Denise Nicole

At the beginning of the school year, Denise Nicole spoke to our guests at our annual luncheon. Here is her story…

Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here. My name is Denise Nicole, and my four-year-old son, Kingston, and I just joined the Family Connections Program.

I am here on behalf of all the new and returning student parents and their families to thank you for believing in us and our children.

My journey has been filled with hardships that could have impacted my life in a negative way. There have been hurdles and obstacles that could have stopped me in my tracks. But I have persevered and stayed true to my path because I am worth fighting for!

During my senior year in high school, my mother passed away unexpectedly from diabetes. Two months later, I found out I was pregnant. I instantly went from the baby of the family to the head of my own household. My two older brothers were already out of the house and my father went into a deep depression and went his own way.

I was scared. Scared to be another statistic. So, I educated myself on parenting resources and took all of the available parenting classes. I continue to strive to be the best mother and role model for my children and my community.

I was an active, and engaged high school student, who happened to be pregnant. Teachers and community leaders told me that I wouldn’t attend college. I could have listened to the naysayers. But I didn’t.

I choose to hold on to one teacher’s voice, Pamela Dykstra my homeroom teacher, she planted seeds of hope within me.

She told me she believed in me and one day I would make it into Harvard if I choose too.

Her seeds of hope sprinkled with my mother’s unconditional love have inspired me to do many great things. Becoming a mother to a beautiful daughter and son, go to college, and go after the career that I desire and deserve. This past year, I completed the Race, Equity and Leadership in school’s professional development training at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  This achievement reinforced my commitment to my goal of creating a nonprofit leadership academy for young adults to become inspirational influencers in their own communities.  I am going to name my nonprofit after my daughter, Charizma.

Currently, I work full-time and will be going to school full-time. The budget-breaking cost of childcare almost crushed my dreams of finishing college, but your support today will help me graduate with a bachelor’s degree, create more job security, and it will give my son a boost by getting him ready to attend kindergarten in a year.

My son just started his Pre-K program a few days ago at the local Y and the preschool tuition assistance that Goodwin Connections provides will be a game-changer for our family.

I am looking forward to us all being in school at the same time. I picture us at the kitchen table, my son printing his name over and over again, my daughter doing her biology homework, and me editing a paper I have to turn in the next day. It’s going to be a great year.

For some of you, your school days probably seem long ago and far away.  But there are several people here today, just like me, who are starting a fresh school year right now!  To the donors who have made this program strong for so many years, I would just like to say: we are so thankful for your support.


JOYful Giving Season

The JOYful Giving season is right around the corner! It begins November 18! This is our holiday and year-end giving campaign to support families participating in our program. In addition to making childcare and preschool more affordable for student parents, we also provide their entire family with additional basic needs support throughout the year–including over the holidays.

NEW this year, if you make a gift in honor of someone special during the JOYful Giving season, the recipient will receive a holiday card letting them know of your thoughtful gift to support our families.

Learn more about all the different ways you can get involved, give back, and make a difference for local families this holiday season…

Thank you to Capital One, Parker, Smith & Feek, and Little Rae’s Bakery for sponsoring our JOYful Giving season.

Thank you for fueling our families’ futures!

Thanks again to our guests and supporters for making our largest fundraising event of the year a success for our families. From our supporters to our students to our sponsors, everyone had a hand in making this our most successful luncheon to date! All in all, $108,475 was raised to support our families.

Thanks to our sponsors: GM Nameplate, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Safeco Insurance, Umpqua Bank, Four Seasons Hotel, Alaska Airlines, Spilt Milk Nannies, Byen Bakeri, Dabbawalla Bags, Third Place Books, Choice Organic Teas, and LegUP.

Check out the event photos here!

Community Outreach: Workplace Giving

Throughout October, we are visiting several workplaces and groups to talk about our Family Connections Program and various volunteer opportunities, like joining Team Goodwin or becoming a volunteer with Storytime.

