Jodie Gilmore

A job of one’s own

Women hired into traditionally male roles in still-languishing Southwest Washington

Angela Mercer owns her own property preservation company cleaning and maintaining foreclosed homes. She recently obtained a job through WorkSource Vancouver, performing property management and maintenance for a local apartment complex, a position typically held by a man. She’s says she’s not alone.

“I’ve heard men complain that women are getting jobs that they [the men] should be getting. I have a girlfriend who is a roofer,” said Mercer.

On just her second day with WorkSource, in a class of five women and 12 men, Mercer was the only participant who raised her hand when a recruiter asked if there was anyone with painting, maintenance and property management experience. Within two weeks, Mercer was offered the position, along with housing. She said that although two other people – both men – applied for the position, she was the one granted the interview and the job.

According to data from the Economic Opportunity Institute, a public policy research and advocacy organization that focuses on improving economics for working families, women in Vancouver are getting hired at higher rates than the 2011 industry ratio of female to male. For example, in construction, women typically make up 8.7 percent of the workforce in Vancouver – however, in the first three quarters of 2012 (the most recent data available), 15 percent of construction new hires in Clark County were women. Other industries with markedly higher ratios include agriculture and forestry, manufacturing, and wholesale trade.

This data tends to corroborate a national trend identified by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which released a report in early September stating “job growth remained anemic in August for men, but accelerated for women. Of the 169,000 total jobs added to nonfarm payrolls in August, women gained 125,000 jobs (74 percent) while men gained 44,000 jobs (26 percent).”

However, looking at employment in Clark County as a whole (not just percent of new hires), Scott Bailey, regional economist for the Washington Employment Security Department, said that in the “recovery” from the second quarter of 2010 through the fourth quarter of 2012, overall male employment grew by 7.1 percent, while overall female employment grew by only 2.4 percent. The number of working-age women grew by 3.3 percent during this period, so jobs did not keep up with population growth for women. Examining the data for just 2012, Bailey said, male employment was up 4 percent while female employment was up only half that amount.

The picture in Cowlitz County is more bleak, said Bailey. In the “recovery” through the fourth quarter of 2012, male employment grew by a mere 2.7 percent, while female employment continued to fall by 2.2 percent. The net employment loss in Cowlitz County since the downturn began is -4.3 percent for males (-7.5 percent after adjustment for population growth), and -7.2 percent for females (-10.9 percent after population adjustment).

Although the local numbers don’t fully mesh with the IWPR numbers – it stated that on a national level the unemployment rate for women aged 16 and older decreased slightly, to 6.8 percent in August from 7.0 percent in July while the unemployment rate for men aged 16 and older remained steady at 7.7 percent – local women are finding jobs.

Tina Wixon, a resident of Cowlitz County, took advantage of Washington’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the Workforce Adjustment Act when she was laid off after 15 years from a union job at a pulp and paper mill in Longview.

“I had always wanted to be a nurse, but could never afford to do that,” said Wixon. So, when she was laid off, she decided to follow her dream. Four years later, she holds an RN, and found a supervisory job only six weeks after graduating.

Wixon said that a broad set of skills, and experience gained as an LPN while finishing the nursing program, helped her land a good job.

“At the mill, I worked on the paper machines, but also in the lab and did a lot with computers. I’d been in panic situations and had critical thinking skills.”

Mercer, too, vouched for the advantage of bringing transferrable skills to a new job.

“Transferrable, bundled skills is what’s going to get women into the workforce on a different level than before,” said Mercer, who added that her social science degree, a bachelor’s in psychology, and two children with ADHD all help her deal with emergency situations and excel at collaborative problem solving.

“I saw a spark in the eye of the interviewer when I was able to prove these along with my labor ability,” Mercer said.

Mercer and Wixon exemplify the opportunities that exist in the workforce for women in southwestern Washington – but to grasp these opportunities, women have to be willing to work hard, and “the funding for people to retrain is invaluable,” said Wixon.

“Tenacity is in full force with women in the workforce,” said Mercer. “I see it in women now, completely different than previously. And women are being acknowledged differently for their abilities.” 

Higher stakes

It takes more time and money to run a political campaign in Clark County

Mayor Tim Leavitt reading to kids

As Clark County continues to grow and population numbers skew younger, political campaigns must be able to reach those larger, diverse audiences – those people that did not grow up with the names on the placards. According to several experienced incumbents, a successful campaign in Clark County has got to be technologically sophisticated without losing old-school personal techniques like doorbelling.

