It’s Hard to Imagine a More Challenging Beginning. Or a More Promising Future.
Juana didn't meet the son she gave birth to until he was ten days old.
It was the summer of 2017. She was five months pregnant. When the weather turned extremely hot, it aggravated her asthma.
“The air quality was bad,” Juana (pronounced JAAN-uh) says. “I kept going back and forth to the hospital saying I couldn't breathe.”
Once in a hospital room, Juana went into cardiac arrest. To save both Juana and her baby, doctors placed her into a medically induced coma and delivered Terrance via C-section at just 26 weeks.
“He was a micro preemie,” Juana says. “He was in the NICU for three months.”
A few weeks after Terrance came home to his mom and older sister, a public health nurse noticed he was behind on some milestones. She recommended Early Supports services from Northwest Center Kids.
“I knew of Northwest Center because I have a cousin who has Downs syndrome and he worked with them,” Juana says. “My aunt completely recommended Northwest Center as well. But I didn't know anything going into this about what occupational therapy was or what Terrance needed.”
The Northwest Center Kids Early Supports (Kids ES) team quickly put her at ease.
“They came to my home,” she says. “We did an initial consultation with Melinda [Bourgette, a family resources coordinator].
Then the occupational therapist and the physical therapist assessed Terrance individually, and he qualified for weekly visits.”
The family-centered, home-based approach worked well for Juana and Terrance.
“They make it very easy,” she says. “There was a speech therapist, a nutritionist and an occupational therapist to make sure he was eating, and a physical therapist for him to learn how to sit up, then stand, and then walk.”
One aspect she liked best was that the team individualized strategies for Terrance “instead of lumping him in a big group,” Juana says. “They just said, “'Okay, we’ll take it step by step, try a couple things to see if he likes it. We’ll see where he's moving forward and nurture that.'”
The team was also able to provide items for the family like a high chair so Terrance, who had spent his first weeks using a feeding tube, could practice sitting and feeding himself; and orthotics to help him walk, decorated with airplanes and fire trucks.
As Terrance progressed, his services changed to work toward the family’s new goals and focus. “He started eating regularly, so we didn't need the occupational therapy anymore,” Juana says. “He started walking and running normally, so we didn’t need the orthotics anymore.”
New Challenges, Steadfast Support
Speech therapy continued, and things were going well. But then COVID-19 brought new challenges for Juana.
“After having the heart attack, my immune system wasn't so great,” she says. “My asthma still wasn't under control. I was worried about catching Coronavirus. Plus I was on this heavy medication that made me gain weight, so I wasn't able to do much.”
To keep families safe, the Early Supports program quickly pivoted to teletherapy. Like most people at the time, Juana had never heard of Zoom, so the team supported her as she navigated the new system, then came up with creative ways to connect in a safe, socially distanced way.
“Our first Zoom meeting had the occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, and [family resources coordinator] Melinda so we could do our yearly review,” Juana remembers. “They said, ‘If you need anything, just let us know, and we'll be able to drop it off.’”
And they were true to their word.
“I needed help with everything, basically, during the pandemic,” says Juana. “When I needed a stroller, Melinda said, ‘Of course,’ and she brought me the stroller that we use to this day. It was a brand-new stroller! If I needed diapers, she was right there. And then she would bring me extra things. She would say, ‘Hey, I brought some wipes and I brought some masks.’ Toothpaste and toothbrush, diaper cream clothing and shoes for him, so I wouldn't have to go out and get those things.”
Then, in April 2020, a new worry: Terrance, now two-and-a-half years old, had stopped talking and had become more withdrawn. The Kids ES team referred Terrance to Seattle Children’s Hospital for a virtual evaluation. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The first thing the Kids ES team did was make sure Juana was okay. (“They said, ‘How are you feeling? Do you need more support?’” she says.) Then they once again adjusted their services to address Terrance’s new needs.
