Laura Vigness-Evjen said Hopelink helped her and her children avoid homelessness. The nonprofit is one of 12 organizations making a difference with The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
On a stormy, windy day in November, Laura Vigness-Evjen, 36, watches as her three kids, all under 7, play with Magic Sand and Play-Doh in her compact, two-level town house in Bellevue.
Tinkerbell, a 10-year-old Chihuahua and toy poodle mix, looks for an open lap to snuggle on. That the family is able to live in this home is made possible in part by Hopelink, the nonprofit that helped get Vigness-Evjen into the townhome in March.
Vigness-Evjen was in the middle of a contentious divorce in 2014 when she first learned of Hopelink, a Fund For The Needy recipient, through her therapist. The nonprofit agency has centers in Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Shoreline and Carnation and offers limited services in Duvall. Those in need can find help with housing and food, or energy assistance, or take advantage of adult education and financial-planning programs.
A community-action agency that aims to end poverty, Hopelink provides food, transportation, housing and energy assistance, and offers adult education and family development assistance.
“The unique part of Hopelink is that we have a two-pronged approach,” said Kris Betker, a spokeswoman for Hopelink. “One is helping people gain stability, and the other is helping them to exit poverty.”
When her ex-husband filed for divorce while she was seven months pregnant with her youngest, “I was really struggling and didn’t know where to go,” Vigness-Evjen said. “There were several times where we were very close to being homeless. Our car got repoed. I couldn’t afford food. I couldn’t do anything, really. I was stuck with a brand-new baby and very little kids.”
From the outside, Vigness-Evjen seems like just an upbeat, friendly Bellevue single mom. But her cheerful exterior masks a resilient resolve.
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach 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.
“I’m very determined. When I need to get it done, I get it done,” she said.
Since 2007, when she and her ex-husband relocated to Seattle from South St. Paul, Minn., her career has taken a back seat to raising her three children. The shrinking availability of jobs in her field coupled with the Great Recession didn’t help matters, either. She’s also had to battle various health issues — both physical and mental (she suffered from a bout of postpartum depression and anxiety after her first child). She’s currently on disability and goes to physical therapy once a week.
When she first started working with Hopelink in 2014, the agency helped her avoid being evicted from her $1,700 three-bedroom apartment. After applying to more than 20 different apartments, she found a “tax credit” property that is much more affordable.
“We were focusing on how much she was paying on rent, and how we could reduce the cost of her rent,” said her case manager, Brittany Holmes.
Hopelink has helped her navigate nearly everything: “She’s helped me find resources,” Vigness-Evjen said. “When I couldn’t pay my electricity bill, when I couldn’t get food, when I didn’t have Christmas gifts for my kids.”
After playtime ends, the family goes to its biweekly appointment at Hopelink’s Bellevue food bank, about 15 minutes away. There, they pick up an array of groceries for the next week: tuna, day-old bread, canned beans, peanut butter and a bag of apples. “I haven’t gone to the grocery store to go shopping for over two years,” she said.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Hopelink can do with your donation:
$25: A month of fresh fruits and vegetables for 10 seniors and people with disabilities.
$50: A two-day emergency supply of food for five people who are homeless.
$100: Employment assistance for help getting a steady job.
She cobbles her income from spousal maintenance, child support and Social Security. It’s barely enough to cover rent and bills, including her car payment, insurance and gas. Still making up for late and missed payments, she doesn’t have any retirement or savings, and she owes thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees and medical bills.
Still, Vigness-Evjen is luckier than many: She’s college-educated, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in graphic design from Minnesota State University Moorhead. But like many single parents, she found herself in a Catch-22 situation: how to care for three children with no time to earn an income on her own. Because she can’t afford child care, every errand must be run with the three kids in tow. (Her ex-husband has the kids on weekends.)
“It would cost me just as much money to send them to day care as it would me for me to work,” she said. “I would be basically paying day care so I could work.”
During the days, she home-schools the two younger kids in their tidy town house filled with books and toys from an easier time: Dr. Seuss books, a multihued abacus and Crayola crayons. (She prefers not to use electronic toys.)
Now that her housing situation has been sorted, her next goal is to find a way to grow her businesses. She sells smooth, gray rocks stamped with inspirational words: “believe,” “dream,” “cherish,” “hope,” “love,” “family” and “shelter” — which ring particularly close to home. They are sold in Pike Place Market and a store in Issaquah. Right now, it’s extra income, but in a year, her spousal maintenance support ends.
Through Hopelink, she took an eight-week business course and hopes to apply those skills to the rock sales and restart her other business, upcycling used clothes imprinted with her own graphic designs.
Vigness-Evjen is grateful for the opportunities Hopelink and her case worker have provided. “I don’t know where I’d be had she not been in my life — had Hopelink not been there.”