Jay Priebe, who grew up in foster care, is chief executive officer of Hand in Hand. The nonprofit operates Safe Place, an Everett facility that houses children removed from homes by law enforcement or social workers. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Jay Priebe, who grew up in foster care, is chief executive officer of Hand in Hand. The nonprofit operates Safe Place, an Everett facility that houses children removed from homes by law enforcement or social workers. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Hand in Hand’s new Safe Place a better shelter for children

The Everett nonprofit’s leader grew up in foster care. The agency serves kids removed from their homes.

Tiny shirts and sleepers, small shorts and shoes, jackets, sweaters and diapers fill the racks and shelves of the foster resource closet at the offices of Hand in Hand. The nonprofit, which temporarily shelters children from families in crisis, will soon have a better place — a home now being renovated — to welcome those kids.

“I grew up in foster care,” said Jay Priebe, 42, who became chief executive officer of Hand in Hand about six months ago. Growing up in California’s San Bernardino area, Priebe said he was placed in foster care at age 2. By the time he aged out of the system at 18, he had stayed in “about 120 homes.”

Children served by Hand in Hand, newborn to age 13, have been removed from their homes by law enforcement or Child Protective Services due to abuse, neglect, incarceration of a parent, domestic violence, criminal activity or other dangerous situations with their families.

“These kids come with trauma,” Priebe said “It’s pretty quick, up and go.”

Todd McNeal, who founded the Everett-based nonprofit in 2010, is working with the agency on the house project, said Priebe, adding “he’s handing the torch to me.”

The older house, at an undisclosed location in Everett, will be the agency’s new Safe Place, its emergency foster care shelter. Safe Place can house six children for up to 72 hours. It’s now at an Everett business complex.

That current space includes a one-bedroom apartment, but it’s not a homey atmosphere. After its makeover, the leased house is scheduled to open Oct. 1, Priebe said Monday. “I’m really excited about putting kids in more of a home environment,” he said.

In April, Hand in Hand announced it had entered into a partnership with Bible Baptist Church, which is on West Casino Road in Everett. The house is part of that partnership.

Hand in Hand was started by a group of foster parents, social workers and child advocates, with McNeal at the helm. The nonprofit recently announced it had been awarded a $7,000 grant from the Everett Clinic Foundation, to be used for the renovation.

In all, the house project is estimated to cost $275,000. Beyond a typical home remodel, there are ADA requirements, the need for lighted exit signs and other special features.

Priebe said a $650,000 capital campaign will soon be launched to fund the remodel and costs related to increased staffing needed at the home.

Police or a social worker may bring a child at any hour, but longer-term foster care must be found within 72 hours.

That often isn’t enough to find the best placement, Priebe said. The goal with the house is “a 30-day model that allows us to hold kids longer,” he said.

“We can receive these children at 2 o’clock in the morning, and we do,” Priebe said. “It’s countywide, but we also take kids from King, Pierce, Skagit and Whatcom counties.”

Priebe credits the last foster home where he stayed, a pastor’s house, with keeping him on track. There, he said, he was urged to do his schoolwork and play sports.

Although “foster care is near and dear to my heart,” he said his experiences growing up were “more bad than good.” At times, he said he wondered whether he would have fared better with his biological family.

“We do see a percentage of children who go back home,” he said.

At 18, he said he had no place to go, so he joined the Navy. Married with a 20-year-old son and a daughter, 17, he has been in this area 21 years.

Last year, he said, Hand in Hand served 193 children. Once the home is finished, he expects that number to rise.

Safe Place is now open just five days a week, but with the new home it will be every day, he said.

There are always two people there, one staff member and often a volunteer. At the house, that will change to two staff people at all times. “We currently have 120 volunteers,” he said, and all have undergone extensive background checks.

With the church partnership, the house, a coming capital campaign, new offices and some rebranding, Priebe said Hand in Hand is moving forward with hopes of helping in new ways. That might be finding someone treatment for substance abuse or working to keep a child in school.

“I want to use my experience to support foster kids and the parents,” Priebe said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

Hand in Hand, a nonprofit in partnership with Bible Baptist Church, operates Safe Place, which temporarily shelters children removed from their homes by law enforcement or Child Protective Services. Its offices are at 9502 19th Ave. SE, Everett, Suite F.

Information: www.handinhandkids.org/ or 425-374-2461.

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