Tai Powell, Shawn Babineau and their daughter, Taylor, lost their home during the middle of a bitter winter. But Wellspring Family Services helped them get back on their feet.
The last night Tai Powell and Shawn Babineau spent outside in the cold was not something they’ll forget.
The longtime couple had been through hard times before; they’d been homeless and lived in tent cities. But not with their daughter, and not after the hard work they’d been doing to move forward.
About two years ago in the middle of a bitter winter, the landlord of the Eastside condo they rented decided to lease it to a relative instead.
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 the Fund For The Needy.
“It felt worse to be homeless after having a home and feeling like we’d come so far,” said Thomas “Tai” Powell, 42. “But at the same time, it was a turning point in my life. I didn’t want to let my family down again.”
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Although the two parents both were clean and sober at the time, they redoubled their commitment to their 12-step recovery programs with new resolve and a deeper willingness to do the hard work required for permanent change.
They also sought out mental-health treatment and accepted assistance from the Department of Social and Health Services that mandated participation in work programs. They were fast-tracked for housing in Seattle and started going back to school.
But they were still struggling to find stability.
That is until Babineau, 37, was introduced to the Baby Boutique at Wellspring Family Services, which is among the 12 agencies that benefit from reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
The 125-year-old nonprofit seeks to break the cycle of homelessness, poverty and dysfunction that can trap families in a downward spiral. Wellspring’s programs nurture the bonds between kids and parents, offer assistance with clothing and housing, address family violence and prepare young children to succeed in school.
Last year, the nonprofit helped nearly 4,000 children and families in Seattle and King County.
“As soon as I walked in here, I immediately thought, ‘This is a really cool place,’ ” Babineau said. “It was life-changing.”
The Baby Boutique is set up to allow parents to shop up to five times a year for new or like-new clothing, toys, car seats and strollers for children from infants to teens. During the holidays, Wellspring also hosts a toy room where parents can pick out and wrap new toys for their kids.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Wellspring Family Services can do with your donation:
$25: Provides a child and family facing homelessness with a grocery gift card
$50: Provides formula for one week for an infant facing homelessness
$150: Provides a new bed for a child moving out of homelessness and into a stable home
$500: Helps provide heat and water for a family moving out of homelessness and into a stable home
$1,000: Helps move a child and their family out of homelessness and into a stable home
“It was the holidays and we were struggling, and I didn’t know how we could have Christmas,” said Babineau, “but I was able to use the toy room at Wellspring and feel like I was shopping. I was able to bring home presents and give her the kind of experience I’d had as a kid.”
Their daughter, Taylor, who is now 5, was enrolled in the agency’s Early Learning Center, where teachers are trained to recognize trauma-affected children and help them develop social and emotional skills, self-esteem, independence and more proficiency in language and conflict resolution. More than 92 percent of the children in the program go on to be successful in kindergarten.
“She was very withdrawn and wanted to crawl in a hole,” Powell said of his daughter, who he said suffered from the instability of living without a home. “She’s still a little shy and cautious, but she can now say hello and she’s come out of her shell. She’s like a completely different person.”
With a safe child-care situation in hand, Powell continued to look for work and Babineau was able to chip away at her degree in social and human services at a local community college.
When it came time for her to look for an internship, she turned first to Wellspring, which happened to have an opening in its Baby Boutique.
She served two internships there and is now working as an administrative assistant and peer counselor at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, where she is able to work with and encourage other people in recovery from addiction.
“I’m grateful for the chance to help people who are in my shoes. I can honestly give them hope and tell them, ‘You can do this,’ ” Babineau said.
Powell, in the meantime, had been working a series of jobs that brought in money but little happiness.
He was deeply moved by the difference Wellspring made in his family’s life and impressed by the agency’s mission and humanity. When another internship opened at the Baby Boutique, he jumped at the chance to apply.
“I wanted to be part of this amazing place,” Powell said. “Once we connected with Wellspring, all the pieces started to domino into place. I wanted to be part of that if I could.”
Since then, he and the agency have discovered he had latent skills for leadership and retail management, and the part-time internship turned into a full-time job managing the Baby Boutique.
“I spent a lot of years in dark places where I couldn’t work or hold a job,” Powell said. “But I love this place, and honestly I feel like I owe it my life. I love coming to work. I love being able to help people who are going through what we went through, and I love being able to give back.”