They reassured Juana: “’Now we know, and now we can move forward,’ they said.”
But the stress began to take its toll.
Once again, her family resources coordinator was there to provide equitable services and support.
“Melinda was like, ‘Let’s pull up those files on Zoom, and we can get them filled out, and I can come over and have you sign them, and then I can send them out for you.’ That was why I was able to register him for SSI and why I was able to register him for school.”
Then Terrance began hurting himself.
“He was scratching himself—his legs, his stomach, his arms,” Juana says. “It was starting to worry me a lot; I didn't want him to use that as some kind of coping mechanism. It was leaving a ton of open wounds and scars.”
Juana was so overwhelmed that when she tried to ask her team for suggestions, she burst into tears.
“It wasn't just over him scratching himself. It was about the pandemic. It was about the Black Lives Matter marches—I have a Black son. I was just so scared of life in general. There were so many things to be worried about at that time, and then him being diagnosed with autism and scratching himself. I just broke down.”
Ready for the Future
Northwest Center Kids Early Supports responded with new strategies and even more support—for both mother and son.
Weighted blankets helped Terrance feel more secure.
Juana set up a daily schedule for Terrance, similar to one he would follow when he starts school, so he’d get used to a new routine. She was skeptical, “But it worked!” she says.
Because Juana liked singing to Terrance, they encouraged her to sing to help calm him. “They suggested all these songs I already know,” Juana says. “I hadn’t even thought of that. That has actually been the most helpful by far.”
The team made sure to check on Juana, too. “Melinda would send me things to my phone like a happy birthday GIF. She would let me know that everybody's thinking about me.”
And, when the holidays approached, Kids ES came through for the family again. When Juana was unable to buy gifts or find other assistance, “I called up Melinda a week and a half before Christmas,” she says. “She literally showed up with a shopping cart full of gifts for both of my kids.”
Today, Terrance is 3 and attends pre-K classes at a school where the staff includes autism specialists. Juana says that moving on from Northwest Center services made her sad, “But they made it a happy sad, you know?” she says.
“I wouldn't have been able to get him to this point without those services. I was so fortunate to have these services, especially during a pandemic. I’m extremely grateful.”
Even more important, “Now I'm confident moving to the next stage,” she says, “and I know that Terrance is more confident in himself. Everything that we've done with Northwest Center, I've been included. And it wasn't even about Terrance having a disability; it was about him as an individual. In the end, they were able to give me tools so I can run the household better and take care of Terrance a lot better, especially with autism.
“I understand that he will be in therapy for a long time,” Juana says, “but it’s just his journey. He's the sweetest, funniest little kid. I just want him to live a happy life.”
Onna captured hearts in 2015 during Northwest Center’s 50th anniversary. With her little pink coat and impish smile, the “Dancing Iron Baby” (a nickname from her parents, inspired by Onna’s joy and strength) was featured on Northwest Center anniversary ad campaigns. Five years later, Northwest Center is celebrating our 55th anniversary year, and Onna is now attending third grade where she is fully included with kids of all abilities, and still “dancing through life,” according to her mom Marija. Here’s what Marija had to say:
Q: Do you still call Onna the Dancing Iron Baby?
A: Oh no, we are not allowed to call Onna a baby any longer! Those are clear orders from the boss herself! She is no baby now and won’t let anyone call her anything other than by her first name. But she still dances through this life with such determination and pride, despite the systemic and structural barriers she experiences on a daily basis.
Q: How has Onna met or surpassed your expectations for her when she was a baby, when she was at NWC Kids, and now?
A: Onna has always been Onna, and that she will continue to be—disabled and fully proud of her disability as part of her identity, culture, and community. And we fully embrace and celebrate everything that she is. The only thing I’d say has changed over the years are my own expectations—not towards her, but towards society.