“It’s tough to pinpoint if there’s any one ‘silver bullet’ to winning an election,” said Vancouver mayor Tim Leavitt, who is running for reelection this year, “but what is apparent to me from the last several election cycles is that, timing, messaging – whether accurate/genuine or not – money and comprehensive platforming of messaging” are important.

Campaign funding is a new “must”

Melissa Smith, a Camas city councilwoman for eight years, is facing her first opponent.

“I think it’s kind of a good thing to have some competition, as long as they truly want to serve the citizens (not themselves),” said Smith.

But, she said “this year is politically weird all across the county. It seems that there are some people with big money to place people in certain positions.”

Jack Burkman, who is running for re-election on the Vancouver city council, said that each election cycle is more expensive. For example, he said, historically city council candidates spent about $5,000 to $8,000 on the entire campaign. But this year, some candidates have spent $10,000 to $15,000 on just the primary election.

One reason for this, said Burkman, is that there are simply more people to reach. And, as the county population grows, a candidate has to work harder to connect. For instance, in Camas it is possible to personally talk with almost every voter, said Burkman. But, in Vancouver, “you can’t even doorbell a significant section,” any more. This situation leads candidates to do more print advertising, said Burkman, and at 30 to 35 cents each, mailings can get expensive quickly.

Smith mentioned that it seemed that the Republican and Democratic parties are taking an interest in non-partisan positions. She said she received a 22-item questionnaire from the Republican party, which she did not think was appropriate.

“I didn’t feel comfortable answering them. I’ve been hearing a lot of people grumbling about that – parties trying to get involved in areas they don’t need to be involved in,” said Smith.

Burkman, too, noted that the political parties are trying to get into non-partisan races, and “have dollars to invest.”

Going social, getting votes

“Voters, and the public in general, are choosing to search for and obtain information from various sources,” said Leavitt. “With the advent of new means for delivery and receipt of information, campaigns wishing to reach the most people must be adept in working in the new platforms.”

Leavitt said that his successful 2009 campaign utilized virtually all generally recognized social media, including Facebook, Twitter, website and a blog — in addition to conventional media such as mailers and television. Burkman added that cable TV was another opportunity to reach out to the community, and that even social media like Pinterest may become relevant to certain segments of voters. Phone calls, though, said Burkman, are becoming less useful for candidates — primarily due to the increase in the number of people who have only a cell phone.

Of course, personal communication is still important.

“The heart of communication in this county is word of mouth,” said Burkman.

The trick, he said, is to use social media to jumpstart those personal conversations. A well designed Facebook page, for example, has the potential to attract “influential” people — those in the county who have their own smaller audiences. During his previous campaign four years ago, for example, Burkman purchased Facebook ads. He said these ads generated two million impressions from Vancouver residents.

Using digital media, said Leavitt, can better disseminate information and demonstrates a candidate’s ability to keep up with the times and embrace new technology and ideas. Some candidates, said Burkman, may realize the importance of digital media, but are unfamiliar with the technology necessary to implement it. Leavitt said that one contributing factor to his successful use of digital media was that he had “volunteer support that was knowledgeable and comfortable working with digital media, as well as campaign consultants that embraced the use of these tools for broader outreach.”

Although digital media platforms have an important role in reaching certain public audiences, Leavitt added that an effective campaign should still include direct media such as mailers and television, and “a robust ‘ground game’ of in-person outreach through events and door belling activity.

When all is said and done, however, said Leavitt, “nobody has all the answers.”

“The results of the 2012 local elections really challenged the conventional wisdom regarding successful campaign strategy,” said Leavitt.

A candidate who seems ambivalent and who runs a low-key campaign can win. Or, a candidate can spend a lot of money and time and overcome the name recognition of an incumbent. As Burkman quipped, when questioned about what it takes to run a successful campaign, “Ask me in November!”

“I think it’s kind of a good thing to have some competition, as long as they truly want to serve the citizens (not themselves). This year is politically weird all across the county. It seems that there are some people with big money to place people in certain positions.”

– Melissa Smith, facing her first opponent for Camas City Council

At home with her craft

Sally Sellers makes houses a focal point of her work

By and Large Inside-Outside_opt

submitted photos

Sally Sellers, a Clark County resident for 30 years, uses textile media to create abstract designs from urban architecture.

“In addition to carrying high emotional content, the structure of a house possesses a geometrical joy which offers many design possibilities: all the windows, doors, angles and supports offer the opportunity to use a different color or line or object,” said Sellers.

