Hopelink was founded during the 1970s Boeing layoffs, when Bothell residents organized to help their neighbors find jobs. Now it’s one of the state’s largest nonprofits, providing a huge spectrum of services. It is also one of 12 selected agencies that help children, families and seniors in The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
One cold, wet night in 1998, Maria Trujillo and her husband, Eli, heard the knock on the door they’d been dreading for months. Their two toddlers were in bed and two sheriff’s deputies had come to evict the family.
Just a year before, Trujillo was living in a two-income household: “The life I thought we’d have forever.” But she and her husband soon lost their jobs, ran through their savings and, that night, were waiting for the worst.
One of the deputies, Trujillo remembers, teared up and apologized as she and her husband woke the kids, packed a few things in garbage bags, and drove into the rain. “I felt like a loser,” Trujillo said. “I didn’t have an explanation for a toddler for what was happening.”
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Trujillo and her husband drove to pay phones, looking up shelters in phone books, and found a number for Hopelink. The person on the other end of the line told them to come on over.
Hopelink, which turns 45 this year, has been answering calls like that for decades. It is one of 12 selected agencies that help children, families and seniors in The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
When Trujillo’s family arrived at the shelter in Kenmore, she thought they were at the wrong address. “It was just an apartment complex,” she said. “No big neon sign saying ‘shelter’ or ‘mission,’ no homeless people hanging around, no cop cars.”
Over the next few months, with the help of job counseling, personal counseling, child care and more, Trujillo’s family climbed back. Today, she works as a corrections officer at the men’s prison in Monroe.
Trujillo says the biggest gift Hopelink gave her was confidence.
“The turning point for families is always when they believe they have value, believe they aren’t losers,” said Linda Benson, who worked at Hopelink for 20 years before leaving to run its spinoff Nourishing Networks. (Nourishing Networks is focusing on community hunger and, Benson said, working on new models for self-organized “community action” networks to solve local problems.)
One of the longest-serving Hopelink employees, Benson has deep institutional memory.
Hopelink was founded by Bothell residents to help their neighbors find jobs during the big Boeing layoffs of the ’70s. “It was an employment resource center,” Benson said. “Back then, there was no internet. Then they said: ‘Wow, these families need more help. Let’s start a food bank.’ ”
In the 1980s, Benson said, a family in a station wagon pulled up to the Bothell food bank and asked where they could go. “I don’t know,” came the reply, “but we can give you food.” The station wagon pulled away. That, Benson said, “is the iconic story of how we began our housing program.”
Hopelink grew from a neighborhood job-assistance program during the Boeing layoffs of the ’70s to one of the largest nonprofits in the state with food banks, emergency housing, transitional housing, job assistance, literacy classes and much more.
Things kept growing from there.
“We were in back alleys when I got there,” Benson said. “People would line up at 5 in the morning, in the rain, in the snow, waiting for the food bank to open at 8. It was horrifying and disrespectful.”
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Hopelink can do with your donation:
$25: Provides a month’s worth of fresh fruits and vegetables for 10 seniors and people with disabilities
$50: Provides a two-day emergency supply of food for five
$100: Provides assistance to help someone find a job
For more information:
Benson worked with Hopelink President Doreen Marchione — now a Kirkland City Council member — to raise money, consolidate the scattered service centers and broaden the organization’s scope. Over the decades, Hopelink has grown into one of the state’s largest nonprofits — in 2014, it drew in over $60 million in revenue — providing a kaleidoscope of services to 64,000 people a year in north and east King County.
When asked for a brief overview of the work Hopelink does now, Benson launched into a two-hour answer that ranged from direct-services needs (food banks, shelters, transitional housing, transportation assistance for vulnerable and far-flung populations) to more complex, long-term initiatives.
To list just a few: job resources; counseling; literacy programs (that also help nonnative English speakers with job language skills); emergency financial assistance; interpreter services (especially for people with Medicaid who have trouble communicating with their doctors); heating and weatherization programs; partnering with other organizations to build a low-income credit union; and joining with still other organizations to create a nonprofit insurance pool.
And is there anything Hopelink doesn’t do? Benson laughed — then kept going.
Some of the next steps, she continued, require more advocacy in Olympia and building more collaborations across agencies. Hopelink, she stressed, is a “community action agency” — one of 30 in Washington state and one of more than 1,000 in a network across the country developed as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
That network, she explained, was established to find flexible local solutions to local problems.
The simplest way to describe what Hopelink does is identify needs and try to fill them. But all those services keep coming back to confidence.
Trujillo says her experience gives her a special empathy for the prisoners she works with today.
“I understand where they ended up and how I could’ve been there,” she said. “I could’ve gone back to my old stomping grounds, sell drugs or even sell myself. But I didn’t have to do that. Hopelink was there.”
Everyone in the Hopelink community, Trujillo concluded, “deserves a freaking crown.”