When you start this journey, you are surrounded by well-intentioned people trying to help “fix” your kid or teach her how to mask her disability and to make her appear as indistinguishable and as “normal” as possible so that she “fits in.” But imagine a life of never being accepted for everything that you are, for your humanity; always having your membership in the society conditional on how well you “fit in,” how much you appear to be “normal.” People with disabilities are valuable and worthy members of our society just as they are.
While there exists a lot of discrimination and barriers for disabled folks, those are the fault of society, not inherent in anyone’s impairments. So, it is not Onna and those like her that need fixing, but it is our society that needs to be fixed and step up to ensure access, inclusion and equitable opportunities in life, and full membership of all individuals.
Every step toward a more inclusive world is a step toward a better world. So yes, we expect and demand this societal change, and we teach Onna that she unapologetically demands her membership in this world.
Q: How have things changed since you had your little boy? What is their relationship like?
A: Onna is a very empathetic child and finds it challenging when others are crying and upset. And we all know how much babies cry! So it took some time for Onna to get used to a baby in the house. But her brother Corbijn is a big boy now and they have a wonderful relationship. They are great support for each other and look out for each other. Occasionally, we may have difficulty in understanding what Onna is communicating to us, but her brother always understands her perfectly.
Bridging Generations: With Northwest Center Early Intervention and the Seattle Developmental Bridge Program, both Grandparent and Grandchild get the Support they Need
It’s challenging for any parent to seek help for a child with special needs. It was even harder for Sandra, whose deep distrust of programs for kids with disabilities went back decades.
When Sandra was a child in a Seattle special needs program, she felt marginalized both for her cognitive difficulties and for being Black. Teachers would speak too quickly or use terms she did not know, making her feel like her understanding didn’t matter to them as much as that of her white classmates.
When Sandra had her first child, the cycle continued: her daughter was also placed in special education and experienced the same frustrations.
By the time Sandra recognized that Destiny, the granddaughter she was raising, needed support with her cognition and communication, she was hesitant to once again put her trust in a system that had let her and her family down—especially as a single parent with a low income who had already raised multiple children. But she overcame her initial fears so that Destiny, who was born drug-exposed, could begin Early Supports (ES) therapy with Northwest Center Kids.
A page from founder Janet Taggart’s scrapbook of Northwest Center’s dedication ceremony on September 14, 1965.
One of Northwest Center’s first students, Debra Walruff, with Naval officers on the day the center was dedicated. Our first facility was formerly owned by the U.S. Navy.
For nearly a year, Northwest Center Employment Services clients have been collaborating with musicians from the Seattle Symphony to compose a new orchestral piece. Best Buddies of Washington also joined the partnership to connect NWC clients and symphony musicians in friendship. The piece Northwest Center and the Symphony have composed together, titled “Together, This Journey,” was set to debut at the Symphony’s Beethoven Festival in June. Unfortunately, COVID-19 put all live performances on hold. But that hasn’t stopped our crews from continuing to collaborate at a distance on music and fun.
During Washington state’s stay-at-home order, NWC and Symphony folks shared some of the music that was getting them through the quarantine—classical and non-classical alike. Click the links to enjoy some favorites from our teams (thanks to Erica Brody, Director, Mission Advancement for Best Buddies Washington for compiling):
In June, “Together, This Journey” was the topic of a discussion with composer Charles Corey and Seattle Symphony principal oboe Mary Lynch as part of the Symphony’s Digital Beethoven Fest. Listen to the conversation here.
In July, Seattle newspaper The Stranger shared the group’s Message to the City that includes their wishes for the future and their thanks to our first responders. Watch the Northwest Center, Best Buddies, and Symphony message here.
While we’re not yet sure when “Together, This Journey” will finally get the live performance it deserves, we’re grateful to our Northwest Center composers, the Seattle Symphony, and Best Buddies for giving all of us something to look forward to.
Digital Beethoven Fest photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony.
