Her new children's book, illustrated by her artist friend Cathy Clark, aims to help young readers understand how families cope with being homeless.
"The story is about resilience," Wessel-Estes said. "The quilt is a metaphor. The theme is piecing together your life."
With a master's degree in psychology, Wessel-Estes has been a director of crisis centers in Wenatchee and Bellingham, helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. From 1996 to 2000, she headed the Interfaith Association that runs a family shelter in Everett.
Wessel-Estes is now a health policy analyst with the Snohomish Health District -- and a first-time author. A book-launch event for "A Quilt and a Home" is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Under the Red Umbrella, an Everett cafe at 1502 Rucker Ave.
Told through the eyes of a girl named Abby J. Olson, the fictional story has been around for years. Wessel-Estes told the tale more than a decade ago at her church, Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Marysville.
"We were doing a service on homelessness and poverty," she said. She decided to write the story of Abby's family -- a mom, little brother and the father who left them -- for the children's portion of the service.
She enlisted Clark, a friend from her congregation, to do drawings for the reading. Clark, who taught at Everett High School, is a painter and member of the Port Gardner Bay Watercolor Society. Both women are 54.
The story sat on Wessel-Estes' shelf for years. This summer, it was self-published through Indiana-based Dog Ear Publishing. Wessel-Estes, who also writes poetry, said they learned that unless a children's author is an illustrator, major publishers often just want the story, using other artists. "I didn't want to lose control of this book," she said.
Clark's vivid watercolors suit the story of Abby, the girl who lives "in a shelter for homeless people" and worries because she doesn't "want the kids at school to know."
"I am living a confusing but secret life," Abby says.
Yet through the wise words of Abby's quilter mother and other adult characters, Wessel-Estes shows that the family has hope, despite the challenges.
Abby is helped by talking with a school counselor. She shows great care for her 4-year-old brother, and reaches out to a girl new to the shelter.
Abby's mom -- the girl describes her as a "really brave person" -- helps make sense of life after they lose their home. "She says that our life is just like that quilt that she was making before we had to leave our house. It has to be stitched together one piece at a time," Abby says in the book.
Wessel-Estes' work in social services brought depth to the book. She knows how adverse childhood experiences, called ACEs in her profession, affect kids' futures. Some children weather tough times and grow to be physically and emotionally healthy. "Others don't recover very well," she said.
One supportive adult can make all the difference, "someone who says 'I care about you, I have faith that you can get through it,'" Wessel-Estes said.
She and Clark hope "A Quilt and a Home" will help children see past any stereotypes about homeless people -- that they are all "bad, dirty or drunk," Wessel-Estes said.
At Saturday's event, they will sign books and also sell discounted copies to be donated to several local agencies, including Tomorrow's Hope child-care center run by Housing Hope, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, and the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington's Family Shelter.
"My dream is to get this story to kids who need to hear it, children who have been there," said Wessel-Estes, "or kids who have never been there, but need a deeper understanding."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A book-launch event for "A Quilt and a Home," by Everett's Pam Wessel-Estes and illustrated by Cathy Clark, will be 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Under the Red Umbrella cafe, 1502 Rucker Ave., Everett. Book costs $24.95, or $14.95 for paperback. There will be refreshments, a chance to meet author and buy signed copies. Discounted books will be available to buy for donation to local agencies serving children.
Information or to order book: www.aquiltandahome.com.
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