Treehouse, a nonprofit agency that benefits from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, serves some 5,000 foster children each year, working to give them as normal a life as possible by providing such things as tutoring, toys, school supplies, summer camp and ballet lessons.

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For more than 20 years, foster kids have shown up on Paulette Daniels’ Central Area doorstep, usually with just a single bag in their hands.

There have been more than 20 boys and girls through the years, some now grown with kids of their own.

At Paulette’s — some call her “Paulette,” others “Miss Daniels” or even “Mom” — they find a warm home, an open ear and a big heart.

“She doesn’t treat us like foster kids,” says Keith McCraney, 19, one of Daniels’ former foster kids. “As soon as we come here, we are hers.”

Daniels is 46, a full-time Metro bus driver and single foster mother — currently — to three high-school-aged boys.

Her day begins at 6:30 a.m., making breakfast for everyone, before getting to her job to drive the 120, 23 or 28 routes. Then after work, her “second job” begins, picking up the kids if needed, making dinner, being a foster mom.

Within that busy schedule, Treehouse for Kids, she says with a grin, “is like a husband to me. When I need help for the kids, they’re there.”

Treehouse, a nonprofit agency that benefits from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, serves some 5,000 foster children each year, working to give them as normal a life as possible by providing such things as tutoring, toys, school supplies, summer camp and ballet lessons.

For Daniels’ foster kids, Treehouse over the years has provided clothes, toys, money for drivers’-education classes, tutoring, people who will be advocates for her kids at their schools, and many other services.

Like Daniels, Treehouse is there “to make [the kids] feel accepted in society,” she says.

That sentiment is echoed by others Treehouse has helped.

For Diana McKune, 24, who spent years in foster care, the tutoring and mentoring that Treehouse provided made a world of difference. She’s now a Seattle University student.

“Without all the support I got there, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far in college,” McKune says.

“So genuine”

Daniels first learned about foster care when her childhood best friend, Sarah, said she had to move because her mother had passed away and she was in foster care.

Daniels told her mom about Sarah, and her mom ended up taking in Sarah as a foster child.

Daniels started taking in foster kids some 20 years ago, eventually adopting one of the children who came to her when he was in second grade; he’s in college now.

McCraney, one of Daniels’ former foster sons, plans to enter Seattle Central Community College in the spring.

He recalls coming to Daniels’ home when he was 16, after some five years in foster care. They clicked instantly, often sitting in the kitchen talking about life, goals, everything.

“I just felt she was so genuine,” McCraney said. “It gives me such a warm feeling inside — like: ‘Where has this feeling been my whole life.’ “

For her part, Daniels says: “I feel like every kid who’s been sent to me, it was for a reason. They needed me in their life.”

She gets to know each child, finding out what motivates him or her. “Some need a little oomph” — someone able to put her foot down, she says. “Some need hugs.”

She sets standards and rules: Make the bed each morning, observe curfew at 10 p.m., eat dinner together, respect one another and each other’s spaces, do well in school and be rewarded (with incentives such as a movie ticket or a new CD).

A few chafe at the rules. “Sometimes I don’t like it because she’ll say I have to make the bed,” said Peter Benson III, 15, who’s been at Daniels’ home for two months.

Others thrive. “I just, like, love this place,” said Austin Rogers, 15, who’s been there four months. “When I first came here, I didn’t feel like part of the family. Now I do.”

What makes Daniels stand out is how “future focused” she is for her kids, says Mike Schloss, a high-school engagement coordinator at Treehouse.

One boy in her care had refused to show Schloss his grades because he wasn’t proud of them, Schloss said. Under Daniels’ care — and an incentive plan — the boy ended up striving for a 3.0 GPA.

“She’s really trying to set them up for success,” Schloss said.

Daniels tells every kid who comes through her door: ” ‘Let’s take away “foster.” Let’s just work on being a family. You don’t have to like each other.’ But what I try to teach them is to find a way to get along — because it’s called life.”

Really, the idea is to get her kids to feel accepted by society and ready for life.

Treehouse helps with that, she says, with everything from on-trend clothing from the Wearhouse, where her kids get to pick out free clothing five times a year; to sending her kids to summer camp; to tutoring after school; to monthly nights out where her boys gather with other Treehouse boys for everything from bowling to pizza.

“I adore Treehouse,” she says. “I can send my kids to a place where I know they’re safe.”

Ready for college

McKune, the Seattle University student, was a latecomer to Treehouse.

She had been in foster care since about age 12, but it wasn’t until she was a high-school senior that she found out about Treehouse. At age 18, she had just been accepted into an independent-living program, and the program referred her to Treehouse for tutoring.

She went twice a week, mainly for math help. “I had goals,” she says.

Then, Treehouse told her about its Coaching-to-College program, where volunteer coaches/mentors are paired with a high-school student, providing support for everything from applying for colleges to navigating financial-aid applications.

And through Treehouse, she also learned about Seattle University’s Fostering Scholars program, which provides financial, academic and personal support to students no longer in foster care. McKune is now part of that program.”For so many years, I didn’t really feel like I had people who were helping me. I didn’t feel necessarily like people care,” McKune said.

That changed when people like her Coaching-to-College tutor and a high-school teacher took an interest and pushed her to achieve her goals.

“Having these people that want to see me succeed was a big deal,” she said.

Because she feels she’s gotten so much from Treehouse, she’s become a donor, a few months ago combining money she received as graduation gifts (she has 15 credits left to go) and contributions from people she knew to buy about $300 worth of toys, books, clothes and other items.

She’s still committed to her goals despite being in an accident in June in which she was crushed between two vehicles in a parking lot. It left McKune with internal injuries and in a wheelchair most of the time.

Despite all that, she has been busy buying and collecting toys and movies for another planned donation to Treehouse around Christmas time. McKune asked her sister to buy something for the Treehouse donation, rather than something for her for Christmas. Her sister bought a scooter to donate.

“I felt like I got so much from them,” McKune said. “It’s kind of my way of giving back.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter @janettu.