King County orders VARSA and VYFS to improve communication, collaboration


Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) and the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) will participate in communication training this month and have been told to develop new communication plans after a dispute between the two organizations last year.

County officials administering the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative (CPWI) grant — a $140,000-per-year grant the Vashon groups have been charged with overseeing — issued a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) for the groups last month after an ongoing disagreement over how the funds aimed at decreasing teen substance use are managed. According to the plan, VARSA and VYFS, VARSA’s fiscal sponsor, must establish a more collaborative working relationship, agree on regular business practices and develop written communication and conflict management plans, which are due this month.

“I see a lot of hope for closer communication,” said Jackie Berganio, a community coordinator with King County Mental Health who helps manage the grant. “I’m really positive that despite some of the challenges, they’ve already accomplished a lot on the island with these funds.”

VARSA and VYFS must also create an updated action plan for how the grant money will be spent, a plan that an ad-hoc workgroup made of a variety of community members is now working to develop.

A dispute between the two groups came to a head late last year as they attempted to work out their relationship with each other and revise their county contract. Some VARSA coalition members claimed VYFS was not a good partner in the grant, said the agency did not provide information on how grant money was spent and questioned whether VYFS was spending funds correctly. The dispute spurred concerns that popular PlaySpace programs, which are largely funding by the CPWI grant, could be at risk.

Berganio, however, said VYFS, which submits regular reports on its expenditures, has spent funds according to a strategic plan VARSA and VYFS drafted in 2012.

“The services have been delivered accord

ing to the plan,” said Berganio, who believes the dispute may have stemmed from recent leadership changes and poor communication.

The ad-hoc workgroup will now reassess how the grant funds are spent, possibly funneling some of the money to other programs.

“It wasn’t planned,” Berganio said of the workgroup, “but as with a lot of projects, some things you do not anticipate.”

VYFS director Kathleen Johnson said that while VYFS has seen success with its PlaySpace programs, the two groups should regularly reassess their action plan anyway. She agreed with the need for better communication and conflict management plans.

“I feel like we’ve agreed to go ahead and do the work we’ve agreed to be doing all along,” she said.

Diane Kjellberg, VARSA’s co-chair, said she looks forward to having better communication with VYFS and to determining  how the grant might best address the high teen substance abuse rates on Vashon.

“We engaged in this grant with VYFS, so it’s really important that we can work well together, we understand what the roles and responsibilities are and how we move forward in an affable way so the funding stays in the community,” she said.

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