While we were at Microsoft last week, employees took part in a micro-volunteer event where they wrote letters of encouragement to all of our student parents. Thank you to Board Member Sherry White and past program participant, Jessica Laughlin for inviting us!

Did you know that your employer may have a matching program? Check with your HR department to see if your gift to Goodwin Connections is eligible for matching funds.

Thank you to Microsoft, the King County Employee Giving Program, the Washington State Combined Fund Drive, and the Kirkland Kiwanis Club for hosting us this month!


This week, we announced Goodwin Connections’ inaugural Sandra Tonseth Scholar. An honor that will be bestowed upon a University of Washington student from the day they enter our Family Connections program through their graduation day. Named in memory of Sandy Tonseth, a past Seattle Milk Fund President and founding member of the Everett W. Nordstrom Circle. Sandy and her friends were Nordstrom employees who wanted to give back in a meaningful way and they found purpose in helping Seattle Milk Fund families. Sandy herself attended the University of Washington and studied art.

This year’s Sandra Tonseth Scholar is Alexandra. Alexandra is in her final year at the University of Washington majoring in Comparative History of Ideas with a minor in Environmental Studies.

She is an artist at heart who has a passion for music and documentary filmmaking. In addition to school, Alexandra also volunteers for 350 Seattle, a grassroots nonprofit working on the climate change crisis.

Her inspiration and motivation for all of this is her 10-year-old daughter, who is also a musician and engaged in her own volunteer work for the environment. As a full-time single mother, Alexandra is hardworking, resilient and an incredible example of how higher education can act as a channel in the pursuit of your dreams.

Congratulations to Alexandra!  And, our sincere gratitude to the Tonseth Family for creating this special honor for a very deserving student parent.


How Balancing Self-Care and Sacrifice Enabled One Mom to Achieve Her Dreams

By: Tamara Braunstein

If you’d asked Araceli in high school about what she wanted to do with her life, she might have shrugged. She definitely wouldn’t have named any job requiring a four-year degree — she never thought she’d make it to college. For a while, she wasn’t sure she’d graduate from high school.

Today, she’s a proud graduate of the University of Washington (UW) Tacoma School of Social Work. And she’s an even prouder mother to her five-year-old son, Christian.

It’s Christian whom she credits with igniting her desire to push herself and achieve academic success. And it’s her 10th grade mentor who inspired her path forward.

“I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to graduate high school without that person to listen to me, help me with my academics, especially math and writing,” she says. “It was just a struggle.”

So from her perspective, Araceli’s degree is not only for herself and her son — it’s also for students who don’t speak English as their first language. For kids whose parents work long, hard days that leave them less available to support their children academically. For anyone who might be struggling with a learning disability and just need a little extra encouragement to thrive. For people like her.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in social work at the beginning; I just knew I wanted to help people,” Araceli says.

But if high school was a challenge, even the logistics of going to college presented an entirely new test. Balancing class schedules with childcare while working to pay for both was daunting. At least she was eligible for public funding.

Until she wasn’t.

After completing prerequisite courses at South Seattle College in 2017, Araceli transferred to UW’s social work program. But soon after starting classes there, she was notified that her financial aid from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) would not be renewed. DSHS had changed their terms and she was no longer eligible based on her academic program.

Even though she was living at home with her parents, she couldn’t rely on them to watch Christian. Her father worked all day and her mother was recovering from a kidney transplant while undergoing cancer treatment.

“I went looking for help and someone at the university told me about their emergency aid options, but it turned out I didn’t qualify,” she says. “Then they mentioned the Seattle Milk Fund.”

A self-described skeptic, Araceli was hesitant about what the Seattle Milk Fund was offering. She had never heard of the organization. She was sure there’d be some sort of small print that would disqualify her. It seemed too good to be true.

But Araceli was also a bit of an optimist — or as she says, maybe just desperate enough to take a chance.

