, exacerbating substance use and keeping them from getting a job – and the cycle starts all over again. When you have no money, how can you afford the costs of getting a job? Many things that we take for granted, such as transportation, clothes for interviews, a way to shower and stay clean, are all difficult to come by when you are living in poverty.

The job market had changed since Randy last got a job and he did not know how to change with it. The days of just showing up and asking for a chance are long gone, replaced by online applications and automated answering machines in HR departments. While waiting at the bus stop after losing out on yet another job, he saw a flyer for the CAREER program at Pierce County Human Services. With mounting pressure to be more financially responsible for his children and a growing desire to be self-sufficient, he called the number on the flyer and spoke with Family Educator, Glenna.

Randy went through an easy screening process over the phone and made an appointment to meet with Glenna. During their meeting, Randy found out that CAREER stands for Community Action Resource for Education and Employment Readiness.

The CAREER team is made up of social workers and family specialists who help people find jobs, go back to school and break down barriers that keep them from reaching their goals. CAREER is part of our Community Action Programs division that helps people in poverty improve their lives through employment services, minor home repair, weatherization and early childhood education.

Once in the program, Randy began job readiness activities such as updating a resume, creating a cover letter, and practicing mock interviews to learn how to answer hard questions about gaps in employment and criminal history.

Next, he enrolled in the 6-week Strategies for Success workshop that focuses on self-discovery, work-life balance, collaborative communication and improving soft skills needed to become successfully employed. The workshop requires participants to attend 3 hours per day, Monday through Thursday. Glenna and Randy worked together to identify his barriers to employment, and discovered his main problem was transportation. The program provided him with a monthly bus pass that enabled him to attend the workshop, travel to job interviews, and get back to his shelter in time to secure a bed for the night.

After he completed Strategies for Success, Randy was placed at a Work-Based Learning (WBL) site, which provides individuals with up to 240 hours of paid employment. Participants like Randy learn new job skills and gain valuable work experience so important to finding employment.

“I was unable to get a job because of my criminal record, even though it was from 20 years ago. Employers would say they would hire me until they saw my background, then they would fire me or not return my calls. I was a stay-at-home Dad for a number of years because of this and when employers would see my big gaps in work history, I couldn’t get hired. Nobody would give me a chance.”

There are many people, just like Randy, who are not given an opportunity to work because of various barriers. Whether it’s homelessness, addiction, a criminal record, or gaps in work history, it is difficult to find someone who will give them a chance.

WBL sites are an opportunity for employers and job seekers to both be rewarded. Job seekers can improve their confidence, earn some money, and have a chance at a better life. Employers receive a tax credit and can give back to the community by helping someone in need.

Studies show that employment is extremely beneficial to our health and well-being. Glenna has noticed a huge change in Randy since he has become employed. “Randy is so much more confident now.,” says Glenna. “He is talkative and very proud! His relationship with his children has improved and he has something to look forward to.”

If you know someone like Randy, send them our way. For more information call our Community Action Programs division at 253-798-4400, visit us in person at our Soundview office, located at 3602 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, or check us out on the website.

Year-End Reflection

As the leader of Pierce County Human Services, I am inspired and awestruck by the great work our County, providers, and staff carry out each day to help the most vulnerable among us. Pierce County Human Services is defined by its good people. And our good people do what others don’t often see.

I could write about all the things we accomplished this year, but it would be longer than the average blog post. Instead, let me recount a few stories.

A few weeks ago, a 92-year-old man called us for help. He explained: “A couple of punks threw trash in my driveway. I am blocked in and can’t get out. I have no money to hire someone.”

A woman called and explained that her incarcerated husband just passed, and she had no means to provide for a “proper and respectful” burial.

A man called on behalf of his frail mother, who was being discharged from the hospital after a hip replacement. He had to get back to work the next day and needed someone to help with the care of his mother.

And we helped solve each of these crises.

Our society is fragile. Our neighbors need help. We answer the call.

In September, in partnership with Comprehensive Life Resources, we launched the Mobile Community Intervention Response Team (MCIRT). This team has quickly become an effective and well-respected resource working to reduce the volume of high utilizers using the 9-1-1 system in the Parkland/Spanaway area. The MCIRT works with people with low- to moderate-level, non-emergent needs who frequently utilize the 9-1-1 system—often making up to hundreds of calls per year—before they enter a crisis.

The MCIRT is composed of a unique staff of compassionate and dedicated individuals with a variety of skills sets, including a Mental Health Professional, Nurse (ARNP), Case Manager, and Peer Support. Their essential focus is on meeting community needs: from minor medical and basic assistance to resource connections, housing, and importantly, the restoration of hope.

The most recent call regarded a client we’ll refer to as Betty, a 74-year-old woman who said she did not feel safe in her home. She did not want to be there. Snapping into action, the MCIRT determined Betty’s home was in poor condition: no heat, excessive hoarding, no food, and a leaking roof. It was apparent she had been isolated without a support system for quite some time. Betty was battling Stage 4 renal failure, had poor vision, recently experienced a drastic and rapid weight loss of 100 pounds, was cognitively impaired, and unable to properly take her medications.

