It will take many donations, large and small, to make The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy’s 37th annual campaign a success. Every dollar received goes to one of a dozen nonprofits helping the most vulnerable members of the community.

Share story

When membership in their 85-year-old North Seattle church dwindled to 10 in recent years, the slim congregation of Maple Leaf Evangelical Church decided to disband, sell their building and give the money to charity.

At the suggestion of one member, the gifts included $15,000 to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.

“We were impressed that you have so many different organizations you help, for children, for senior citizens and others,” said Robert Kochendorfer, president of the church corporation.

The church’s check was a welcome boost to the Times fund, which begins its 37th annual wintertime fund drive today.

Many more donations, large and small, are needed over the next 11 weeks to help the 12 agencies that benefit from the fund, which raised a record $1,287,000 last year.

Dollars contributed by Times readers — more than $19 million since the fund was created in 1979 — are put to work every day in Seattle and its suburbs.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

Each year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make.   Click here to donate to Fund For The Needy.

They help Treehouse provide clothing, school supplies and toys for foster children who might otherwise do without. They help Childhaven assist children who’ve suffered abuse and neglect.

Those dollars help Senior Services deliver hundreds of thousands of dinners to homebound seniors and provide volunteer drivers to take thousands of seniors to medical appointments.

They help Kent Youth and Family Services offer counseling for teens, housing for homeless young moms and after-school programs that stress literacy and academics, along with teamwork and fun.

The 12 nonprofits helped by the fund run the gamut in the clientele they support and the services they provide, but they have some important things in common.

Each uses volunteers to help stretch their budget dollars.

And each has success stories, individuals who came in need of help and are now in a position to help others.

College student Puja Taya, 22, talks with kids in the afternoon program at Birch Creek Youth Center in Kent. She attended the center when she was young and she now works there 20 hours a week as a tutor.  (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
College student Puja Taya, 22, talks with kids in the afternoon program at Birch Creek Youth Center in Kent. She attended the center when she was young and she now works there 20 hours a week as a tutor. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Giving back

Among them is Puja Taya, 22, who was 3 months old when her family moved to the U.S. from India, and is now the first in the family to go to college.

“We never had tons of money,” said Taya, the oldest of three children whose father did warehouse work and mother did some cleaning.

For things as simple as school supplies and as complex as encouragement when she was going through “an emotional breakdown,” Taya has drawn from a source close to home: the Birch Creek Youth Center, operated by Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS).

The blue-and-gray two-story youth center less than a block from Taya’s home is a hub of life, action and possibilities, serving residents of 262-unit Birch Creek apartment complex, South King County’s largest public-housing community.

After-school sessions include time in the gym for recreation, and time in a second-floor computer lab for homework. Students age 5 to 19 participate in an array of activities: arts and crafts, cooking classes, intramural leagues, field trips and career exploration.

Similar activities are available at youth centers KYFS runs in two other public-housing sites, Valli Kee Homes, and Cascade Apartments.

“We try to give kids the tools to be successful in life,” said Nathan Box, KYFS spokesman.

He stressed that the work “doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s built on partnerships” including the housing authority, area schools, the King County Library System, scouting groups, Kent Police and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Kent Youth and Family Services has resources to help young people who have already made dangerous missteps in life.

But its youth centers seek to help youngsters avoid those pitfalls in the first place, through constructive use of free time, an emphasis on learning and responsibility, with counseling and tutoring also available.

Taya learned about the youth center when her family moved into the housing community about eight years ago.

She remembers many little things the center has done for her — along with some major ones. Support from KYFS and other sources made it possible for her and her younger sister to join their Kentlake High School teammates for a weekend girls’ basketball trip to Alaska several years ago.

Taya now works for the center 20 hours a week while keeping up with her classes at University of Washington Tacoma. She’s hoping for a career in physical therapy, a vocation that caught her attention when she got help after hurting an ankle playing basketball for Green River College.

At Birch Creek, she’s a recreational assistant in a drop-in program called Lighthouse, which offers homework assistance, counseling and fitness activities that can include basketball, softball, volleyball and break dancing.

“All of the faces that come through Lighthouse are familiar with her,” said Birch Creek site supervisor Vanessa Marroquin. “So it’s easier for them to express any concerns they have. They know her.”

Kids play and study at the Birch Creek Youth Center operated by Kent Youth and Family Services. Puja Taya, a college student who is a tutor there, reflects on how the program helped her at age 13. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Seniors helping seniors

While some Seattle and King County residents enjoyed an economic resurgence after the recession of 2008, those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have not shared in the prosperity.

In the annual overnight count of homeless in King County early this year, volunteers found 3,772 men, women and children had no shelter, more than a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, called the tally “heartbreaking evidence that we cannot cover our community’s most basic needs.”

The numbers of people in need are large. The Census Bureau estimates that 60,000 children and 20,000 seniors in King County are living in households below the poverty level.

As baby boomers age, the ranks of elders swell. Today’s “youngest” oldsters may need to stay in the workforce longer, or live more years in which they’ll depend on Social Security and savings.

In the effort to help seniors, Senior Services uses a particularly effective resource: other seniors.

Of the 3,800 volunteers that put in a combined 274,000 hours last year, the agency estimates that 85 percent were at least 60 years old.

Among them is Bill Goodfellow, of Seattle, who’ll turn 80 in December.

For seven years — usually several times a week — he has driven Senior Services clients to doctor visits or other appointments. He stays through their appointments and takes them home.

The retired architect and structural engineer happily gives up the time. If the appointment is a long one, that’s fine, he said. It gives him more time to read the library books — including many mysteries — he has downloaded onto his iPad.

Goodfellow forgoes the money Senior Services offers for gas and parking, as do other drivers he knows, who consider it part of “their contribution to the program.”

The unsung heroes of the program, he said, are the Senior Services staffers who, a week at a time, match up ride requests with the available drivers.

Senior Services’ ride programs took clients a total of 1,113,422 miles last year, the equivalent of more than two round trips to the moon.

The best part of the assignment, he said, is meeting interesting people, such as Mary Roberts, 89, whom he recently drove from her Capitol Hill apartment to her Beacon Hill dentist.

Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, gets dropped off at her dentist’s office by Senior Services volunteer Bill Goodfellow.  (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, gets dropped off at her dentist’s office by Senior Services volunteer Bill Goodfellow. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

A few years ago, Roberts might not have envisioned needing this service. But that changed when she got in a serious car crash while driving to a square-dancing session in West Seattle.

“No one was injured, thankfully. But I decided it was a sign. I couldn’t take the thought of hurting someone.” So she hung up her car keys for good.

Roberts, a retired materials-purchasing manager for a railroad, enjoys walking and doesn’t mind the 12-block walk to her church, Capitol Hill Presbyterian.

But she’s glad to have the option of Senior Services rides to doctor visits. She makes donations for the rides — but still less than she’d have to pay if she used a taxi.

And she regards Goodfellow as nothing less than an important civic asset.

“He just a really sweet guy,” she said. “And we’re fortunate to have him.”

Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, jokes around with Senior Services volunteer driver Bill Goodfellow, who turns 80 in December.  (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
Mary Roberts, 89, of Seattle, jokes around with Senior Services volunteer driver Bill Goodfellow, who turns 80 in December. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)