We may have to stay socially distanced, but Northwest Center services can’t stop—kids with disabilities still need therapy to reach their milestones, preschoolers need interaction with classmates and teachers, adults with disabilities need to keep their work skills sharp, and the businesses we partner with need essential services. Here are some ways the Northwest Center community has been rising to the challenge of COVID-19.
Northwest Center Kids
Learning in Circles: How Virtual Education Keeps Kids Connected
Hang on to your hats! This year, for the first time ever, we’re off to the races at a social distance as Northwest Center’s Derby gala goes virtual! On Friday, October 23, our biggest fundraising event will be streamed live on YouTube from Fremont Studios—with plenty of audience interaction. And registration for this year’s event is FREE.
Chris Cashman of KING5 will take guests through a program filled with fun, entertainment, and philanthropic excitement, while nationally known fundraising auctioneer Fred Northup will do his part to inspire guests to beat last year’s $300,000 fundraising goal.
Though we won’t dine in person, guests can still do it up for Derby dinner with fresh-from-scratch, hand-delivered meals created by renowned chef and longtime Northwest Center supporter John Howie of restaurants Seastar, SPORT, John Howie Steak, Beardslee Public House, and distillery Wildwood Spirits Co.
Every year, the big Derby draw is our live and silent auctions, and this year is no different—except guests will bid virtually using their computer, tablet, or mobile phone. (It’s easy and we’ll show you how.)
Though The Derby is free to attend, you do need to register to attend, bid, or donate—so be sure to register now right here. And mark your calendars: our silent auction of jewelry, gourmet food, and handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items opens on Monday, October 19.
We look forward to seeing you LIVE at the Derby on October 23. Click here to register for The Derby.
When Northwest Center Kids launched the IMPACT™ program in 2018, they knew the need for inclusive early learning was great. It turns out, the response to the program was even greater.
Instead of opening another brick-and-mortar Early Learning center that might only be able to serve 80 children at a time, the Kids team wanted a way to reach the thousands of children across the state who were shut out of early learning—an estimated 22,000 children in King County alone. They designed IMPACT (short for “Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team”) to provide training so that other early learning centers can welcome children with disabilities or who may need extra support throughout the day for a health care need or a physical, developmental, behavioral, or social-emotional concern.
The team set a goal to reach 6,000 children by the end of 2020. They reached that goal before IMPACT was even a year old. As of summer 2020, IMPACT has reached a whopping 17,000 children in King County, with many more school and facility trainings to come.
Overwhelmingly Positive Responses
“This amazingly designed program is what we childcare providers have been hoping for for years,” says one director who received IMPACT consultations and training, citing the support that both teachers and the school director received. “The quality of the work was the professional push we needed for a reluctant family to hear our suggestions. This was the best class our experienced staff EVER took. They are still taking about what they learned.”
Those thoughts have been echoed in overwhelmingly positive responses from organizations who received IMPACT training:
Those results are even more impressive when you consider that the IMPACT team is a small but mighty multidisciplinary team of just seven people, and when you see just how many people they’ve reached from September 2018 through June 2020:
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how the IMPACT team delivers their trainings, it has actually increased their reach: thanks to teleconferencing, they’ve been able to host virtual training across King County, training 1,531 providers and counting since the pandemic began.
Schools Want to be Inclusive
“One of my favorite things is when teachers realize they already have many of the skills they need to do inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Kristen McLeskey. “There’s a sense of excitement when they see a strategy being successful, and they start shifting their thinking from ‘Someone else is better qualified to care for this child’ and instead start to realize, ‘I can do this!’
“Schools already want to be inclusive,” she continues, “but sometimes teachers just aren’t sure how to get started or need additional strategies. By providing ongoing consultation, IMPACT goes with them on this journey and helps them adapt their practices to support children with all different needs and abilities.”
“One of my favorite moments was helping a teacher recognize how, despite challenges in her classroom, she was still practicing inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Erica Yuen. “She wished more people could be patient, because children with challenging behaviors deserve the chance to stay and learn positive behaviors. I commended her for her inclusive mindset—challenging behaviors are often a reason to remove a child from school. The simple act of pointing out her commitment to inclusion was incredibly empowering for her.”