The first step—addressing her medical needs—required the team to schedule medical appointments, make sure Betty could get to them, and assist during the appointments in question. She was treated for hypertension, her kidney disease, dysthymia, insomnia, back pain, and anemia; which required a variety of medications. It was determined she needed a brief hospital stay.

MCIRT staff soon visited Betty in the hospital and were confronted by a social worker who stated Betty did not have medical reasons to remain overnight. Medicare would not approve additional care. Once again, Betty was adamant: She did not want to return home. She was frightened, had no food, and only had running water in the bathroom. Yet she had to return. And so the next day, MCIRT met Betty at her home with groceries, portable heaters, blankets, reading glasses, and the other essentials required to meet her needs.

While Betty was grateful, MCIRT staff realized she likely needed a safer environment—like assisted living. Determined to find stable housing and effective medical care and support, MCIRT connected with Pierce County Human Services’ Aging and Disabilities Resource Center. After nearly two months and 150 hours of hands-on contact time, Betty agreed to move in to an assisted living home, where she now receives healthy meals, medical care, social interaction, and other supports to meet her basic needs. Betty is adjusting to her new home, and the team remains in contact with her.

Traci, the team’s Mental Health Professional from Comprehensive Life Resources, describes their current efforts as ensuring Betty lives a happier, healthier, and less isolated life—and continues to receive the care and support she needs. Since her move-in, MCIRT staff have reached out across the country to reunite Betty with her children.

This is a story that positions real human suffering next to the care and compassion a team of professionals gives to our most vulnerable. And it’s just one story about one client helped by one team—a dedicated team that uses an effective approach to improve the lives of people struggling with barriers that impact the whole community.

In the coming days, many will write about what this year has meant to them. Here’s what it means to me. I’ve learned it can be difficult to communicate success when you’re succeeding at invisible work and exceeding invisible goals. Yes—we measure our outcomes in many ways; and those measurements are important for things like budgets and reports and contracts. But the work that isn’t seen can be just as important—if not more so. Keep an eye out for it.

With best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year,



Avanza – Moving Forward

It’s 2:00PM on a beautiful warm day at Zeiger Elementary in South Hill, Puyallup. You can hear happy voices on the playground. If you listen closely you will hear little voices speaking Spanish. Martha Santoyo, their teacher, introduces me as Mr. Peter. I am greeted with “Hola Señor Pedro.” This is Avanza, one of two bilingual Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) classrooms operated by Pierce County Human Services. Avanza means moving forward in Spanish.

As I walk on the playground to engage with the children, a little girl approaches me with a stick of chalk in hand. She begins drawing on the blacktop. I ask her what she is drawing. She draws squares and circles. She stands and grabs my hand. She asks me to draw with her. I make flowers and trees. She smiles. She draws a heart, colors it and says it’s for me. At that moment my heart melts. I ask her to tell me her name. She says, "Itzel," and from that moment we’re BFFs!

We talk and joke. I ask her to teach me some Spanish. How do you say tree in Spanish, I ask? She says, “Árbol.” I repeat back. How do you say girl? She says, “Niña.” Now others are hearing our Spanish lesson and chime in. A boy demands that I ask him a word. I say chicken (laughter). He says, “Pollo.” I respond with El Pollo Loco (pronounced L Po-yo Lo-co – referring to The Crazy Chicken, a fast food grilled chicken restaurant in California). Each and every kiddo in hearing distance laughs out loud! I turn red. I thought I said something wrong. It dawned on me there are no El Pollo Loco restaurants in Washington.

I am saved by the bell! Students line up like little soldiers. Their teachers, Martha Santoyo and Margarita Little, lead them into a portable classroom on the school grounds. Itzel breaks ranks and gently takes my hand to make sure I get to the right place. When I enter the space, I see a well-organized classroom. I see life itself filled with happiness. A young man, Axel, approaches me, proudly wearing his new suit jacket. I acknowledge how sharp he looks. He smiles.

I quickly learn my playground word game is not over. Brandon pulls out a box filled with plastic animals and holds up a horse and they say caballo. Next he pulls out a dog and I hear perro. They ask me to repeat in Spanish. Next is a cow (vaca), a goat (cabra), an elephant (elefante) and so on. I repeat in Spanish each animal taken from the box.

The Avanza ECEAP Program provides a window of opportunity for enriching growth and development and reducing vulnerability to social stressors such as poverty so that our children can know who they can become. The children’s progress is measured in seven key categories:

  • Mathematics – The ability to use number concepts and operations, explore and describe spatial relationships and shapes, compare and measure, and knowledge of patterns.
  • Literacy – The ability to demonstrate phonological awareness, knowledge of the alphabet, knowledge of print and its usage, comprehend and respond to books or other texts, and emergent writing skills.
  • Cognitive Development – The ability to demonstrate positive approaches to learning, remember and connect experiences, use classification skills, and use symbols and images to represent something not present.
  • Language – The ability to listen to and understand increasingly complex language, use language to express thoughts and needs, and use appropriate conversational and other communication skills.
  • Physical Development – The ability to demonstrate traveling skills, balancing skills, gross-motor manipulative skills, and fine-motor strength and coordination.
  • Social-Emotional Development – The ability to regulate own emotions and behaviors, establish and sustain positive relationships, and participate cooperatively and constructively in group situations.

