By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
There’s something about a playhouse, doghouse or birdhouse that lends any home a cozy, happy look. Those whimsical extras seem to say that someone really cares.
Not every child is fortunate enough to grow up in that kind of stable home. Hundreds of children in Snohomish County have no home of their own.
Housing Hope, a local nonprofit agency, has waged a 26-year battle against family homelessness. It has helped people gain job skills. Now, the housing agency is calling attention to how it helps children from very low-income or homeless families.
To raise money for its ChildHope Initiative, the agency is asking volunteer woodworkers and builders to lend a hand. Housing Hope seeks hand-crafted playhouses, doghouses, birdhouses and book houses for a new fund-raising effort. The items will be displayed, judged and sold at the city of Everett’s Sorticulture garden arts festival, scheduled for June 6-8 at Legion Memorial Park.
“Just a roof over somebody’s head wasn’t really the answer we wanted to stabilize someone’s life,” said Ed Petersen, executive director of Housing Hope and a founder of the Everett-based agency.
Petersen said Housing Hope’s work in child development started small in 1990, with a day-care program for parents seeking jobs or education. Today, Housing Hope operates Tomorrow’s Hope Childcare Center, a 112-slot licensed facility at its Evergreen Way headquarters.
The Tomorrow’s Hope center serves children, infants through age 12, from low-income families, area homeless shelters, and those living at New Century Village in Everett, a Housing Hope apartment complex where residents include homeless teen and young-adult parents and their babies.
“If I didn’t move into this place, I don’t know where I would be,” said one young woman who lives at New Century Village with her 4-year-old daughter.
The mom, who is 23 and asked that her name not be used, said she attends Edmonds Community College. She is taking a phlebotomy technician class. Already a certified nursing assistant, she works part-time as caregiver. She pays rent for her apartment at New Century Village, the amount based on her income.
She has no car, and said it’s a great help to have a van from Tomorrow’s Hope Childcare Center pick up her child in the mornings so she can get to work or college. “She’s starting to write her own name,” said the mother, proud that her little girl is learning skills that will prepare her for school. “I’m grateful for this program, the things they do for us,” she added.
At Tomorrow’s Hope on Friday morning, center director Kristen Werner gave a tour of classrooms. In the infant room, staff members held and fed babies, while one tiny girl smiled in a bouncy chair. “We can have eight babies at a time, and we have more on a waiting list,” Werner said.
There are three toddler rooms, depending on age and a child’s development, two Head Start classes, and preschool for children ages 3 to 5. For school-age kids, Tomorrow’s Hope offers before- and after-school programs.
Werner said there are usually about 10 children at the center who are picked up each morning at area homeless shelters, including the Everett Gospel Mission Women &Children’s Shelter, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, and the Interfaith Family Shelter in Everett.
Housing Hope also offers the help of a child behavioral specialist, psychologist Ali Erickson. Petersen said many of the 500 school-age children in the agency’s housing units have suffered trauma due to homelessness or other adverse experiences. “All these kids need more attention,” he said.
For parents, Housing Hope offers life-skills classes the agency calls College of Hope. “Smart Goal Setting,” “Single Parenting” and “Cooking Matters” were among classes listed on a bulletin board at the child-care center Friday.
“We equip parents to raise children who thrive,” Petersen said.
Creating successful families is costly. Petersen said a fund-raising dinner last fall raised $35,000 to help create an endowment fund.
ChildHope, the new label for Housing Hope’s long-standing work to help children, is one way to gain awareness. “We’re known as a housing agency. Some are beginning to see us as an employment agency. The child programs are in the shadows,” he said.
Selling wonderfully crafted doghouses, playhouses, birdhouses and book houses — Petersen calls them “houses for hope” — will help pay for it all. At Sorticulture, little houses will be judged by a community panel. Fancy playhouses, along with the “best in show” for each small-house category, will be sold at an evening gala June 7. The rest will be sold throughout the festival.
Petersen has spent time with young parents being helped by Housing Hope.
“These kids have to grow up in a hurry. We get them prepared to take care of a baby,” he said. “It’s a choice. If they work hard, we can help create a pathway for them.
“Most of our families want better for their kids than they had for themselves,” Petersen said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miniature house builders needed
Housing Hope needs volunteer builders to create and donate doghouses, birdhouses and book houses that will be sold at Everett’s Sorticulture garden arts festival June 6-8 at Legion Memorial Park. Proceeds will support the agency’s ChildHope Initiative programs that serve children from homeless and very low-income families in Snohomish County. For information or to donate a house, call Renata Maybruck, Housing Hope’s director of resource development, at 425-347-6556 ext. 293 or email RenataMaybruck@housinghope.org