The Fund For The Needy
Wellspring makes a place for kids without homes
Wellspring Family Services, one of Seattle's oldest charities, helps homeless children and their families.
Seattle Times staff reporter
ABOUT WELLSPRING FAMILY SERVICES |Wellspring prevents homelessness and violence in the home, and prepares young children to succeed in school once they start kindergarten.
Some of the help Wellspring provided in 2010:
Provided emergency housing for 100 families with 164 children; moved 277 homeless families with 328 children into long-term housing; provided $1.8 million in donated clothing and supplies; provided domestic-violence intervention to 140 men.
Learn more about Wellspring Family Services at www.wellspringfs.org
Your dollars at work
$20 provides one week of meals and nutritious snacks for a child in the Wellspring Early Learning Center.
$50 provides transportation for a classroom of children in the Wellspring Early Learning Center.
$100 provides a parent/child therapy session for a family.
Other needs: clothing for children ages 1-5 (especially unisex clothing) and underwear. Also: toys, toiletries, books, culturally specific dolls, shoes. Items can be new or gently used.
Source: Wellspring Family Services
ABOUT THE SERIES |Each year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a select group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is writing about the difference these organizations make in the lives of thousands and the impact those who give to the fund can make.
It may not seem like much, but when you are a little kid and homeless, a routine is a pretty important thing.
Breakfast. Lunch. Nap. Two snacks. Playtime. Lessons. A whole day with the same teacher and group of friends.
While their needs are real, children are the invisible homeless.
"You don't see them standing there with the cardboard sign," said Bevette Irvis, child-care director at Wellspring Family Services.
Wellspring provides that routine for the kids of homeless families — and more. The nonprofit was founded in February 1892 and by now has had about 11 names. But it always has been about the same thing: providing help for families in crisis. Today, the nonprofit provides early-childhood education for children of homeless families, ages 1 to 5, with staff trained to provide help not just academically, but with the ABCs of life:
Counselors look for healthy brain development and behavior at the earliest ages, when lifelong patterns start to be set. And they provide therapeutic intervention to get at root causes to break the cycles of destructive or ineffective behavior.
Wellspring also attacks homelessness directly, helping to place families into long-term, stable housing and prevent eviction by helping families with financial planning, mediating disputes with landlords and providing rent-assistance funds.
Counseling also is available to address mental-health issues and domestic violence, to put families back on track and prevent the kind of events that can land families on the street.
For families already homeless, a baby boutique on site at Wellspring offers free clothing for young children, toys, car seats, strollers, diapers, formula and more.
Also at the core of the nonprofit's work: providing a secure, enriching and fun place for children whose families are homeless or in transitional housing.
"When they get home they may be on a couch, or in a different place than yesterday," teacher Virginia Peña said. "But they know when they come here, their teacher is here, their friends are here, they will have circle time, snack time, nap time. Something stable. They get to be a kid."
The early-learning center is available for families within Seattle, while the charity's other services may be used by families throughout King County. Families in need find the center all kinds of ways: by referrals from other service providers, word-of-mouth, even dialing 211, the community-service support line available to anyone who needs it.
On a recent morning in the early-learning center at Wellspring, a class of 4-year-olds giggled and wiggled, whispered, sang and played. Their teachers worked on counting with the children, read a story and helped the children trace their names in journals.
Then came supervised recess outside on tricycles and play equipment, and even a session with their parents, learning how to tear up fresh kale and make kale-chip snacks.
The children's affection for their teachers was obvious, their sense of expectation for what would come next palpable. These were children who were looking forward to the next good thing, whether it was a favorite song they had been taught to sing together, or lunch. One child on the playground ran to a teacher, arms out, and was swept up in a hug he clearly knew was coming.
Nurturing those healthy emotional responses is a crucial part of the help provided at Wellspring. Judy Burr-Chellin supervises five therapists who provide psychotherapy for homeless families, with a particular focus on the relationship between primary caregivers and their young children.
"We know so much more now about how important that relationship is, it is impacting the actual brain development," Burr-Chellin said. The therapist helps the children's primary caregiver also understand how their parenting might be affected by experiences they had as a child, Burr-Chellin said.
In the early-learning center, Wellspring also has a therapist embedded in one classroom where children facing social, emotional or behavior challenges are enrolled. The therapist, with parental permission, works with the teacher to provide play-therapy sessions in the classroom.
The goal is for the child to learn to have feelings, "even strong ones, and that those are not bad; they can manage them, they don't have to fly into a rage or be controlled by them," Burr-Chellin said. "We are helping that child's brain to retrack itself and respond in a different way."
It's a high-stakes effort. Earlier intervention can prevent trouble later.
"The earlier we can do this," Burr-Chellin said, "the better their chance for success in a later life. We know how much the emotional life of a person can get in the way of thinking or functioning. If they fly into a rage, they can't think about learning."
The practical help Wellspring provides also helps parents already coping with a lot get on top of their problems.
Wellspring drivers come and get the preschool age children of Seattle homeless families from their shelter or transitional housing and take them to the early-learning center, where the staff takes care of the children all day at no charge, leaving parents free to search for work, get into housing and stabilize their lives.
Martha Montes is a mother of two, with a third child on the way. She and her husband lost their apartment when his construction hours were cut. Wellspring is a safe and fun place for their two preschoolers, Ruby and Martha, Montes said, while the couple focus on finding permanent housing and work.
"For us," Montes said, "this support is everything."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736
On Twitter @lyndavmapes.
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