Ten years after Vashon Kids — the before and after school and summer enrichment program based at Chautauqua Elementary School — was saved from oblivion by islanders and kept open by Vashon Youth and Family Services (VYFS), more island children of all socioeconomic backgrounds attend than ever before.
While the anniversary this year is a significant milestone for a resource that continues to serve many families today, the growing demand for services at VYFS continues to put a strain on the limited funding available to provide them.
“[Vashon Youth and Family Services] is an organization that gets a lot done, has a huge impact on the island, and doesn’t make a lot of fuss about it,” said David Carleton, community engagement manager, “which isn’t always the best thing, because we need community support.”
He added that VYFS provides resources and services to all who need them in the community, creating a ripple effect that is felt by whole families. The agency works with at least 20% of the island and impacts far more, according to Executive Director Carol Goertzel, who added that Vashon Kids was as essential when the agency took it over as it is now.
“The enrichment is just so good for all kids,” she said.
The program was originally managed by the Seattle YMCA, whose leaders determined that the island was too small to justify further providing funding for it and opted to discontinue their support, working for several months on the transition with VYFS and assisting the agency in finding funding sources and obtaining its daycare license. Vashon Kids serves nearly 150 families — around 200 children — through the regular school year and summer, offering discounted tuition and scholarships for low-income families that, like all VYFS programs, are made possible through the support of the community.
On average, nearly 40% of Chautauqua Elementary students attend Vashon Kids. One in four come from low-income families, and the program’s curriculum is coordinated in partnership with the school district, incorporating Spanish language and outreach measures to promote inclusiveness.
“And Vashon Kids is a part of that, making sure that Vashon Kids itself is open to diverse families,” Goertzel said.
She added that VYFS anticipates working more closely with the Neighborcare Health in both the main and school-based clinics, following a trend in both King County and nationwide to integrate physical health and behavioral health services.
“Our commitment is to listen to [those who] come to us one way or another and then crafting what we do to meet their needs,” she said. “As much as we can, depending on funding availability, we really try to craft what we’re offering to the needs that come to us and the changes that come to us.”
Moreover, said Carleton, Vashon Kids staff are able to refer children they see are having trouble or experiencing trauma to behavioral health services that VYFS already provides, keeping children engaged, safe and healthy so they do not have to suffer in silence.
Carleton’s own young children attended Vashon Kids after he and his wife, Erika, development director for the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, moved to the island in 2010, two busy parents working off-island who he said were reliant on the program.
“If Vashon Kids wasn’t here, it wouldn’t have worked, honestly,” he said. “I don’t know what we would have done.”
Goertzel said that VYFS has a growing client base who recognize the high-quality level of care available and commitment to individuals at any age, and are asking for more. Funding needs are compounded by challenges facing the behavioral health system at large that has nothing to do with the island agency, she added.
Orca Kids, the program focusing on the development of creativity and leadership skills for fourth and fifth graders, receives grant funding from The Norcliff Foundation and Moccasin Lake Foundation for off-island field trips and the development of age-appropriate games and activities. But greater help is necessary to sustain general expenses that VYFS incurs. The agency is actively pursuing funding outside of private donations, according to Goertzel.
Grammy-nominated performer Caspar Babypants played a free show last week at Chautauqua’s multipurpose room, where donations were accepted to support VYFS’ ongoing Vashon Kids scholarship offerings, raising a total of $1,300. More fundraising efforts to support the program will be held this year, said Carleton.
About 30% of islanders who use VYFS for counseling and support for mental health and drug and alcohol intervention support services, have health coverage other than Medicaid, for example, widening a financial gap due to the fewer reimbursements VYFS receives for providing services. That exacerbates the situation now testing the agency’s mission to improving the wellbeing of those who are seeking assistance from its trained staff.
“Our commitment is really to provide as high-quality a service to people as we can because they come to us trusting that we will be able to help them reach the next stage of whatever it is [they need], and so we want to do that,” said Goertzel.
For her part, longtime Vashon Kids Director Dalinda Vivero said she was confident that the program will always be there, even when she is not. But she added that stability for the agency was a preeminent need.
“A lot of people know us, but I don’t know if they know how important it is to help our scholarship campaign,” she said, recalling her excitement about the work of Vashon Kids when she first became involved with the program twenty years ago.
“I didn’t even realize the impact until I started working there for a few months. Like wow, ‘this is amazing,’” she said.