Sellers said that using images of houses wasn’t a deliberate decision, but rather an unconscious response to an emotionally difficult period of time, when her middle daughter became so medically fragile that she had to go live in a children’s nursing facility in order to survive.

“I was devastated by our inability to care for her properly in our own home,” said Sellers. “My idea of a house/home as the ultimate place of refuge and protection was brought into question.”

Originally, Sellers made art quilts by machine, but as her artwork evolved, she began incorporating beads, pearls and even discarded electronic parts. And although it may seem odd at first to sew electronic parts into a picture, Sellers said “they looked just like little windows or doors to me.” Now she simply refers to her pieces as “textiles.”

She said that she is not a purist, and will mix hand-dyed as well as commercial fabrics — it depends on what the piece needs.

“I once cut up a pair of my niece’s gym shorts because they were the perfect color of green,” laughed Sellers.

After taking a class in beadwork, she “became enamored of encrusting a little piece of canvas with these glittery objects.” When her sister passed away, Sellers shipped the sister’s beads from Michigan to Washington – all 536 pounds of them.

She is always opening up to new themes in her work. She said that the idea of numbers going on and on into infinity “enthralls” her, and she wants to create more images centered around the number pi. Currently, she is working an “incredibly tactile” piece centered around the human hand, stitched from beads. She said she is also exploring using beads to make lines on textiles rather than stitching.

“However,” said Sellers, “that kind of work can get so tedious that I need to break out every now and then and start stitching larger pieces of fabric together to make images.”

Sellers’ work has been juried into major textile exhibitions, including Quilt National, Crafts National, and Fiberart International. She said her proudest moment was exhibiting a piece at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City. Unfortunately, she did not get to see it.

“I was going to go to the opening, but then 9/11 happened and everyone was afraid to fly for a few weeks. I still have my ticket,” Sellers lamented.

Sally Sellers will exhibit her work at the “Clark County: Living the Good Life” art exhibit through the end of September. Building hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1300 Franklin Street in Vancouver.

She is also participating in “Reaching Beyond: The Northwest Designer Craftsmen at 60” at the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher Building in Bellingham, October through December 2014.

You can view more samples of Sellers’ textiles at her website,

What goes down must come up

Vancouver USA

This summer, downtown Vancouver will have a new brew pub on the corner of Evergreen and Broadway. Mayor Tim Leavitt alluded to several new events being scheduled for this summer. But, River Maiden’s Dripster coffee shop and the Crave Grille have disappeared. Such changes, said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association (VDA) are to be expected.

“It’s a living organism,” said Rafferty. “Changes are natural – we’re not a museum.”

What’s more important, Rafferty said, is that people feel downtown is a vibrant place to be. For example, Grant Merrill, co-owner of Dirty Hands Brewing, plans to open his brew pub in the former Columbian building, hopefully as early as June. Other businesses, such as Torque Coffee and Loowit Brewing are celebrating anniversaries.

“Downtown was showing signs of coming back,” said Merrill. “We figured it was a good time to get into the revitalization. There’s potential for growth and it seems like a nice place to live.”

Growing Downtown Together

Leavitt said that the ongoing transition is driven by the “strength of partnerships that have been established to tackle the revitalization of downtown on multiple fronts.”

The VDA, downtown neighborhood associations, downtown businesses and governmental agencies, said Leavitt, are working together to evolve downtown Vancouver into a viable regional economic player.

Rafferty said that the VDA is spearheading several initiatives, based largely on the 91-page “identity dossier” prepared last year by consultant Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants.

“Michele gave us a blueprint,” said Rafferty. “Everything she said to us we are building into our plans to make Vancouver walkable, safe, and inviting.”

Some of the focus areas for the VDA, many funded through grants from the City and/or donations from local businesses, include the following:

  • Table tents for hotel rooms and other waiting areas at local businesses, featuring QR codes that take the reader to information about downtown events and walking maps
  • Various art projects throughout downtown, such as the Flying Umbrellas sculpture (Evergreen and Main ), Turtle Place (Seventh and Main), and the on-going facelift to Block 10, seen above. (if this placement changes, please make the nec. adjustment)
  • Clean & Safe Downtown and Business Façade Improvement programs, that seek to improve storefronts and lighting.
  • No Ifs Ands or Butts program, which has installed 24 locally manufactured cigarette butt receptacles throughout downtown.
  • Publication of a Business Recruitment Packet, which outlines ten reasons why people should consider opening a business in Vancouver.

