Stories of Impact
"Sometimes I run out of money to buy food," Manny tells me. He walks to our Casino Road Food Pantry every Tuesday from his apartment nearby. He loves the baked beans, and uses the pasta and ground beef to make spaghetti for his mom. Manuel moved up from Oregon over a year ago, and tries to help out with rent and bills. He works doing construction clean-up all over: Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Shoreline, Edmonds. But things are really slow now, and he hasn't worked in several weeks. VOA opened our Casino Road Food Pantry in South Everett as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. As the need grew each week, so did the generosity of our community. This gave us inspiration every day, and gives Manny and his mom a spaghetti dinner every week.
Alex remembers the explosions, the deafening noise, the chaos. He’s looking at me, but he’s back on that street in the Ukraine, watching the funeral procession, the street packed with mourners. Then, shells from the Russian military into the crowd, blasts of fury and blinding light. Smoke everywhere and the smell of burned metal. Lives lost or scarred, forever. Alex remembers, because that’s when he and Hanna decided they needed to move to America. He came first, and she stayed behind with their two daughters. Hanna joined him a year and a half ago, and now they have three girls: five, four, and six months old. Alex worked construction for a while, before the knee and back injuries. It got so bad, he couldn't pick up his daughters without searing pain in his back. L&I payments help, and the $289 in food stamps they get each month, which they stretch at Costco. But, it’s not enough. “Imagine you have three kids and not enough money to pay your rent. We can’t buy clothes. We can’t get the things we need.” VOA’s Casino Road Food Pantry fills in the gaps each week, keeps food on the table for Alex, Hanna and the girls. They are looking for a fresh start, and we are helping give it to them.
Carsolyn moved up to Washington from L.A. about five years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandkids. Today, she lives in South Everett, loves her church, and serves as the full-time caregiver for her brother. Carsolyn visited our Casino Road Food Pantry in South Everett and shared that the food "...is going to help me tremendously."
Preventing Homelessness & Lending A Hand
O doesn't want to answer my questions. She's three, and she'd much rather run around barefoot and show me that she can balance on one foot. Two months ago, O left her home state with her mom and seven year old brother, escaping domestic violence. They first stayed with Auntie, then a friend, then different couches. They were running out of options. Then, they found Maud's House, our shelter for women and children. For the last two and a half weeks, O's mom has found stability, support, and safety. She can sleep again. And, she sees a future in Snohomish County: a job for her, schools for her kids, a long-term apartment or home they can call their own. Somewhere safe. Somewhere that O can run around barefoot.
Content Warning: mentions suicide. "If I didn't wake up, she's one of the few people who would notice that I was gone." Michael shifts his hands while he talks, rubs them together, sitting across from Dawnelle at our Sky Valley Resource Center. Those hands used to build things, to hammer felt, shingles and flashing, until his fall in 1995. 38 feet down a two-story apartment building, after his harness got caught on his ladder. Then, the temporary wounds: fractured skull, punctured lung, broken arms and legs. Then, the wounds that became life-long and their attendants: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, panic attacks. Oxycodone. Methadone. The call about his grandkids came six years ago. Michael’s adult son was going to prison, and Idaho’s Child Welfare worker gave him a choice: You can either pick up your three grandkids in Boise in the next 24 hours or they’re going into foster care. So, Michael got in his car. Michael got them when the boys were six and one, and the girl was four. He needed help, and he knew it, so became a regular at VOA’s Sky Valley campus. He enrolled one grandson in free preschool through Sky Valley ECEAP and all three in sports through the Sultan Boys & Girls Club, and they went to our Food Bank when they needed it. Five years of shuttling kids, checking on their homework, making sure they had enough food and clothes. Five years of purpose. Then, another call, this one a few days before last Thanksgiving. His son was out of prison and taking his kids back, moving to West Seattle. His son doesn’t give Michael visitation rights, and isn’t legally obligated to. After five years, Michael hasn’t seen the kids – now six, nine, and eleven – for over six months. “I fight suicide every day.” Dawnelle noticed Michael in the parking lot one day last winter and invited him in. They meet every week now, and find a way to talk even through Covid. She’s helped with rent and utilities. She sees him. Not just the broken parts, but the whole person. She sees Michael the builder. “If it weren’t for their kindness, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. These guys have helped me out a lot, helped me think positive.” Volunteers of America Care Crisis Response Services offers 24-hour emotional support to individuals in crisis and/or considering suicide. Our crisis services are available by phone and instant messaging. Call 1-800-584-3578 or visit www.imhurting.org.