“They just said, ‘If you’re a mom, if you’re in school…’ and I remember thinking, ‘OK, I’m fit for this,’” she says. “So I hurried to get my application together and I hoped for the best.”

Getting the call that she’d been accepted as a Seattle Milk Fund recipient was life-changing. Not only did it mean Araceli could continue her studies and work, it meant she could keep sending her son to the daycare she already knew and trusted.

“In the beginning, everything was hard emotionally,” Araceli says, recalling the impact of her mother’s chemo treatment and care needs. “Being in school and having to do everything I was doing, knowing Seattle Milk Fund was there to help relieved so much stress.”

Stressful is an understatement of Araceli’s first year at UW. Many days involved waking up early to drop off Christian at daycare, then driving 45 minutes to school to attend class for one hour, then driving another 25 minutes to an internship before finally completing the trek back to her neck of the woods to work. Once at home, her hours were spent studying, completing tasks for her internship, and caring for her son and her mother.

But through all of that, Araceli learned two lessons: 1) The importance of setting boundaries for her time and 2) The importance of self-care, including asking for assistance when she needed it.

“The shy part in me still comes up. I was always terrified to ask for help because I don’t like to make people mad,” Araceli says. “But when you open up about reality, people can be understanding.”

She learned that at home especially, where each lesson was pressure tested.

Trying to balance everything on her plate was almost impossible. So she finally asked her sister, her only sibling, to tag-team caring for their mother. And she learned to tune out any criticisms that she should be prioritizing work and Christian.

“My dad is the macho man, always working. So sometimes I feel like I have to defend myself,” Araceli says. “I’m not a bad mom. I’m doing this for my son.”

The Seattle Milk Fund also became part of her self-care plan.

“I think they understand the life of a college student. We’re single moms, we’re busy,” she says. “This organization is like another hand.”

Not only that, but it’s a community Araceli didn’t realize she needed until she had it. It’s camaraderie, emotional support and professional networking rolled into one — all with people who empathize with her story. Plus, thanks to their tickets to venues like zoos, aquariums and museums, Araceli and Christian get to make the most of their limited free time together in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

“It’s so expensive to do those things, and a lot of us don’t have the money,” Araceli says. “Those have been my getaways with my son.”

Now, as Christian prepares to enter Kindergarten, Araceli is looking to the next chapter of their life: A pay increase (as soon as she earned her degree, her employer of eight years bumped up her pay) and graduate school. The toughest decision she’s facing now is whether to pursue a specialty in education or medicine.

After completing her internship at a local high school, she’s convinced she has what it takes to work with students to turn their academic careers around.

“I’m glad I was put at a high school, because I felt like that was the hardest part of my education,” she says. “I feel like I have a story they can relate to — I helped students who spoke Spanish, I helped the ones at risk of dropping out, I helped the seniors apply for college.”

But going through her mother’s medical crisis exposed Araceli to the world of medical social work. She was so inspired by and thankful for how her mother’s case workers supported the family, especially when it felt like the doctors were only focused on the medical treatment and not a holistic experience.

“I feel like I could close the gaps between the doctor and the patient,” she says. “People need more attention paid to the emotional part of care.”

Whatever she decides, Araceli knows her success will come down to having a plan, then remembering her two lessons along the way.

As she tells her high school students, “It’s hard and you have to sacrifice, but if you make goals — and ask for help — you can meet them.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Diana

Last year, Diana, a student at North Seattle College who is studying pediatric trauma nursing, reached out to us because she wanted to volunteer for our brand-new Storytime volunteer opportunity. We paired her up with a class of 3 and 4-year-olds at the UCUCC Child Care Program for a twice-a-

month volunteer placement.

“The most rewarding part of being a Storytime volunteer is seeing the kids learn to love reading. At every session, their faces light up when I come in with new books,” said Diana. “They’ll run up to me, look at the title and I’ll talk with them about the parts of the book (the spine, the pages, the front/back cover,) and they’re intrigued! The kids have also begun to relate the books to their own lives–recalling times they have felt happy or sad as a main character may feel, or identifying that they’ve eaten the same food or done the same activities as a character.”

