The Fund For The Needy
Kids thankful for family, home and Treehouse's help
Enumclaw resident Sharon Cormier has taken in dozens of foster kids, including some who have been severely abused or neglected, raising them with love, discipline, a sense of gratitude — and some help from Treehouse.
Seattle Times staff reporter
About this 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 will write about the difference these organizations make in the lives of thousands and the impact those who give can make.
Your dollars at work
$20 can pay for a school field trip.
$50 can provide for a child's soccer fees or karate lessons.
$100 can pay for a new warm coat and winter clothes.
$150 can give a foster kid a new bicycle and helmet.
$250 can provide five hours of one-on-one tutoring.
The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy helps meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community — including children, families and seniors. Since 1979, our readers have donated more than $12.4 million to this cause. Donate online now!
More stories from our Fund For The Needy Series
When Tyler came to Sharon Cormier eight years ago, his too-skinny body was covered with injuries and scars from the regular beatings delivered by his father.
His little sister had marks on her body, too, and was wearing shoes way too small.
Abused and homeless, the two children entered the state foster-care system, eventually arriving at Cormier's home in Enumclaw, where their lives began to transform.
Tyler Cormier is 15 now, a high-school sophomore reading Toni Morrison, playing soccer and cello, and dreaming of college. Danielle Cormier, 13, is an eighth-grader participating in track, wrestling and soccer, and playing the violin and drums.
They are among dozens of foster children Cormier has taken in over the years, some of them severely abused or neglected. In her five-bedroom mobile home, she raises them with love, discipline and a sense of gratitude and giving back — and not just on Thanksgiving.
Today, Cormier and her current brood of nine will cook up a feast, then go around the table, each naming one thing they're grateful for, from being healthy enough to play sports to Danielle's annual expression of thanks that she's no longer living on the streets.
"You don't have to have a big, beautiful home to take care of kids, as long as you have food and love, and keep them busy," says Cormier, a 50-year-old taekwondo instructor.
Along with Cormier's biological daughter Brandy Higgins, who is 25 and helps with the younger children, the household has five former foster kids Cormier has adopted — including Tyler and Danielle — and three foster children.
How Treehouse helps
Together they are also grateful for a nonprofit agency called Treehouse.
Treehouse, which benefits from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, serves some 5,000 foster children each year, working to give them as normal a life as possible by providing such things as tutoring, toys, school supplies, summer camp and ballet lessons.
Demand for Treehouse services is up this year, with more families needing not just children's clothes and other basics but also some of the extras that in years past they may have been able to pay for themselves — from haircuts and school photos to drivers-education classes.
For the Cormiers, Treehouse has provided clothes and fees for soccer camps, martial-arts tournaments and snowboarding lessons, and helped pay for musical instruments. It also has worked with the family and the kids' schools to get tailored learning plans for several of them.
"Thank God for Treehouse," Cormier said.
At the Cormier home, it's easy to see the affectionate bonds that have formed. Sitting around the dining-room table, some of the kids laugh and chat while playing Connect Four. (Board games are big in this family.)
"The kids really enjoy each other. She [Cormier] enjoys them and they enjoy her," said Mike Clark, a Treehouse employee. "There's a lot of camaraderie within that family."
Cormier encourages her children to talk about their troubled past and even try to find humor in it, all the while imparting the lessons that "yesterday is not an excuse to misbehave today" and "the choices you make is the life you lead."
These days, Tyler and Danielle can talk readily about their father, who is in prison, convicted in 2003 of assaulting them. They shake their heads and give "what are you gonna do" chuckles when talking about the court appeals he has filed. They don't know where their biological mother is.
"Finding the best"
"Sharon is good at finding the best in each of her foster children," said Kathy Spears, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Social and Health Services.
It's the kind of large family Cormier grew up with and always wanted. But after she gave birth to Brandy 25 years ago, she was told she couldn't have other children. "I wasn't done being a mom," she says.
As a foster mom, Cormier found she was good with kids from especially troubled backgrounds. She had been molested as a child, "so I know where these kids are coming from."
And she can impart the self-discipline and structure that comes from decades of martial-arts training — something she took up after an abusive relationship. Most of her kids take martial-arts lessons from her. Brandy, Tyler and Danielle are black belts. The kids also receive state-provided counseling.
That's not to say they don't sometimes get into trouble. If they smart off, Cormier might have them do push-ups or stack firewood if they're old enough.
She also deals with more serious matters.
A couple of the children have had problems with stealing, and if they take something from a store, Cormier marches them back to apologize and calls the cops. "It's not that I want them in trouble," she says. "I want them accountable."
There are other stresses: Some of her kids have trouble trusting others. Three are on special diets — no gluten, milk or eggs. One has Job syndrome, resulting in chronic skin infections; another has autism; still another has speech and hearing issues.
Their stove is down to two burners, and the base of the oven needs to be pushed up when they bake something. On top of that, the recession has meant Cormier has fewer taekwondo students able to pay for lessons. There are times when she tells Brandy and the kids: "Mom's stressin'," and goes for a long walk.
Still, Cormier says, "we make do."
Signs of how Treehouse helps them do that are everywhere in their home: from sports trophies and musical instruments to clothes on the beds.
In turn, Cormier makes sure the family volunteers for Treehouse, working at fundraisers, handing out literature at the organization's street-fair booth and picking up and delivering donated gifts during the holidays.
Cormier says she doesn't want her kids to simply expect handouts. "I want them to understand: If they receive something from Treehouse, they need to give in return."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.