The chart below provides proof that Avanza ECEAP works. Please note that sometimes when dual language learners grow developmentally in the area of Language there is more expectation for them to meet and master language objectives, which could result in regression at times.

Before I leave, I ask Margarita and Martha what ECEAP means to them. Margarita said, “It means being able to touch a life and believe we are planting a seed that will positively impact the future.” Martha replied, “To be an ECEAP teacher is to help families and children become self-reliant and successful in life.” These are words spoken from a team with over twenty years of experience.  

I left this experience on a natural high.

On my way back to the office I reflected on my visit. I thought about my family, my job and my community. Mostly, I thought about my experience with three- and four-year-olds. They are open, honest and unfiltered. I left with the strong sentiment that we are their voice. So, some food for thought as you listen to little voices:

  1. Learn from three- and four-year-olds. They can teach you a lesson. Don’t ignore our future!
  2. Go slow, listen and learn. Don’t go too fast. Life will pass you by.
  3. Look for joy; it's always there. You don’t have to go far to find it.
  4. Let little ones lead you. Hold their hands.
  5. Pay more attention. Read a book. Eat dinner together. Stop staring at your phone.
  6. Dream like a happy child. It puts humanity into perspective.
  7. Believe. Consider that everything is possible and you'll make more things happen!
  8. Be happy for no reason. It fills the soul.

For further information regarding the Early Child Education and Assistance Program services we provide, please contact Kristin Kenyon at 253.798.3671. 


Everything They Said They Were Going to Do, They Did!

My life would not have been the same without my grandmother. For 30 years she worked at the Bedford, Massachusetts, Veterans Administration as a Nurse’s Aide in the psychiatric ward. She lived in the same house for 70 years. When my grandmother retired, she had to choose between a government pension and social security. Since she was shy three quarters from getting full social security benefits, she chose the government pension. During that time you had a choice; you didn’t get both.

One day my brother called to tell me that she had been scammed by a roofing and siding company. The contractors had her withdraw money from her limited savings to pay for shoddy work they never finished. My brother and sisters each chipped in to pay for the repairs to complete her home. We’ve all heard similar stories. Unfortunately, the world has not changed. Bad people continue to take advantage of our most vulnerable.

Like my grandmother, let me introduce you to David Shaw, an elderly gentlemen that I spoke to recently. During a duck hunting trip when he was 15 years old, he was shot in the arm and severely injured.  This limited his ability to maintain a productive work life.  His monthly income is around $750. He lives in a trailer and pays $520 a month for his space rent. In 2008 during an ice storm, a tree went through his roof and damaged his roof and chimney. He and his brother tried to fix it as best they could. He used a wood stove with a cracked glass door for heat. He noticed that every time he put wood in the stove, his coughing became worse, and he could not breathe. That’s because David has asthma that he was trying to control through the use of a child’s rescue inhaler.

When Michael Johnson, a Weatherization Technician at Pierce County Human Services, first met David Shaw, he was gasping for breath just sitting and talking. His house and his respiratory condition were both in very poor condition. The initial audit of his home found holes in the interior ceiling, a roof that was actively leaking, and a furnace that was not working at all. The home was very drafty with little to no insulation. There were plumbing issues also. Michael knew this was a problem that could be fixed.

He teamed up with his colleagues in Human Services and leveraged resources from various programs:  Weatherization Plus Health, Minor Home Repairs, Aging and Disability Resources, and the Health Department. This collaboration allowed the team to:

  • fix safety issues including replacing the deck and railings, stairs, roof, and floor;
  • insulate the attic;
  • ventilate the home;
  • install a ductless heat pump with an air purification unit, bath fans and a kitchen range hood; and sealed the air leaks to prevent drafts; and
  • give him a cold plasma air purification unit, a “Green Clean Kit,” walk off mats, bed bug covers for his mattress and pillow, and a hygrometer so he can keep track of indoor humidity levels.

When Michael came to do the final home inspection, David could not sit still! He was constantly on the move with no shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing. He says this work “changed his life.” He said he now sleeps better, is sick much less often, rarely sees his doctor, and spends most of his free time helping others in the community.

David shared with me how thankful he is for everything that he has and receives. He has Medicare and Medicaid and a primary care physician less than two miles away to help him treat his asthma. His heating bills dropped from $350 a month to $130 every 65 days. He can now afford to pay his bills for which he is very grateful. He was afraid that when the team came to look at his roof, they were going to fall through it. He considers it a miracle now that it is fixed. David said, “I am happy, thankful, and blessed. Everything they said they were going to do, they did!”

We all know of similar stories.  They are rarely told.  Helping people like David is what we do! 

For further information regarding the Weatherization services we provide, please contact Teri Allen at 253.798.6115. This is why we do what we do!

Thanks for reading,