Besides supporting many of the VDA’s efforts, the City has its own downtown projects. In particular, Leavitt mentioned Destination Downtown, which helps downtown employers, workers and customers explore downtown and try new ways of getting here and getting around. The program enjoyed great success in 2012, and the City intends to expand the program in 2013 to include the Uptown Village area.

Events, too, said Leavitt, help educate people about what Vancouver has to offer. For example, the 2012 Summer Concert Series drew nearly 40,000 people to Esther Short Park, while the Riverview Six to Sunset Concert Series drew 6,000 to 7,000 each week. Leavitt said the City had received a “record number” of new event applications for this summer, and expects returning event attendance to grow.

At events, said Leavitt, “people get to see firsthand that Vancouver is alive on the weekends, and has so much to offer beyond the 9-to-5 hours.”

Other City projects include the Waterfront Access project, which focuses on reconnecting people to the Columbia River and attracting $1.3 billion in private investment, and the Digital Economy project, which partners with several agencies to promote a digitally savvy workforce.

“Downtown is a key attractor for emerging software and digital media companies as evidenced by Gravitate Design’s recent investment in the former Koplan building,” said Leavitt.

Another unique City project is their pre-lease program. When a business is considering buying or leasing a building, the City arranges a complementary walk-through with several City department contacts to identify any significant building code requirements and to help business owners decide whether a building is right for them. This program, said Leavitt, provides certainty, customer service, and a streamlined process for businesses investing in Vancouver. The City has held nine pre-lease walk-throughs – and three businesses moved forward with investing in downtown this year. One business, said Leavitt, said that the excellent customer service is why he chose to invest in downtown Vancouver.

Rafferty said that the Revitalize Washington conference will be held in mid-May at the Hilton Vancouver.

“They’re coming to Vancouver because they know there is so much happening,” said Rafferty. “They want to know ‘How are we doing it? How do we get so much cooperation from city government and downtown partners? How do we get volunteers excited?’”

No one wants to be crazy

Innovative and collaborative mental health services reach people across Southwest Washington

According to Eric Yakovich, chief executive officer for Cowlitz County Guidance Association (CCGA), one in four people will deal with some sort of mental illness every year. In Southwest Washington that represents 142,968 people. Unfortunately, said Yakovich, far less than half of those receive care. In addition, said Yakovich, mental illness is the number one cause of missed days at work in the world’s developed economies and causes billions in lost wages and lost productivity.

“There’s a stigma around mental illness – no one wants to be crazy,” said Yakovich. “And, since those with mental illness aren’t in a wheelchair, or have a cast, or have lost their hair, people think nothing is wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

In an effort to bring consistency to care across the region, as well as achieve cost efficiencies, Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties have combined administration of the region’s public mental health services. The new entity, formed last October, is called Southwest Washington Behavioral Health (SWBH) regional support network (RSN). Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, part of the Timberland RSN, have a “memo of understanding” with SWBH, and work closely to promote best practices.

“When we come together as a group, we can leverage our individual strengths,” said Geoff Knapp, SWBH Communications Coordinator. “Erasing borders between counties improves transferability of people in need and availability of services.”

SWBH contracts with providers across the region, such as Lower Columbia Mental Health Center in Cowlitz County and Columbia River Mental Health Services in Clark County, to provide publically funded mental health care.

The complexity of needs

According to Connie Mom-Chhing, SWBH chief executive officer, one of the main challenges for providers of mental health care is the complexity of needs.

“Most individuals have multiple needs,” said Mom-Chhing. “It’s not just mental health – there’s also chemical dependency, primary care health needs and even a housing component.”

Mom-Chhing said that this complexity requires a holistic approach to treatment.

“We strongly feel we have to do a better job of working with partners to meet needs,” said Mom-Chhing. “If you don’t treat the whole individual, they will get worse and end up in the emergency room or jail.”

Falling through the cracks

An even larger challenge, said Yakovich, is that because the majority of mental health care funding comes through Medicaid, there is a significant number of people who need care but are not eligible. Yakovich said that the state’s increased focus on using Medicaid funding for mental health care meant that 4,000 people per year are no longer able to receive care in Cowlitz County, although the CCGA budget remained fairly static. Brad Alberts, SWBH chief operations officer, said that the state was due to recalculate the Medicaid reimbursement rate in March.

“We never know what our rate will really be – it could drop a million dollars in one month,” said Alberts.

Some services do exist for non-Medicaid-eligible patients. For example, the Lower Columbia Mental Health Center offers a free counseling clinic that is open five days a week for four hours a day and a homeless outreach program. But, Yakovich said, it’s not enough. The tragic school shooting in Connecticut, he said, provides a graphic example.