Because IMPACT is sponsored by Public Health – Seattle and King County, Best Starts for Kids of King County's Child Care Health Consultation grant, Northwest Center Kids is able to offer services free of charge to early learning programs that serve children aged birth to five years in King County.
“Childcare is an underfunded and undervalued industry, and I enjoy providing free services that are of value to providers, to support them in the very challenging work that they do,” says Elizabeth Carley, IMPACT Program Coordinator and Mental Health Consultant.
Of course, the most important benefit of IMPACT is the fact that more children are being welcomed and included in early learning across King County, despite their challenges.
“IMPACT consultants are a great resource for us, especially helping me to support our children with special needs,” says one childcare provider. “They encourage us and give all the tips to succeed. Now we can see the big results in each child’s life!”
From Heart Surgery to Hospital-to-Home Therapy, Early Supports to Early Learning, Northwest Center Supports Jackson Every Step of the Way
The moment the family walked through their front door, Northwest Center was there to help: the family signed up for Hospital-to-Home, Northwest Center’s Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program that supports families when a baby comes home from a long hospital stay.
“Immediately upon leaving the hospital, we started doing motor and feeding therapy with our speech-language pathologist Natalie Miller,” says Jackson’s dad Nathan. (Miller, who is also a Hospital-to-Home Clinical Supervisor, remains Jackson’s therapist to this day.)
“It would have been unbelievably difficult to not have that support,” Kamille says. “It’s so overwhelming to be hooking your child up to a machine to be fed. It was really important to have someone dedicated to infant feeding. Natalie had worked with kids with tubes, she'd done swallow studies before. It was not her first rodeo and it was definitely ours.”
“Without that support, I think we would have clogged up our doctor’s phone lines,” Nathan says. “Or we might have pushed Jackson a little bit too hard on trying oral feeding if we hadn't had experts helping us understand his limitations.”
“Your first year feeding and taking care of a child is vital to their wellbeing for the rest of their life,” Kamille says. “The most important part of our day was getting Jackson fed. Natalie would talk to us, give a second opinion of ‘That’s normal or not normal’ or, ‘Yes, you should talk to a doctor about that’ or, ‘Here’s some referrals and resources; let me connect you with this person that might give you some more guidance.’ It was a support system.”
Part of the Family
Jackson, who turns 3 in November, has since reached some major milestones.
“We’ve been with Early Supports services from the get-go. On top of that, Jackson started going to Northwest Center Kids Early Learning at around 6 months old,” Nathan says. “We knew we couldn’t go to just any daycare because of Jackson’s feeding tube.”
“At Chinook, they support his Early Supports therapy,” Nathan says. “They’ve always really supported any changes we needed to make. They never complained, always asked if there was more they could be doing.”
Still Connected, Still Thriving
The family is grateful for the consistent support from Early Supports and Early Learning, especially their long relationship with their speech-language pathologist.
“I consider Natalie a wonderful resource and a close friend,” says Kamille. “I think of her as somebody who I trust with my child's care. Northwest Center was able to facilitate me having support and Nathan having support, and his grandparents having support, by coming into our homes, and that was key to his success.”
Because of COVID-19, in-home visits are suspended for now, but Jackson continues to expand his vocabulary thanks to weekly telehealth therapy. These days, he is practicing saying words and phrases typical for a two-year-old like "I want juice" and "I love you."
“My hopes for Jackson’s future are just like any other parent,” Kamille says.
“I want him to have a normal childhood with normal ups and downs,” says Nathan.
“I want him to be loved by everyone, because he is absolutely worthy of it, as any child is,” says Kamille. “It’s so important to us that Northwest Center’s work continues—for Jackson to have good care and other kids to have an inclusive place to go.”
our founders created programs and services where none had existed before. Yet we’ve never experienced a crisis like the one we currently face.Early Learning students receive valuable reading education from their Northwest Center Kids teacher.