Home of 40 years, gone. New car, lost. Paperwork, tools, belongings, everything, taken away. “I walked down my driveway with nothing.” Jim has had a breathtakingly awful past six months, yet his blue eyes still sparkle when he talks. He became homeless last October as a result of his 20-year struggle with opioid addiction. It’s a story that began with a devastating fall and his doctor overprescribing pain medication. “I found out most terminal cancer patients don’t take as much as they put me on,” he recalls. Since autumn, Jim has been hospitalized four times from illness, with stints as long as 15 days. After a stay in an in-patient rehab in Tukwila, he’s slept on couches, in trailers, in an open-air hangar, and now, in a motel for the month. At the mention of the motel, he turns and smiles at Peggy Ray, Director of VOAWW’s Arlington Community Resource Center (ACRC). The ACRC staff have been working to keep Jim fed and clothed and get him housed, while he has put in the work to stay sober. They paid for a motel while his housing navigator works on a long-term housing solution. “They took the fear of desperation away.” Jim’s eyes are glinting again. In a half-year, he lost everything and gained a new community on the other side. And that support isn’t going anywhere.
Volunteers and Staff
Isaiah's playing "Need For Speed: Most Wanted" on his gaming laptop. Maybe it's because his whole world has slowed down, but there's something about the racing that he comes back to. Isaiah is a 10th grader at Sultan High School, and this year has been hard. "I miss being able to ask the teacher questions in person, and I miss my friends." In the beginning of the pandemic, he was mostly isolated at home. But then his Sky Valley Youth Coalition(SVYC) transitioned into delivering meal packs, and he jumped in. He volunteers unloading food and packing meals each week, and now the SVYC delivers to 71 different teens who receive 10 meals and 10 snacks each week. "When I started doing that, I felt a lot better, like I'm helping a lot of people." Additionally, with the commitment and persistence of Isaiah and other volunteers, the VOA Sultan Food Bank went from providing 200 boxes per week to just under 2,000 boxes a week. Isaiah received a SVYC Volunteerism Award last month for his extraordinary service. More importantly, he learned valuable leadership skills and he won’t stop until everyone from Monroe to Baring gets the food they need. "SVYC is a home away from home," he says. Thanks Isaiah and SVYC for helping to solve hunger with heart!
It’s 1981. Jake is 10 months old. His parents notice a red dot near his right eye, and soon the eye is so swollen that they take him to the hospital. The doctor diagnoses spinal meningitis. Jake’s eye gets better, but as a baby and toddler he’s not responding normally to others. It’s 1982. Jake is two and a half when doctors confirm what his parents have been telling them: He’s almost completely deaf, and likely has been since he was 10 months old. It’s 1983. Jake is three. Though they live in Arlington, his parents enroll him in the Northwest School for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children in Shoreline, where Jake spends the next 11 years. With two teachers to six kids in each class, Jake finds a small community, caring teachers, kids like him. It’s 1994. Jake is a freshman at Arlington High School, his first time in public school, one of only four deaf students in a school of hundreds. “I only made it through four years of high school with the love and support of my parents and brothers,” says Jake, who sought refuge in reading, fishing, video games and acting. “Acting is my thing,” he says. It’s 2020. Jake is signing with Debbie, a deaf and blind resident of one of our Disability Services homes in Lake Stevens. He’s served as a Direct Support Professional at VOAWW for over a year now, helping Debbie, Steve, and Nick live as independently as possible. Today he’s my interpreter: I pull down my mask so he can read my lips, then he signs my questions to Debbie’s hands, who signs back to Jake, who shares her answers with me. She takes a break from reading her braille NY Times to chat, and I learn that her downstairs room is decorated with dolphins, and she loves Hawaii, Harry Potter books, and white wine. She makes her own coffee at the Keurig each morning, and she folds her own laundry, carries it down the stairs and puts it away. “I want to be a disability advocate,” says Jake, who enjoys his work and the relationships he’s built. He still auditions for parts in his spare time. And, during his 7am to 2pm shift, he always takes the time to connect with Debbie, to talk and to listen in a way that few of us can.
Imagine seeing people coming in and out of your home every day to support you with the most intimate aspects of your life. This is the reality for the many individuals with developmental disabilities that VOA provides supports to. I witness our Direct Support Professionals building lasting relationships with the individuals they work with by creating a bridge of mutual trust, dignity, and respect. There is nothing more fulfilling than when I’m able to see individuals reach a milestone, become more independent in their personal lives, and flourish in their communities. To see our staffs’ unwavering dedication to the people that they support on a regular basis, especially in the midst of a pandemic, is truly incredible.
