Until recently I had three friends from Kearny High School who live in Seattle; one just moved with her second husband to Florida. One of the remaining, Dawn, has been here since 1968. She’s been a state legislator, a community activist, and now serves as Board President of First Place, a non-profit that has been serving vulnerable families in Seattle’s Central District since 1989. First Place has gone through several iterations; now, it runs an early childhood program for 3-5 year olds and coordinates housing and other services for the families of children who attend.
Many of the children come from families who have been homeless. Some have experienced significant neglect, trauma, or abuse. First Place is in a beautifully renovated old building; the children come into a space that is quiet, orderly, pleasing to the senses. They get two nourishing meals a day. There is a birthday closet; a child having a birthday can go there and pick a new toy from any one of the shelves. There is a space filled with appropriately sized clothing: socks, underwear, shirts and pants, sweaters, dresses, shoes. Technology is up to date; parents log in via cell phone to show that they have read to their child every night. The two teachers I observed were exceptional in working with children quick to melt down, or fly off the handle. The adult voices were never raised. The children responded; clearly they feel loved, accepted, never judged. They know a competent adult is in charge, which makes them feel safe.
These little ones are the same ages as my grandchildren. Like Archie and Else, they are bright and beautiful and carry the hopes and dreams of the people who love them. Preparing them for regular public school classrooms is labor intensive, expensive, and challenging.
The Central District, which was once Jewish and Italian and is now African American, is changing, gentrifying. The new white residents sipping lattes and walking designer dogs are not so invested in volunteering or donating to something this small, this hard, this hands-on, this Afro-centric. And the programs that fund services for fragile families are precisely what is on the chopping block in a Trump administration.
I’ll do what I can, knowing before I commit that it will be little enough.