Social distancing has made isolation an issue for most of us right now. But for people with disabilities, the impact is severe. When we closed our doors to protect the collective health and safety of our community, babies with disabilities and their families no longer had in-person supports for healthy development. Preschoolers in our learning centers missed out on crucial social interactions and inclusive learning. The vast majority of the adults with disabilities we serve have no workplace to report to—they’ve lost employment stability as well as the person-to-person interaction that is such an important part of their lives.
This is a difficult, overwhelming, unprecedented time. That’s why Northwest Center is working to ensure that now more than ever, every person in our community has the support they need to lead healthy and stable lives.
This is what we’re doing right now to support people of all ages with disabilities:
Just days after social distancing began, our team of more than 50 program staff had remote therapy set up for the families who receive Early Intervention; they continue to support children and families through a Telehealth platform. Every day, NWC Early Learning educators are connecting with families through remote story times and puppet shows, online social learning activities, virtual field trips, language classes, art classes, and movement activities. Therapists and Family Resource Coordinators are making weekly online visits to babies and families, providing critical supports for early development, as well as connecting families in need with essential resources such as food and housing assistance, mental health services, and tools for COVID-19 safety. And because the need for inclusive early learning can’t be put on hold, NWC is providing online trainings for childcare providers in King County so they can continue to support families in their communities.
Our Employment Services teams are finding meaningful ways to connect with their clients through technology. Using video and phone calls, we continue to coach clients in their job training journey: practicing key job skills related to their goals, maintaining routines and habits at home, and supporting communication with their current or potential employers during this time. Employment Consultants and Job Coaches are also connecting with clients on a personal level—because so many people with disabilities are missing crucial work friendships right now, our teams are hosting group chats each week just to keep in touch. By keeping both job skills and human connections intact, we’re supporting clients now and making sure they’ll be well equipped to re-enter the workforce or find employment when the opportunity arises.
As we wade through this time of uncertainty, friends like you make it possible for us to support our community. Despite the crisis we are experiencing, our commitment to continuing to deliver our critical services has not wavered. But your support is needed more than ever. We hope you will consider making an additional gift to Northwest Center this year--if you give now, you will double your impact, thanks to a $50,000 matching grant provided to us by a group of caring supporters.
We thank you for your commitment to Northwest Center and hope you will consider a gift today. Know that your partnership right now is pivotal. You can help us make sure the people we serve have support during this unprecedented time, and help safeguard the longevity of our services for people with disabilities after COVID-19 is a memory.
Should you have any questions about our services or our needs during this time, please do not hesitate to reach out.
President & CEO
Our founding mothers understood how to harness the power of government to make the world more inclusive of people of all abilities. We’re pleased to connect with a growing roster of state, regional, and national legislators who, like us, understand that until all of us are allowed to engage and contribute, none of us will reach our full potential.
Last April, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan chose one of our Early Learning Centers, Northwest Center Kids at Chinook, to sign the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) Levy into law. Including a first-ever exemption for Seattle’s most vulnerable taxpayers, FEPP promises seven years of publicly funded investments to increase access to and funding for education for people of all ages and abilities throughout Puget Sound.
In May, First Lady Trudi Inslee visited Puget Sound Laundry Services (PSLS), one of Northwest Center’s owned businesses. Operations Manager Ofelia Almanza led First Lady Inslee on a tour of the facility. Almanza told the story of the facility with pride: For more than 25 years, PSLS has provided superior quality laundry services and employed people of all abilities. Today, more than 60 percent of the staff at the facility has some form of disability. Following the tour, the First Lady talked with Northwest Center President & CEO Gene Boes, staff, and parents about making education and workforces more inclusive for people with disabilities.
