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I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves a chance to live a safe, healthy and happy life. At times though that is not always easy and for some teens in the area they’ve never had the opportunity. For students at Eastside Academy, the circumstances vary (abuse, homelessness, addiction, pregnancy, gang violence) but the bottom line is they want to turn things around and have a shot at a future filled with hope versus despair.
Amy Effinger, Investments and Partnerships Officer at Eastside Academy, explains, “Eastside offers a holistic approach to learning. Students are provided with an education while being treated for the underlying issues that cause them to struggle in all areas of their lives.”
Eastside Academy is a not for profit alternative high school and treatment program that was established in 2001. Students experience all of the class requirements that a traditional high school offers including Mathematics, English, Science, Social Studies, Arts, and even Foreign Language now. They are Christian based although all faith religions are welcome. They currently have a campus at Bellevue Presbyterian with 50 students (Bellevue) and at Overlake Christian Church with 25 students (Redmond). Students are referred to Eastside through the court system, school counselors, friends, and family.
Unlike other school/treatment programs, the students are all from the Puget Sound area representing nine school districts and most come from poverty or low-income households. Currently, all of the students at Eastside receive some level of financial assistant and as a result tuition makes up less than 8% of the annual budget. The balance of the budget is raised through two annual fundraisers, foundation partners, corporations, and individual donations. One of the fundraisers is the 13th Annual Evergreen Gavekal Golf Tournament held at the premier private Glendale Country Club on June 11 this year. There is still space available to join the fun and help support a great cause. The other is a Dinner and Auction on October 20, 2018.
There are a few things that really set Eastside apart from other alternate high schools:
Effinger got involved with Eastside when she volunteered as a mentor. Mentors are required to meet with their assigned student once a week during the lunch period. She said that the students embrace this program, as it is a safe place for them. The young lady that Effinger mentored was able to open up and tell her story without judgment or consequences. Effinger said, “These kids are really brave.” She added that she is blown away with their spirit and soul.
On June 22, the Bellevue campus will honor five graduates and on June 23 the Overlake campus honors five graduates as well. These students will join alumni who have found healing from their young lives that were filled with trauma and abuse. Eastside has served hundreds of youth who now attend college, pursue careers, contribute positivity to their community, and raise families.
Sadly, following this June’s graduation, the Overlake campus will be closed. Effinger explained that a budget shortfall due to the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) requirement of adding a foreign language to their program that was not initially anticipated is a big part of the budget shortfall. She said that they are already working on additional fundraising efforts and hopeful to reopen this campus in the fall of 2019 offering a much needed middle school program.
If you want to learn more about Eastside Academy, register for the upcoming golf tournament, support financially, or volunteer, please visit www.EastsideAcademy.org.
I was invited to witness an amazing event on May 3rd celebrating students and educators in Washington state…WE Day Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll kicked off the day and got the kids hyped and loud! He said, “Our adults need you, need your guidance.” The place erupted with cheers. I was amazed at how loud 16,000 students could be. Carroll, also the Co-Chair of WE Day Seattle, was just the start of the of celebrities and musicians that entertained and motivated the group over the next five plus hours.
Hosting the event throughout the day were Jack & Jack, singer-songwriter duo Jack Johnson and Jack Gilinsky; Olivia Holt, recording artist and actress; and Anthony Gonzalez, actor, singer and musician.
Hip-Hop Artist Sol played his hit Jump In and Noah Cyrus sang her hit song All Falls Down. Marlee Matlin spoke of following her dream of acting although born deaf. Paraplegic Spencer West talked about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro by using his arms only and his documentary Redefining Possible. Jacob Tremblay, star of Wonder, was joined onstage by spokesperson for Treacher Collins syndrome, Nathaniel Newman, to raise awareness about the genetic disorder. Motivational speaker and author Lizzie Valasquez brought the crowd to tears with her powerful words about bullying. Then Ann Curry, Rasheda Ali, and Diane Guerrero all shared moving stories with the young crowd that continued to cheer. As day wrapped up Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback, along with his fiancé Ciara, singer and songwriter, thanked the amazing group of students for their service to others. Lastly Rachel Platten ended the day by singing her hit Fight Song along with the entire arena.
