On April 27, over 350 supporters gathered for Neighborhood House’s What Matters Most luncheon. Below is the remarks from our Executive Director, Janice Deguchi
For over 117 years, Neighborhood House has been creating opportunities for people in King County experiencing language, cultural, and systemic barriers to live longer happier and healthier lives. We are proud to be a Community Action Agency, like our sister agencies, Solid Ground, Byrd Barr Place, El Centro de la Raza, and Hopelink, one of over 1000 Community Action Agencies in every county in the US that has been working since the civil rights movement to eradicate poverty.
During COVID, Neighborhood House distributed over $20 million in rental assistance, connected 15,000 people to COVID vaccinations, distributed over 100,000 diapers, and gave out 1,000 devices for families and youth to attend preschool and afterschool programs virtually. We’re back in person now at multiple locations in Seattle Housing Authority and King County Housing Authority communities, Community College campuses, Seattle, Highline and Tukwila public schools, at the Sunset Neighborhood Center in Renton, Worksource offices, and throughout King County. We work collaboratively with so many partners, many of whom are in the room – Chief Seattle Club, Mary’s Place, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Chinese Information Service Center, to name a few.
Not counting COVID vaccines, Neighborhood House serves 14,000 people from birth to end of life.
Amanda and Musea’s stories showcase their caring relationship and how Neighborhood House has been a lifeline to young people, especially during COVID times. The work that we do at Neighborhood House is What Matters Most: building community, and creating access to housing, education, health, and economic opportunity. I’d like to tell you about three more clients that demonstrate how we do What Matters Most for young children, job seekers and older adults.
Aadan and his mother are East African, and they enrolled in ParentChild+ when Aadan was two years old and mom was a new to the US. During the first few home visits, Aadan’s home visitor Safiya, who is also East African, noticed how Aadan was not participating in the activities. His mom recognized his withdrawn behavior, but she didn’t know to be concerned. On the third visit, Safiya conducted a developmental screening. Because she understood the stigma associated with disability in their community, Safiya was able to explain how early intervention could help put Aadan on a path to success. Mom agreed to a full assessment, which revealed the Aadan was not meeting several milestones for his age. Safiya encouraged mom to meet with Aadan’s doctor, and provided mom with the language and knowledge to communicate effectively with Aadan’s doctor. After seeing the doctor, Aadan was able to receive early intervention services, speech therapy, and other support that provided him the best opportunity for healthy growth and development.
Ephraim, a rideshare driver saw a huge drop in income when COVID hit. Fortunately, the federal government extended unemployment to gig workers. Unfortunately, Employment Security Department was not equipped to serve people that didn’t speak English or have computer literacy. We advocated with them to add a language line, hire bilingual staff, revamp their web site and work with us with claimants who were still struggling to receive their benefits due to language, computer or other access issues. After we helped Ephraim secure unemployment, we paid for his Commercial Driver’s license. He now makes $55/hour driving a truck.
Margarite, a 72 year old Ukrainian speaker, was notified she would lose her Social Security Benefits in 2 days. Social Security Benefits is a lifeline for her and many seniors, which pays for food, rent, and living expenses. Within 2 days, we helped her find necessary documents, fax them over to the SS office, schedule an appeal, and help her make her case and which she won! How many of you are caring for an aging parent? (or maybe YOU are the aging parent?) Neighborhood House staff fulfill the role of an adult son or daughter, helping their aging parents stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.
Amanda, Aadan, Ephraim and Margarite, just four of the 14,000 people whose of lives we have changed. And our community needs and deserves more.
We have two strategies I’d like to share with you as we embark on our next 117 years.
Neighborhood House is part of a national cohort of other Community Action Agencies embracing a Whole Family Approach, an innovative model that puts families at the center of our services. Neighborhood House offers over 30 different programs, like early learning, job training, youth programs, or health navigation for older adults. By intentionally and simultaneously working with children and adults together across multiple programs, we are making it easier for families to access all of our services, and community resources they need to realize their dreams.
Our second strategy is changing policies that keep people in poverty. We cannot eliminate poverty solely by providing direct services. Pandemic relief expanded our social safety net; the Child Tax Credit slashed child poverty by 40% with the stroke of a pen. Now these resources are gone or severely cut back. The pandemic showed us that we have the resources and the ability to eliminate poverty in America, but we choose not to.
Our role at Neighborhood House is to educate policy makers, and change attitudes about immigrants, refugees, and people experiencing poverty. We’re doing this by elevating the voices and concerns of the communities we serve. We were able to get Employment Security to make their systems more accessible. In Auburn, we organized parents concerned about public safety. We help immigrants gain US citizenship and register to vote. We bring youth and parents to Olympia to educate legislators on the importance of investing in our future.
We are also advocating to make human services more equitable, starting with the talented pre-school teachers, youth engagement specialists, resource navigators, and home visitors that do this work. Musea should not have to leave the field of youth development to buy a house, raise a family and retire. His lived experience and the relationships he has with the youth makes him invaluable. But because care work has been done traditionally by women and people of color, it’s undervalued.
We are working to change that too. I had the opportunity to co-chair with Michelle McDaniel (CEO of Crisis Connections) Seattle Human Services Coalition Wage Equity Leadership Team. Long story short, the University of Washington determined that human services workers like Musea and Safiya, are paid 37% less than workers doing comparable work in other sectors. So we are advocating with our funders to stop expecting our staff to subsidize the human infrastructure needed for a thriving community.
To quote national best selling Filipinx author, Angela Garbes, “The economy could stand to bend to the will of decency and care. What if we built a system that lets us actually care for the people who care for us?”
We, our 350 staff, fluent in 48 languages, our 728 active volunteers, our corporate sponsors, our community partners, and all of you, together we are building that system, by fostering family wellbeing and changing oppressive policies that keep people in poverty.
Thank you so much for your support. Your donations provide the funds that allow us to change lives and advocate for policy change that can end poverty for good. Your support makes it possible for our vision to become a reality. A healthy, diverse, welcoming community, free of poverty and racism, where all people thrive.