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A homegrown method for helping young people thrive is at long last taking root in Seattle. Communities That Care, a system for improving outcomes for families in neighborhood-specific ways, was created by two University of Washington professors and has been used successfully in cities around the world.

It’s now going to be put into practice in Central and Southeast Seattle.

“At last this community is saying, ‘We will work together,’ ” co-creator David Hawkins said at an initial work session Tuesday morning.

Working together is at the core of the system, which is about getting an entire community to take ownership of its needs and commit to fulfilling them in a systematic, research-tested way that crosses boundaries separating businesses and nonprofits, officials and citizens.

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If you listened to President Obama’s State of the Union address and the response to it, you know lack of cooperation is likely to remain the standard in the nation’s capital. Lack of progress there trickles down to us all by depriving states and cities of help they need to improve local circumstances. Local initiatives such as this one feel like antidotes to the disease in D.C.

The core group Tuesday included leaders of social-service agencies such as the Urban League, representatives of political leaders, police officers, a day-care owner, a high-school principal and, of course, professors.

They are all dedicated to seeing children and families do well, but they see some of the same problems from different perspectives. High dropout rates, for instance, are an issue for both schools and the justice system, but in different ways.

Research shows that many of those problems are interconnected so that addressing them successfully requires a holistic approach. I don’t know why it took a million years to figure that out, but now we know that how well a child does in school, for instance, is affected by how healthy he is, how hungry she is, how stressed his parent is, how safe her neighborhood is, and so on.

Ted Howard, principal of Garfield High School, said he can easily pick out kids whose lives are headed nowhere good without intervention. “We can’t wait, we have to address this now,” he said.

We don’t even want to wait until high school. Angelia Hicks-Maxie, who runs Tiny Tots Development Center, said she can tell who’s at risk among the youngest children. Solutions, she said, have to take into account family stability. They were among the key leaders invited to participate in the project.

Communities That Care does take family into account. I’ve written before about the research-based model, which was created by Hawkins and fellow professor Rico Catalano, both of the Social Development Research Group
, which is part of the UW’s School of Social Work.

The model involves recruiting and training a wide spectrum of community leaders to lead the process of determining needs specific to their community, and it helps them select a few proven programs to address those needs.

Schools and neighborhoods in Central and Southeast Seattle face the kinds of challenges the model was designed to combat — disparities in school performance, school-discipline issues, crime and health care.

Jaime Garcia, executive director of Consejo Counseling and Referral Service, noted Southeast Seattle’s history as a gateway community where successive generations of immigrants have gotten their starts and said that area has been disproportionately hurt by the Great Recession, making this one of those times when more people need a little help to improve their lives.

The UW School of Social Work is taking the lead, and using its resources to get this project running in Seattle. Associate Dean Margaret Spearmon suggested the collaboration and hosted Tuesday’s work session.

There will eventually be a website for community access and opportunities for broader input as the effort moves forward.

Challenging circumstances have fed the evolution of the school from its start. It’s seeds were sown in the wake of World War I, when the UW started a course to train people to work with the families of returning veterans and help them adjust and meet their social needs. The UW created a full graduate program in 1934 in response to the Great Depression.

And it has always had partnerships outside the university. The Red Cross helped fund the program after World War II. The Washington State Emergency Relief Association helped get the school started in 1934.

The current dean, Edwina Uehara, has pushed collaboration for the past several years.

Edith Elion, a graduate of the school, is executive director of Atlantic Street Center, the lead agency in the collaboration. She listed several things she has faith in, among them that the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl and that, “We will be making a difference.”

We’ll see about the Seahawks, but the Communities That Care has already proven it works and is worth cheering for.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or

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