Kristen

Unlocking my Strength

By Kristen

Ten years ago, I was trapped in a domestic violence (DV) relationship. The consequences of this relationship were extensive, affecting my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. During this period, I was prescribed oxycodone for multiple injuries. As the abusive relationship got worse, so too did my abuse of oxycodone.

Eight years ago, I successfully navigated my way out of that DV relationship and my addiction. I have been sober for eight years. This is my story of discovering my strength against the odds and using it to reach my fullest potential.

At seven months pregnant, after hours of being locked in a room—berated with verbal abuse, smothered, struck, and strangled—my water broke. I convinced my abuser that if either the baby or I died, no amount of “it won’t happen again” would save him from legal ramifications and that 911 needed to be called. He was arrested, while I was airlifted to a Seattle hospital.

It is difficult to explain the effect of DV on my life. I mourned the loss of myself. The motivated high school student who switched into a homeschool program to organize my school work around two jobs. The independent traveler who moved alone to London, France, and Australia to experience history, culture, and adventure. The driven worker who networked my way up through the Vegas casino industry.

Over time, I wholeheartedly accepted that all my hopes and dreams were no longer attainable. However, after that medevac helicopter ride, when my son was born, I once again could see the world’s opportunities. For the first time, I did not fear the threats of my abuser or the potential devastation of leaving my house, businesses, cars, and money behind. Upon holding my son, I was abruptly charged with the strength to fight, the humility to become homeless, the courage to start my life over, and the power to never look back.

After a month in the hospital, we moved into a DV shelter. My only possession was my premature newborn son. There I spent months, researching daycare assistance programs to permit me to find work, low-income housing to give us a home, and the court system to enact a protection order and parenting plan. This experience allowed me to become an expert on navigating the systems and programs available to survivors of DV and those
enduring hardships.

As I moved through this process, it became clear to me that so many other people were suffering in similar situations and I became determined to use my focus, experience, and skills on their behalf. To serve these individuals, I first needed to fulfill my dream of attaining my undergraduate degree.

With the support of Goodwin Connections, I graduated from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business last spring and enrolled at the University of Washington School of Law in the fall. The afterschool care assistance I received for my inquisitive and charming son gave him a creative outlet and educational opportunities that enhanced his own educational journey. For me, it allowed more freedom in scheduling classes, the ability to reallocate my finances as a single mom, and created a future with less debt upon graduation. The childcare piece made it all possible.

My story of addiction, abuse, and poverty is not uncommon. However, what is less likely, is coming through to the other side, stronger and ready to apply that strength to the injustices in the world. I am using my second chance to make myself a better person and the world a better place.

Where are they now? Meet Rich.

A decade ago, Rich was a self-employed contractor working 60 hours a week to make ends meet. He rarely got to spend time with his wife, Rachel, and their two young kids. Still, his health was suffering. Their home was facing foreclosure. They felt stuck.

“It wasn’t sustainable,” Rich says. “I wanted to go to school but the cost of childcare made it prohibitive to not work full time.”

They couldn’t live solely off Rachel’s public teacher salary.

Then they discovered the Seattle Milk Fund (now Goodwin Connections) and their entire outlook changed.

With the barrier of childcare removed, Rich became a first-generation college student. Between classes, he visited his kids at the on-campus childcare center at North Seattle College. At home, he thrived in his role as primary caretaker and household manager. And once Rich earned his associate degree from North Seattle College and returned to work full-time, Rachel was empowered to return to school and earn her
master’s degree.

With both parents now earning more than before their degrees, they enjoy what they view as a simple, sustainable life. And they continue to express gratitude for the support they received by paying it forward as donors.

“The program is a very direct way to help people get a higher education by eliminating a key expense in childcare,” they say. “It gave us hope when it really felt like there wasn’t anything.”

-Tamara Braunstein

Nordstrom Employees Give Back, Then and Now

Big kudos for a job well done to our newest group of corporate volunteers! Devin Tonseth from Nordstrom and his team joined us at our annual Luncheon and also spent a recent afternoon help us prepare for the JOYful Gathering event—by packaging gift bags with donated presents for our families.

Devin’s mother was Sandy Tonseth, a past President and longtime supporter, who belonged to our Everett W. Nordstrom Circle. She and her friends from Nordstrom created the original Nordstrom volunteer team back in 1979. These women continue to fundraise for our program to this day. It is so incredible to see the next generation of Nordstrom
employees supporting our families.

And, in late-breaking news, we just received notice that Goodwin Connections is the recipient of a $1,000 gift from Nordstrom to honor their employees. Thank you, Nordstrom, for being a tremendous community partner and for encouraging your employees to give back.

If your corporate team would like to volunteer in 2020, connect with us at volunteer@goodwinconnections.org. We also have ongoing volunteer opportunities through our Team Goodwin and Storytime volunteer positions. We look forward to chatting with you!

JOYful Gathering Update

Thank you to everyone who supported our families over the holidays! We surpassed
our goal of $20,000 and raised more than $25,000 to make our families’ holidays even
brighter. Thank you to our lead sponsor Capital One Café and the employees from
Parker, Smith & Feek, Indeed.com, and F5 Networks for donating towards our JOYful
Giving Season. 2020 looks very joyful for our program and the families we support.
Thank you for all you do to make our program and our families successful!

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!

Alexandra

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.

Araceli

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.”