“Young men in their late teens and early twenties are expected to go to work,” said Yakovich. “If they don’t have income or insurance, there is not funding to provide treatment. That’s an additional tragedy that needs to be addressed.”

Lynn Samuels, executive director of Columbia River Mental Health Services, said that they have a process to constantly assess risk associated with the people they serve – but this process applies only to those in the system.

“How can we get more people in our system that aren’t now getting the care they need?” asked Samuels. “That’s what creates risk.”

Samuels also predicted that the lack of available treatment dollars for the “working poor” was going to become an even greater problem in the next fiscal year. She expects the state’s K-12 education funding mandate will mean cuts in state-only human services dollars. Alberts said that the SWBH has used reserve funding to sustain same levels of service despite cuts to state funding two years ago, but those reserves have been almost used up.

“Other RSNs had to reduce services because they didn’t have the depth of reserves we had,” said Alberts.

Managing risk

Samuels said the region’s mental health care providers are committed to the safety of clients, their family members, staff and the community at large. For example, Columbia River Mental Health Services participates with a suicide response work group put together by the sheriff’s department.

Yakovich and Mom-Chhing said that their organizations have placed therapists in schools and for the last several years have provided student threat assessments for students who have “crossed the line between poor behavior and becoming a threat.”

“We try to be proactive and engage kids in services ahead of time,” said Yakovich. “But services are voluntary…the key is to be welcoming and provide information that will help them realize services can be a benefit to them.”

The CCGA also provides a yearly 40-hour crisis intervention training course to first responders. Yakovich said that so far, they have trained more than 225 officers and first-responders in Cowlitz County.

Collaboration Is key

Knapp said that they are working on a service integration initiative, so that mental health, chemical dependency, and primary care providers can collaborate.

“We need to better integrate and coordinate our services to meet overall health needs,” said Knapp. “We can’t continue to treat people from a silo perspective.”

According to Yakovich, the region’s mental health care organizations have made great progress over the last few years, raising awareness of the benefits of mental health care.

“Mental health care is becoming viewed as part of primary care,” said Yakovich. “The reality is that treatment helps – it relieves illness and symptoms.”

Locally grown: Innovative programs in Clark County

Psycho-Social Rehab

Lynn Samuels, executive director of Columbia River Mental Health Services, said they have embarked on an exciting new Psycho-Social Rehab (PSR) program. She described PSR as an intensive day-program, focused on positively engaging people who need mental health care services. The program will provide support and structure, and prepare participants for moving on to more traditional outpatient services. The program opened last December, and currently has about 10 participants. Eventually, said Samuels, she expects to have availability for 30 to 40 participants.

Consumer Voices Are Born (CVAB)

This program, located in Vancouver, encourages self-determination and self-sufficiency for people in mental health and addictions recovery. The REACH center offers self-help classes, recovery groups, access to computers, volunteer opportunities, and social activities. The Val Ogden Center is a community of peers working together to achieve recovery goals in an environment similar to a typical workplace. Vancouver’s CVAB has assisted other peer-run associations in the state, and is building a network of similar centers across the state through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Child Wraparound Program

Eric Yakovich, chief executive officer for Cowlitz County Guidance Association (CCGA), said their Child Wraparound program is a promising service for children and families that are involved in multiple support systems. The program focuses on helping the family become the leader of their care, instead of simply being told what to do by several different agencies or entities. Yakovich said the program has shown outstanding outcome for children and family, in terms of behaviors and functionality, and is based on a national wraparound initiative (see Clark County also offers a child wraparound program, coordinated through Catholic Community Services.

Gifford Pinchot Task Force leads forest-friendly initiatives

At the forefront is controversial Ascot drilling proposal and widespread kids programming

Heavy equipment in the Gifford Pinchot

submitted photo

The Gifford Pinchot Task Force, which opened a new office in Clark County this year, is at the forefront of the controversial Ascot drilling proposal, among other forest-friendly and conservation initiatives.

At press time, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was about to issue its final ruling on proposed exploratory drilling for gold, silver, copper and molybdenum on a parcel of land adjacent to the Mt. St. Helens National Monument and within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Although he was somewhat reluctant to discuss the drilling project, Garth Smelser, deputy forest supervisor for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, said that after the BLM ruling is released, forest officials will decide whether or not to issue a “letter of consent.” Go-ahead from both entities is required for the drilling to proceed.

