EVERETT — The mothers are in class, working on a better life.
Their children are on site, so why not teach them, too?
That’s been the thinking for about three years at the nonprofit Casino Road Academy.
The academy offers classes in English, GED preparation and computer skills, as well as child care that doubles as an early learning program. The work is supported by the YMCA, Edmonds Community College and Seattle Goodwill Industries.
Their efforts just got a major boost. They and others have formed a new group called the Casino Road Opportunity for All Collaborative. That group and four others have been named the recipients of grants from the United Way of Snohomish County. Each will receive up to $630,000 over the next three years.
That breaks down to more than $1 million in annual giving by the United Way. It’s the first big initiative under the organization’s new focus on bringing people together to work on complex social issues, CEO Allison Warren-Barbour said.
The collaborative grants are aimed at combating multi-generational poverty in families with children younger than 8. Another half a million dollars in 2018 will go toward basic needs programs, which are more traditional partners for the United Way.
“You have to address basic needs but you want to ask the next question,” which is addressing root causes, Warren-Barbour said.
The other recipients are:
• Homeward House, which will serve families struggling with addiction.
• Improving School Attendance for Homeless Families, which involves Housing Hope and the Everett School District.
• Making Life Work, which will provide mentoring to families in the Stanwood-Camano School District.
• North Counties’ Community Collaborative, which will serve families in the Darrington School District.
The south Everett group will use the money to expand adult education classes — which are primarily attended by mothers — as well as the early learning offerings, said Cory Armstrong-Hoss, the director of the Y’s Casino Road Community Center.
The center serves more than 175 children ages 5 and younger, he said. Many of the families on Casino Road are living below or near the poverty line. Kindergarten readiness can be a challenge, and that’s a key time in a child’s development, Armstrong-Hoss said.
“Oftentimes this is the only early learning experience our kids are going to have,” he said. “It’s not just about the learning, the letters, the numbers. It’s also about socialization and being part of a group and following instruction.”
He’s talking with the Mukilteo School District about how the center can upgrade its curriculum to better serve that age range.
“It’s the opportunity to dream about it and make it happen,” he said. “We’re going to be working with them more and more.”
There also are plans to hire a case worker. That person would meet with every new student in the adult classes, not just to set up a schedule and child care, but also to talk about additional resources available locally, such as food, housing, medical, job-training and legal help. They also will work on bringing more health services to Casino Road, where not everyone has a car to get to appointments.
The Embajadores, a group of local Spanish-speaking volunteers, have been advocating for that need, Armstrong-Hoss said.
The collaborative grants are meant to target communities big and small from around Snohomish County, Warren-Barbour said. The idea is to see what works in certain places and what can be adopted elsewhere. A successful program might look different in Darrington than it does in Everett.
The United Way encouraged the applicants to seek input from families they potentially would be serving, Warren-Barbour said. The board in charge of the grant awards also sought recommendations from that demographic.
“The family voice is extremely important in this new model,” she said.
It’s about “opening up a lot of new relationships and new ways to get the work done,” she said.
In some places, such as Casino Road, the funding will build on existing work. In others, such as Stanwood, it’s creating something that hasn’t existed before.
The Stanwood-Camano Area Foundation is leading the Making Life Work collaborative.
There had been talk at the foundation of looking at community-wide needs in coordination with public agencies, nonprofits and teachers, said Bev Pronishan, the foundation’s executive director.
The United Way grant opportunity gave them focus.
“It was amazing timing,” she said.
They decided on a long-term family mentoring program. Paid staff will oversee the mentors, who will be mostly volunteers. An example of their work would be helping parents navigate education and job training opportunities.
The Stanwood group is hoping to bring on the first families by May.
The United Way recently announced millions of dollars in funding under a new initiative focused on community collaboratives. More than 80 organizations are involved in the collaboratives from around Snohomish County. A complete list is available at www.uwsc.org/collaboratives.
The United Way also recently announced its 2018 grants for what it calls basic needs, such as food, housing and health care. The grants are for up to $50,000 each. They are being awarded to 18 programs offered by Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, Volunteers of America Western Washington, Hand in Hand, the YWCA, Housing Hope, Northshore Youth and Family Services, WithinReach, Stanwood Camano Food Bank, Packs for Kids, Kindering Center, Interfaith Association of Western Washington, and Village Community Services.