Thank you, Diana for inspiring these young soon-to-be readers. We are setting up new Storytime volunteer partnerships this summer to start in the fall. Interested in learning more? Send us an email at or call 206-526-7944. Thank you to Third Place Books for curating our Storytime book list with inspired read-aloud books with diverse characters. 

Congrats to our new graduates!

This spring and summer, we will celebrate 27 students graduating with their degrees from colleges in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. This is the largest cohort of graduates that our Family Connections Program has experienced since its inception. We are so proud of our hardworking and dedicated scholars and all they have accomplished. We wish them the best as they begin their careers. Thank you to our supporters for making graduation day a reality for our students.

Edmonds Community College
, Science

Lake Washington Institute of Technology
, Accounting

North Seattle College
Jennifer, Pre-nursing

Pierce College
Briana, Pre-nursing

Seattle Central College
Fadumo, Respiratory Therapy
Rebecca, Social Human Services

Seattle Pacific University
, Nursing

Seattle University
, Electrical Engineering
Angelica, Law
Martha, Nursing
Hodan, Nursing
TyKera, Social Work

Shoreline Community College
, Chemistry

University of Washington Bothell
, Accounting
Weikang, Math

University of Washington Seattle

Danya, Education Policy
Hirut, Nursing
Robyn, Business
Joshua, Mechanical Engineering
Myles, Community, Environment, and Planning
Katie, Psychology
Kristen, Business
Sydney, Nursing
Ruby, Social Work

University of Washington Tacoma
, Social Welfare

Washington State University (Everett)
Karina, Hospitality
Masooma, Pharmacy



Survivor of Somali Civil War establishes love, work, and home in Seattle

Author: Maggie Wilson
Photographer: Renee Banks

Please be aware: This article includes the recounting of experiences during the Somali Civil War that are upsetting. They are also real experiences. Read compassionately. A version, that was edited for length, appeared in our Winter/Spring 2019 Newsletter.

Fadumo Daud heard a bomb coming, but she could not escape it.

She was a child then, with her younger sister beside her. Those who heard the bomb coming either ran or laid themselves down.

“(When bombs near) people go somewhere they think is safe,” Fadumo said.

Today, Fadumo lives in Seattle’s Columbia City, with her loving husband, Ahmed, and her three sons. With help from Seattle Milk Fund, her youngest son attends preschool, and her two older sons attend after-school programs while Fadumo works toward a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care at Seattle Central College.

Her middle son is 8 years old – the same age this year as she was in Somalia during the Civil War in 1991.

Fadumo juices carrots in bright mornings for her boys. Over winter, she took them to the Pacific Science Center.

“It’s so beautiful there,” she said. In the Center’s tropical butterfly room, royal blue and red calico butterflies land on cinnamon and cocoa trees, nervous shoulders.

Fadumo said the science center is one of her favorite places in Seattle. She was given tickets from the Seattle Milk Fund, an organization she’s a student with. Through Seattle Milk Fund’s program, her children are cared for while she finishes her education.

She’s earning a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care at Seattle Central College.

When we talk about why she studies respiratory therapy, Fadumo says her path to medicine began in 1991 – and she takes us to the day.

Civil war in Somalia

Today, Fadumo is somewhere safe. But her journey to Seattle was treacherous. She believes she arrived because of her faith in God, her family, help from people on her path – and her strength.

When Fadumo was 8 years old, she lived happily with her mother and five younger siblings in Somalia.

Then war came. It seemed inconceivable that a small militia would permanently wipe out the government. But the war worsened; the president of Somalia fled. And suddenly, there was no running water, no regulation, no electricity.

Fadumo’s family could not flee. Around their house, bullets screamed.