Protecting the forest

Jessica Walz Schafer, conservation director for the nonprofit environmental task force, said the drilling proposal by Canadian mining company Ascot Resources Ltd. has stirred controversy among local citizens, the BLM and the forest service.

“This area has always been a valuable place for recreation and wildlife,” said Schafer. “It’s a special place, and should be set aside.”

Although the permit under consideration is for experimental drilling only – not for an actual mine, which would be subject to a separate permitting process – opponents still fear damage to natural resources, especially the Green River watershed. According to Schafer, the Green River, which feeds into the Cowlitz River, is less than a mile from the proposed drilling site.

“Drilling and mining uses a lot of water,” said Schafer, “and there has been no assessment of where the water is coming from.” Ascot’s proposal states that they could use up to 5,000 gallons of water per day during the drilling process.



Trouble at home

Hard hitting evidence shows domestic violence is up dramatically in Southwest Washington

In 2011, there were eight domestic violence homicides in Clark County, second only to Pierce County’s nine. King County, which includes the city of Seattle, also had eight – but that was King’s lowest number since the year 2000, while it’s Clark’s highest. The year before, nearly 2,500 domestic violence arrests were made in Clark County. That’s almost seven arrests for every single day of the year, more than in any other offense category.

Around Southwest Washington, the picture is much the same. Cowlitz County’s Emergency Support Shelter served 1,051 domestic violence victims in 2010, up from 641 in 2008. Clark County YWCA’s SafeChoice program’s domestic violence hotline was flooded with 17,751 calls in 2011, compared to 7,209 calls – less than half – in 2008.

What is going on?

Money plays a role

The economic downturn has seemed to lead to an increase in domestic violence. Lee Watts, director of community services at SafeChoice in Clark County, said that unemployment leads to more stress for perpetrators, and more time to exert control. With fewer financial resources, women choose to return to their abusers.

“It’s hard enough to leave in good times,” said Beth Hansen, executive director of the St. James Domestic Violence Program in Wahkiakum County.

The nature of domestic violence also seems to be changing. Sherrie Tinoco, executive director of Cowlitz County’s Emergency Support Shelter, said that over the last couple years, the Cowlitz program has seen evidence of escalation, such as black eyes and broken bones, compared to less violent pushing, shoving and verbal abuse. Amy Buettner, assistant director of the Skamania County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said that Skamania’s program has seen more domestic abuse of already-vulnerable populations such as the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.

There’s help, but not enough

Each Southwest Washington county has a domestic violence program to try and stem this tide of violence. In Clark County, the SafeChoice program, administered through the YWCA, provides a 33-bed shelter, 24-hour hotline, general and legal advocacy and support groups. Similar, smaller programs, like those mentioned above, exist in Skamania, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Pacific counties.

Unfortunately, the bad economy is hampering programs’ ability to serve domestic violence victims. More than 80 percent of programs reported an increase in demand for services in 2011, but 62 percent reported a decrease in funding. Watts said that SafeChoice’s budget has been cut from just over $1 million to $882,000, and it has closed the office on Fridays to make ends meet. The shelter and hotline remain open 24/7.

But there is also evidence that the community outreach and education activities these programs engage in is having an effect. Hansen said that her program has seen more women seeking legal remedy to end abusive relationships. This is typically done through a protection order, which removes the abuser from the home, and allows the victim and children to remain.

“Without these critical, life-saving services, people would be left without help, in danger and in fear,” said Watts.

Education makes a difference

“You don’t have to work in a domestic violence program to make a difference,” said Kelly Starr, director of communications for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

She suggested talking to young people about healthy relationships, and contacting local programs to see what they need. For example, Tinoco said they were in need of canned food, toiletries and towels, as well as volunteers who could help with leading children’s activities and community education. Debbie Medeiros, program manager at the Cowlitz Tribe’s Pathways to Healing program said they needed cash donations and household items. SafeChoice needs support for their annual holiday toy drive, as well as additional volunteers for support group facilitation and hotline staffing.

Educating yourself is one of the best things you can do, said Buettner. That way, if you know someone who is a domestic violence victim, you have information ready to help them.

“Violence is really isolating,” said Buettner. “If people are knowledgeable, that removes the isolation.”

National stats paint a bleak picture

According to the U.S. Department of Human Services and U.S. Department of Justice statistics, in the United States, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S. — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. And, unbelievably, 63 percent of the men between the ages of 11 and 20 who are serving time for homicide killed their mother’s abuser.


Recession hits foster care

“You always checked to see if my bathwater was too hot or too cold.”

To one little girl in foster care in Vancouver, this simple act of kindness by her foster mother, Kimarie Glover, meant a lot.