The amazing thing is that students or their teachers can’t buy a ticket to attend WE Day. To be included, they must have participated in a local and global volunteer/give back activity in the past year. The great thing is there were so many students that fit the bill in Washington state as shown by this packed house. And, as I discovered, many educators in attendance were helping these students succeed by helping their classrooms discover ways to get involved using the WE Schools resources.
I met one student, Maya Prouty, a senior at the Attic Learning Center in Woodinville who was attending her fifth WE Day event.
I asked Maya how she became interested in giving back to her community (and ultimately receiving the golden WE Day ticket).
She said that she feels very strongly about the issues of homelessness and hunger in our community and wanted to find a way to help. So, for her local project, Maya along with some classmates, organize an annual food drive event. She picked October to do the event as she said, “The weather is getting cold and I knew it was a good time [to start collecting for the holidays].”
For her global project, she works with fellow students on a WE Are Rafikis fundraiser. The school orders handmade Rafiki bracelets made by women in Kenya to earn money to send their children to school.
She’s also worked with fellow students on WE Bake for Change and organized a bake sale at the school.
These WE options are some of many school fundraisers that are available with assistance through the WE organization.
Ultimately as Maya explained it all stems around the WE Villages principle and the five pillars that the charity is based on: Food, Health, Education, Water, and Opportunity. They are making change to create good she noted.
As we wrapped up Maya offered this advice to students wanting to get involved and make a difference. She said, “It’s important to know what your passion is.” She referenced that homelessness is something she is passionate about that is why she has gotten involved in the projects she has. Maya added, “Passion + Issue = Change.”
She said, “It is really important to know that small actions can make big impact.”
As a senior, Maya won’t be involved as a student in WE Day next year but is hopeful to stay involved on some level in the future. She’s planning to study engineering in college as she feels “it can be used to make a positive impact on a global and local scale.”
For more information, visit www.we.org.
Long before founding Acres of Diamonds in 1995, Pearl Tadema has always had a big heart for homeless women and children. She wanted to help, but wanted to go beyond just providing a roof over someone’s head. She wanted to work with people to them heal and find a better life and future. So she returned to school to earn her Masters degree in counseling, completed the paperwork to become a nonprofit, rented a house in Duvall, and worked with shelters, police, and community services to find mothers needing help. “It had a very grassroots start,” said Kristin Jack, Senior Development Manager at Acres.
Over 20 years later, Acres of Diamonds continues this mission. Serving women who are predominantly victims of domestic violence, substance abuse, and lifelong poverty. These are women with children that want to break the cycle and write a new chapter, a new book for themselves.
Valerie Stewart, Community Engagement Manager, and Jack met with me recently to talk about the work Acres of Diamonds is doing and gave me a tour of the facilities. Stewart said of Acres, “It’s a safe place for real changes.”
Stewart stressed the often life changing programs and working with these wonderful strong women that truly want to give their kids a life that they didn’t have. She said, “It’s a strong program with a housing benefit.”
The uplifting women and children’s program at Acres of Diamonds is built around relationships…God, Self, Others, and Community.
Acres is a faith-based organization but a religious affiliation is not a requirement to be a participant in the program. The main requirement is that the women must be clean and sober and ready to commit to the process for a better life.
Lush greenery and trees with a main house and an apartment building surround the grounds, which is now owned by the nonprofit. Up to 12 families can be housed at this time. The main house accommodates the community room for classes and group meals, rooms for residents, and administration offices. The apartment building provides homes for additional families and houses a kids’ center complete with a nursery and library. All women start the program by living in the main house. “The first month is so important,” Stewart said. “They don’t have to worry ‘how will I feed my child? When do I have to move again?’ They can feel safe,” she added.
The ultimate plan is to construct an addition called the “Family Rescue Home” that will add 20 more apartments among other things. Jack said that they are working on the plan for this and are currently in the “dream phase.”
Women enrolled in the Acres program are required to attend two classes weekly and pitch in to keep things in order. Additionally, they are all working normal jobs, attending school, or both. Stewart said, “These moms want change and are willing to put in the hard work to make a better life for their kids.” The families also get together weekly for a group supper to share food, stories, and hopes.
Jack marveled at the strength and commitment the women at Acres have shown despite the adversity that they have faced. “It is great to walk alongside these women as they go through the program.”