Her young mother Sadiyo said, “If I take all these kids, I don’t know how to survive on this road.”

The youngest baby was only months old.

One day, Sadiyo had to search for food.

Fadumo and her 7-year-old sister Faiza left their siblings at home and went out to search for clean water.

Hands full, jugs full of water

Fadumo and Faiza carried plastic jugs.

They embarked to their auntie’s house. Fadumo knew of a well there. Three other girls joined.

They couldn’t walk the streets, where gunfire whined without break. Instead, they walked along a wall. When the girls arrived at their auntie’s, the house was crowded, and they could see only strangers. They left to find water elsewhere.

They passed a mansion under construction. A man was in the doorway, watching.

The watchman called to the girls. He saw the jugs and offered water from a well there.

The girls were full of joy. They lined up and the man filled their jugs with fresh water.

Then, in the air – there was the distinct sound of an incoming bomb.

“We heard the noise. But it was coming to us directly,” Fadumo said. “There was nothing we could have done differently.”

The house was unfinished. They were standing on rugs. When the bomb hit, everything became shrapnel. The rugs crawled up legs, burning them.

The explosion hit the watchman and Faiza.

“They became pieces,” Fadumo said. “My sister and him – their bodies became unknown.”

Fadumo’s leg split in two. She was the first to wake from unconsciousness.

“I opened my eyes,” she said. “All I see is white ash. … I don’t hear anybody screaming, anybody talking. I just hear, ‘eh, eh.’ Somebody is making little noise. I think my sister was dying.”

Fadumo stood and fell. She thought of her family. As the oldest child, she felt responsible for helping them.

On her injured leg, she crawled through small rocks to an outdoor gate. At the gate, she screamed for help. But everyone was running for their lives. Running, passing.

A man eventually helped her.

He put her inside of a wheelbarrow and ran. Everything went blank. Fadumo woke up on a table at the hospital.

Finding Fadumo

The sun was setting when Sadiyo, Fadumo’s mother, returned with food.

She saw neighbors in the yard and asked God, “Help me. Whatever happened to my children. If they all died, give me the strength to bury them. If there are some left for me, please help me through this. I will never cry. Please leave me some.”

Sadiyo learned Faiza died and Fadumo was at a hospital, but no one knew which.

Sadiyo and strong men took the bathroom door off its hinges and stripped the bedsheet off her bed.

She and neighbors walked to the mansion, carrying the bedsheet and door. There, they found Faiza, the watchman and another young girl dead.

Two other girls had survived and lost their hands.

Sadiyo and neighbors buried Faiza and the little girl who died together in the ground.

After the burials, Sadiyo found Fadumo.

“My mom came, and she kissed me from the top,” Fadumo said. “And she said, ‘You’re going to be fine. I’m here. I found you.’”

They had to amputate Fadumo’s left leg.

She remembers braiding her hands together in prayer and promising, “God, if you save my life today, I will help your needy ones.”

Taking refuge in Kenya, then Seattle

Sadiyo soon decided the family needed to flee Somalia. Fadumo was still recovering.

The family had to walk, and they took turns helping Fadumo.

They reached a refugee camp in Kenya and lived there until they were processed as refugees to Seattle.

It was 1996.

“God saved me,” Fadumo said. “Everything comes from God. I think my purpose was to come here (to Seattle) and have a life.”

In Seattle, Fadumo visited a doctor for the first time since her leg was amputated. Doctors at Harborview inspected the wound and found an infection.

They said her leg would have to be re-amputated.

A nurse at Harborview, who lost her leg in a boating accident, came to Fadumo to show her a prosthetic.

“She walked in,” Fadumo remembered. “And she showed me her leg, and she was wearing a sandal. And I was so excited. I said, ‘I could wear that sandal, and I could get that leg, and I could walk again with sandals. Yes, I will do the surgery.’”

In 1997, they re-amputated her leg and gave her a prosthetic.