It all started with a Craigslist ad. The year was 2011 and Eric was fresh out of college after earning his bachelor’s in biology. Growing up, his family moved around a lot for his dad’s job in the Navy. Though he was incredibly proud of his dad’s service, he knew he wanted a career with more stability for himself. That’s when he decided on something in medicine: the perfect combination of security and purpose. His plan was to take a year off schooling to catch his breath before applying to physical therapy programs, and he needed to work in the meantime. “I wanted a job related to healthcare to get more experience,” he recalls. When he found our job posting to work as a Direct Support Professional in our Disability Services program, he was interested, though unsure of what to expect. In a matter of months, Eric move from part-time to full-time to a lead position. And physical therapy school? He felt he had found something better, a role he loved and was passionate about. He vividly remembers the time he accompanied two clients to California and saw them experience SeaWorld, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo. “It was amazing knowing there were opportunities to help adults with developmental disabilities have fun like that. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to go back to school.’” Nowadays, Eric is a Program Manager and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. In fact, last year he joined the ministry team at VOA and serves the Disability Services program by providing spiritual services and support when needed. He sees his role as one of our seven on-staff ministers as one of growth and inclusivity. “Right now we are thinking of how to reach out to people to let them know we are here to help even if they are not religious. We want to serve everyone.” From recent grad to program manager and minister, one thing has stayed the same: Eric’s passion to support those who need help, whatever that looks like.
Dawnelle loved growing up in Sultan. Her family has deep roots there and everyone is either a cousin or a friend. “Three-fourths of the town are relatives," she states with a grin. It was the classic small-town ideal, safe and familiar, nestled in picturesque Sky Valley. Then her parents divorced, and she moved away from that bubble of closeness. The next thirty years of life saw Dawnelle move to Alaska, and then to Arizona with her three kids. Life continued, though she never forgot her roots. And then Richard called. Richard, the boy from Sultan whom she had had a crush on since the 2nd grade. The time was right. She moved back to Sky Valley, to Richard, to home. But something had changed. Many had fallen on hard times. Her own childhood babysitter, *Lina, was homeless. Folks in her tight-knit hometown were sleeping under bridges. Begging for food. Asking for basic needs like shampoo and rain boots and deodorant. Dawnelle knew she had to do something. And do something she did. Now, if you find yourself in need in Sky Valley, you will probably speak with Dawnelle. She is the Campus Resource Manager at VOAWW’s Sky Valley Integrated Service Center, and she finds no greater joy than in helping her neighbors, including Lina. From rental assistance and food to soap and sanitary pads, Dawnelle is ready to help the most vulnerable people get what they need. “This community is my family,” she says. “And I want them to know we are here to help.” *Name changed to protect privacy.
If you visit our Everett Food Bank, there's a good chance you'll talk to Nels."I ask them if they want meat, dairy, or dog or cat food. I love helping other people." Nels first came to our Food Bank as a recipient. A heart attack sidelined him in 1998, and he's had two strokes since then. "They won't let me work, so I volunteer." For the past three years, Nels has volunteered four days a week. He knows how important our Food Bank is, because of those times when he was on the other side of the table. Thanks Nels! We appreciate you.
Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Jesse has struggled with anger and self-control. Brian from VOA has helped Jesse manage his anger and live independently.
Natalie's mom Erin appreciate's VOA's Meaningful Day Program, which gives Natalie a supportive community, new friends, and fun activities. And, it gives Erin a much-needed break from her full-time role as a care giver.
Staff member Eric recounts his quest to find the right chocolate for one of his clients, who is blind, deaf and autistic, and communicates through sign language.
"When I realized that I would be soon receiving $1,200 in COVID-19 relief funds, I didn’t immediately think of purchasing something for myself that I might want but not need. I am a retired teacher, and I will continue to receive a pension and social security payments every month. I immediately thought of donating this $1,200 to be of use in my community. That led me to the VOA Food Pantry on Casino Road and Faith Food Bank near Madison Street. I live between those two streets. I am sending my $1,200 to those two organizations that are helping others not as fortunate as myself during this pandemic."
Miles & Gemma
"I wanted to get some money for my piggy bank so people can have a lot of food and so they can buy stuff and they can be happy." When 4-year-old Miles overheard his mom talking on the phone about her donation to the Casino Road Food Pantry, he decided to act. He enlisted his older sister Gemma, and together they did extra chores to put money in their piggy bank. Yesterday, with delivery service provided by their mom, they delivered $29.00 to our Casino Road Food Pantry. Thanks Miles and Gemma! You are making a difference in the world.
Kudos to local John L. Scott realtor Adam Braddock who's working to ensure no one goes hungry. In the Spring of 2020, Adam offered to use his billboard to promote our Hunger Prevention work. He paid for all printing costs and managed the installation himself. In May and June of 2020, drivers could see his act of generosity if they're headed southbound on the Mukilteo Speedway, near the intersection with Beverly Park Road. Thank you Adam!
- Have a VOA story to share? Contact Communications & Marketing Specialist Maca Ferguson:
- Phone: 425-609-2220