Community goes beyond the boundaries of Acres as well. Stewart said, “People have really embraced our mission. Many people and businesses from Woodinville and Duvall are helping.” They welcome volunteers to help with classes, kids programs, keeping the grounds beautiful. Donations are also welcome. Of particular need are clothes for their onsite thrift store called “The Diamond Dollar Store” for moms to shop at, furniture, food, diapers, and of course, cash donations. Every week a wish list is posted on their Facebook page (acresofdiamondsorg). There is also an annual fall gala event that will be held on September 21st this year at the Hollywood Schoolhouse.
When the women at Acres see the community helping out, it means so much to them. Stewart said, “A lot of these women have suffered and having people come out and invest in their lives is awesome.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Acres of Diamonds, please call 425.788.9999 or visit us online at www.acresofdiamonds.org.
There are people that you will meet in your lifetime that have an aura of positive energy. When you spend any amount of time with them you somehow feel happier. Audrey Phillips, at just 24 years old, is one of those people. I was grateful to meet her recently and to learn about her inspirational project 365 Meaningful Conversations.
Audrey is a 2012 graduate of Woodinville High School and has been on quite an amazing journey the past few years. Although she’s done a bit of traveling with attending college in Maine, working as a ski instructor in Park City, Utah for a winter season, and working as a wilderness guide in Durango, Colorado, her journey has been much more than just moving from one locale to the next.
Audrey Phillips, Creator of 365 Meaningful Conversations (Courtesy photo)The journey she’s been on is one of building blocks of realizing she can make a difference, and she’s doing just that with colorful cards carrying inspirational quotes.
It all started when Audrey spent a summer as a camp counselor for IslandWood on Bainbridge Island. One of the activities she led was hiking combined with inspirational quotes. The kids would find a quote on the trail and the counselors would follow up to discover what the quotes meant to the kids. Often times, the quotes sparked deeper conversations with the kids and Audrey said, “It was a great introduction to nature and quotes.”
She admits she’s always loved quotes since she was a child so she loved this program and when she returned to school in the fall, expanded on it. “I am an avid doodler,” she said. So she started adding to the quotes she collected at camp and created colorful note-sized cards with custom handmade type fonts and fun images.
She would hang them up on the wall to display and soon she had 100 cards, then 150, and it kept growing to 200 cards. Audrey said “Then a woman I knew encouraged me to just go for it and make 365 cards [for a full year].”
Audrey’s favorite quote is “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” by A.A. Milne.
The quotes always seem to prompt a question or conversation so Audrey took things one step further by adding specific questions on the back of her cards as they related to the quote. She tested the cards when she worked as a wilderness therapy guide for at-risk teens and young adults. On a backpacking trip with the students, she was able to connect and spark vulnerable conversation using the cards. She discovered that many people feel lonely and crave a space to connect deeply, yet the space is very rarely opened up. These cards were helping to open the connections and the conversations in all subjects even those largely ignored in society like privilege, race, self-esteem, body image, grief, etc.
Processing this realization combined with a two-month outward-bound program that ended with three days of being alone in the woods, she developed her business plan.
She cleaned up her quote cards, contacted a manufacturer to produce the cards and presentation boxes, and decided to take 365 Meaningful Conversations Project on the road. The plan is purchase a van to travel across the country for 365 days. She wants to visit every state in the United States and within that state the capital, the biggest city, and the city/town with the lowest socioeconomic scale. She plans to host meaningful conversation events at coffee shops, schools, prisons, homes, colleges, etc. to spread the message that sharing vulnerability takes strength and can lead to deeper connections. Audrey will be hitting the road in August and plans to record the conversations with the hope of a book in the future.
To help fund the project, she has started a crowdfunding page on indiegogo.com. She’s raised close to $6,000 of her $18,000 goal. Anyone who supports the project will have the option to receive certain products (including the box of 365 cards with her handmade designs) once the project is fully funded. Audrey is funding part of the project on her own as well. “I feel grateful for the support I’ve received,” she said.
Audrey is currently working on building a presentation that can be used in middle schools while she is on the road. She is particularly interested in working with this age group of children to help them open up and become their authentic self without fear or shame.
I for one think Audrey is on to something and with her passion and caring demeanor she will make a difference. She ended with this thought, “Our world needs to connect. It can be scary but the whole world needs to connect.”
Want to be inspired? Follow “365Meaningful Conversations” on Instagram.
Want to support Audrey’s project? Visit her crowdfunding page: indiegogo.com/projects/365-meaningful-conversations--2/x/17002111).