She has walked ever since.

To this day, she still visits the practitioner who fitted her with her new leg at his home in Gig Harbor.

A desire to help others the way she was helped

“I’ve seen people, coming from left and right helping me through, helping me walk again,” Fadumo said.

It’s why she studies medicine.

After graduating high school in Seattle, she worked for years as a caregiver.

She remembers one night sleeping with her second baby, when he was very little, and musing, “I need to fulfill my promise to God that I will help serve humanity.”

She went back to school. She studied through pregnancy, the birth of a child and her mother-in-law’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“She was having a hard time breathing at the end,” Fadumo said of her mother-in-law. “I see breath – and I see that we take it for granted.”

She reflected both on her mother-in-law’s struggle breathing and her struggle breathing when she was a child in the hospital in Somalia. She was moved to study respiration.

Needing childcare in Seattle to study, reach dreams

While searching for affordable childcare, Fadumo found the Seattle Milk Fund, and quickly saw how their Family Connections Program would make finishing college possible. Her boys would have their own educational opportunities, while she attended classes and did additional clinical work.

She applied to the Seattle Milk Fund and was accepted in 2017.

“I was so happy,” said Fadumo. “It gave me safety and security to continue my education. … I have to work hard and the life I left behind is still imprinted in my mind.”

As Fadumo nears graduation day this spring, she reflects on what receiving her degree will mean to her sons.

“I want my children to look back and see what I did in my life, and look how far I came,” Fadumo said. “From the war, my education. And take notice of that and say, ‘If my mom did it, I can do it, too.’”

In January, she worked with two of her sons, now 8 and 9 years old, on a Heritage Day poster. She is beginning to introduce them to her childhood.

Her son was asked by his teacher, ‘If you go to Somalia, what do you most want to see?’

And he said, “the monuments” and where his Aunt Faiza is buried.

Fadumo’s future

What’s important to Fadumo is that she makes a positive difference.

Of her friends who survived the bomb and lost their hands, she said in Somalia people with scars of war or similar losses aren’t socially accepted. Disabilities, missing limbs and mental illness cause people to treat you differently, she said.

The two unmarried sisters now live together.

“One is missing the right hand and one is missing the left hand,” Fadumo said. “They wash clothes, cook, and support each other, one hand to another.”

She hopes to work with survivors of war and survivors of trauma, and also to find ways to give back to those in Somalia.

Today, she studies and works hard, raises her sons and thanks God for her blessings.

She, her husband and three sons sit and eat Somali Anjero in their South Seattle home. They pass the sweet bread, one hand to another, around the table.

Fadumo will soon be studying for her final exams and will begin applying for respiratory therapist positions just as soon as she graduates. We wish her and her beautiful family all the best as she begins her career helping others.

Donate your birthday or party to Goodwin Connections’ Families

Goodwin Connections is celebrating 112 years of supporting families as they navigate through hardships and look toward creating brighter financial futures for their families. Commit to being a champion for our local families throughout the year.

Here are a few ideas to help make your support go even further:

  • Host a fundraiser on social media: Here is an example of what you could post for your virtual fundraiser: “I am celebrating my birthday by requesting donations from my friends and family for one of my favorite nonprofits, Goodwin Connections. They make childcare more affordable and consistent for low-income student parents as they work toward their college degree. Goodwin Connections is truly changing lives for this generation and the next. Join me in making a gift to help create brighter financial futures for local families.” Here’s the link to make your gift:
  • If you are hosting a party, you can request gifts to Seattle Milk Fund from friends and family in lieu of host/hostess gifts.
  • Make gifts to Seattle Milk Fund in honor of a friend or family member’s birthday or over the holidays. We will send them a card telling them of your gift.

Thank you for helping to make a higher education degree a reality for local parents and for giving their children an early education boost that will help them begin their own educational journey. If you have an idea for a fundraiser, give us a call at 206-526-7944 to discuss specifics.