“It was something automatic for me,” said Glover, who is also a liaison for Families for Kids (FFK), a nonprofit organization that contracts with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to find and retain foster parents. “But to her it was a big thing – it meant I cared about her.”

According to data from the “Timeliness of Dependency Case Processing in Washington State – 2011 Annual Report,” the number of dependency cases (children legally removed from their birth home) in Clark County rose from 212 in 2008 to 360 in 2011. Statewide, dependency filings increased 33 percent from 2009 to 2010, setting an all-time high, but decreased 8 percent in 2011.

In Clark County, more than 630 children are in foster care, said Cindy Hardcastle, area administrator for the Children and Family Services arm of DSHS. But there are only about 430 active foster homes in the county. Tina Day, supervisor for the Cowlitz Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, said there are about 200 children in the program, but according to Jeanmarie Moore, a recruitment and retention specialist for FFK, there are only about 100 foster homes, down from 150 prior to the recession.

Because of the poor economy, “we’ve lost a lot of good foster homes,” said Moore, herself a foster parent for nine years. “People aren’t sure what they’ll be doing, and it’s gotten much harder to recruit foster parents.” Skamania County also has a poor ratio of foster homes to needy children, said Hardcastle – about 20 children and only 12 foster homes.

“Our number-one challenge,” said Rachael Curtin, foster care placement coordinator for Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, “is lack of licensed foster parents – it’s hard to keep sibling groups together.”

Budget cuts to Washington’s child welfare system aren’t helping matters. Day estimates that DSHS has seen about a 30 percent reduction in staff and finances.

“The foster care system is underfunded,” said Laura Osburn, executive director of Family Solutions in Vancouver, a nonprofit mental health organization that treats many children in foster care. “People’s caseloads are enormous.”

Kim Lawrence, another Clark County FFK liaison as well as foster parent for 11 years, said that because social workers’ caseloads have increased, foster parents must “advocate for themselves without a lot of communication. We need families that understand kids’ needs independent of the social workers.”

Unfortunately, said Lawrence, these needs, such as counseling and medical care, are increasing. She said that in years past, neglect was more a problem than actual abuse, but these days “we are seeing severe abuse issues, a lot of which are caused by drugs.”

Osburn has seen the same trend, stating that “kids come in in much worse shape [now] because there is such an epidemic of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs.”

The poor economy also is contributing to a worsening of the situation, said Osburn. For example, there are many eligible families who could benefit from Family Solutions’ services, but who cannot afford the gas money to come to the clinic.

The foster care system is also receiving more older children than previously, when newborns were prevalent.

“We’re in desperate need of foster parents for teenagers,” said Hardcastle.

Lawrence said that many foster parents were “afraid to take teens,” but that in her experience, she has had more trouble with her own teenage children than with fostered teens.

But whatever age, what foster kids need most, said Glover, is commitment. “There are kids out there who have been let down time and time again. We need committed families,” she stressed. For example, Glover once fostered a 4-year-old girl who had already been in 11 different homes.

Unfortunately, 19.7 percent of Clark County dependency cases that are successfully reunited with their birth home re-enter foster care within 12 months, compared to a national median rate of 15 percent and a state average rate of 13.8 percent. Cowlitz County’s re-entry rate is 35.8 percent.

Moore said that on average, a Southwest Washington foster child moves three times, and added that studies have shown that each time a child changes schools, the child experiences three to six months of academic decline.

“Knowing exactly why the re-entry rate for Cowlitz County is so high is a tough question – there are a lot of factors that play into it.”

One major contributing factor, she said, was that maintaining long-term sobriety was a challenge.

“When we saw the numbers,” said Tina Day, “we asked ourselves, ‘What are we not doing that we should be? How can we get a better handle on this?’”

Curtin encouraged people to consider becoming foster parents, and clarified that parents can choose which kids to foster based on age, gender, and behavioral issues that fit best in their home. The most important thing, she said, was to be “willing to pick up the pieces for a little person in trauma.”

How to get involved

Department of Social and Health Services. General questions about foster care for Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, and Wahkiakum Counties: Giselle Reyes 360-993-7947. For all other Region 6 counties: Wendi Pumphrey-Rios 360-725-6701

Court-Appointed Special Advocate program. Nonprofit organization needs volunteers to help make recommendations for what is in the child’s best interest, for children legally removed from their birth home.

Families for Kids. Foster care, respite care, babysitting, and transportation – provide an hour or a weekend of foster care, or a ride to a doctor’s appointment, to give foster parents a break.

Clark & Skamania: Kim Lawrence at 360-448-0861 or Kim Glover at 360-326-3864; Regional: 360-430-1510

Foster Grandparenting. In this federal program in its 47th year, seniors provide one-on-one emotional support, mentoring, and tutoring for children from preschool age to 18 years at schools and other sites in Clark and Pacific counties. Must be 55+, meet certain income level standards, and be willing to volunteer about 20 hours per week. Marianne Falbee at 360-448-9653

Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest. Mentoring Youth in Foster Care program provides children in foster placement with a caring, consistent big brother or big sister that can enrich their lives culturally, socially and academically. Cowlitz: 360-636-2765; Clark: 360-891-8382; Skamania: 509-427-8904

Donations may also be made to many of these organizations.


The Economics of Education

Private school enrollment slides as local families look to reduce spending

The struggling economy has affected retail sales and the real estate market. But it is having an equally sobering effect on the education ecosystem of Southwest Washington.

Roger Miller, principal at Vancouver Christian Junior and Senior High reported their enrollment is down almost 25 percent over the last couple years, while Kendra Eimen, administrator for Vancouver Montessori School, said a “lot of people have pulled their children due to economic pressures.”

John and Jane Connell, who up until last year schooled their elementary-age children at Pacific Crest Academy, a private Catholic K-8 school in Camas, made the decision to transfer the two youngest (fourth and sixth graders) to the Camas public school district. Jane also went back to work three years ago.

“We have two kids in college now, and one going next year,” said Connell. “We needed to direct funds toward college.”

Connell said they preferred private schooling for the formative elementary years because of smaller class sizes and the emphasis on faith and values. He said the “outrageous” rising cost of college was “putting the pinch on our plans for grade school and high school.”

According to Ken Townsend, regional director for the Association of Christian Schools International, private schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington have experienced an average enrollment decline of about 5 to 10 percent.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, however, Townsend reported that enrollment at one private school in Battle Ground has increased, and Tom Bradshaw, headmaster at Cedar Tree Classical Christian School said his school “has been blessed with a 7 percent enrollment increase over last year.”

Katrina Woermann, director of Lakeshore Montessori School, said she has created three- and four-day programs for strapped families. Tamar Parker, Pacific Crest’s principal, said they offer both 10- and 12-month payment plans, and have allowed some families to pay tuition upon receiving their tax return or company bonus. Miller said Vancouver Christian was considering offering online courses.

Bradshaw said they were considering “stepping up” their scholarship fund, due to an increase in families requesting financial assistance. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the percent of students on financial aid at member schools has climbed steadily: 19 percent in 2008/2009, 21.6 percent in 2009/2010, and 22.8 percent in 2010/2011.

Besides tuition, donations are an important source of income for private schools. Parker said they held an annual fundraiser along with an annual appeal, jog-a-thon, and golf tournament. Vancouver Christian recently sent a letter asking for donations from area businesses. But the NAIS reports that for member schools, the average annual giving per student declined 24 percent, from $1,703 in 2009/2010 to $1,280 in 2010/2011. Eimen said that she has noticed a similar decline in donations.

If some students are leaving private schools, where are they going? Some may be transferring to public schools. Mike Merlino, chief operating officer for Evergreen School District, said that Evergreen’s full-day, five days a week kindergarten enrollment has increased about 9 percent since 2008/2009.

“You may be able to infer,” said Merlino, that this increase is due to children “not going to private school for kindergarten.”

Jeff Snell, deputy superintendent at Camas School District, reported that their enrollment was up about 3 percent, and Brett Blechschmidt, fiscal officer for LaCenter School District, said the district was also experiencing an unexpected increase in enrollment. Neither administration had yet pinpointed an exact reason, although transfers from private schools as well as affordable housing were possibilities. Snell mentioned that several people had recently contacted the school doing relocation research.

Homeschooling is another option that financially strapped parents are considering. Dan and Sheila Monaghan pulled their four children from Pacific Crest last year. They used a combination of homeschooling, a co-op, and River Homelink classes.

Although a small promotion made it possible for the Monaghans to return their children to Pacific Crest this year, Dan said that supporting private schooling long-term for all four children would be difficult, and that they would continue to explore options “year by year” including more homeschooling and public school.

Getting Help

The best source of information for financial aid are administrators
at a particular private school. Check these websites, too:

 Private Schools.

 Children’s Scholarship Fund.

 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

 National Association of Independent Schools.

 Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools.

NAIS stats:

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