In June, we were proud to host King County Executive Dow Constantine at Northwest Center headquarters for a discussion with our Kids team about our IMPACT™ program, part of the Child Care Health Consultation services funded by Best Starts for Kids, which funds programs for children across King County. Northwest Center Kids launched IMPACT in late 2018 to train regional preschool staffs how to welcome and educate children of all abilities. A little over one year into the program, IMPACT already surpassed a three-year goal of reaching 6,000 kids.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal rounded out the year with a November visit to Northwest Center Kids at Chinook for a discussion on education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. After a brief chat with students, staff, and clients, Congresswoman Jayapal met with Katrina Caron, Director of Early Learning, and President & CEO Gene Boes.
With each visit, meeting, and event, it’s clear that many of our local, state, and federal officials support Northwest Center’s mission to promote the growth, development, and independence of people with disabilities through programs of therapy, education, and work opportunity. We know how much there is to be done—here’s to making more connections in 2020.
It’s an audacious goal, and by its very definition is not something we’re likely to achieve in 2020, or on our 60th anniversary, or even by our 75th. But it is the ultimate, fixed North that we work toward at Northwest Center, no matter what moves or changes around us.
We are making great strides in the journey. Our Kids team launched the IMPACT™ program in 2018 with the goal of making inclusive early learning available to 6,000 more kids in King County in three years. They reached that goal before the program was even a year old, and are now well on their way to doubling that number as we progress into 2020.
Our Early Intervention, Early Learning, and Employment Services teams once again served a record number of kids and adults with disabilities in the past year. And with new, innovative approaches in place like the restructuring of our Employment Services into a scalable, geography-based “pod” structure, we’re poised to make inclusion part of even more workplaces and lives across the country in the coming years.
Our North goes hand-in-hand with the Strategic Plan we adopted two years ago. We’re continuing to build OneNWC by enhancing our workplace culture with more professional development opportunities, more sharing of our success stories, and more opportunities to connect across divisions.
Every step we take is designed to achieve significant, ongoing growth as an organization while ensuring a positive experience for our employees and our customers. Every step we take is toward our North. Because until all of us are included, none of us reach our potential.
Onward & Upward,
President and CEO
Imagine being expelled from school when you’re not even old enough to go to kindergarten. It happened to Gavin when he was just 14 months old.
“Gavin wasn’t yet crawling, and his daycare said that if he wasn’t crawling at 18 months, he wasn’t able to stay,” says his mom Kate, who tears up at the memory. “The daycare is telling you he’s going to be kicked out, and you wonder, ‘What is a place for Gavin? Where would he fit?’”
Thankfully, Gavin’s physiotherapist suggested Northwest Center Kids, where kids with and without disabilities learn and play together at two early learning preschools.
“She told us that, unequivocally, she would recommend Northwest Center for any child, whether they’re typically or atypically developing,” Kate recalls.
The family saw the changes in Gavin not long after they moved him to Northwest Center—his mobility and his interaction improved. “It’s much more inclusive,” said Kate at the time. “When I would pick Gavin up from the original daycare, the other children were crawling and walking, and he would often be by himself. Now when I pick him up, he’s playing with the other children.”
Gavin began walking at age 2, and now “He’s running and jumping and climbing,” Kate says today. “He can keep up with his peers on the playground; that’s really wonderful. He’s really loving school. On Saturdays and Sundays, he asks me if he can go to school.”
She continues, “I think it has been most beneficial to have such high quality, personalized attention and compassionate teachers who know just how much to encourage Gavin to push that little bit harder. That requires really empathetic, attentive teachers. His teachers at Northwest Center have that.”
Gavin’s story has a happy ending, but as many as 22,000 children with disabilities in King County are unable to find an inclusive preschool. That’s why Northwest Center Kids created IMPACT™ (Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team), a program to provide training and support to other childcare centers so that they can welcome children with special needs up to age 5.
“Instead of opening new preschools like the two we already have, we are reaching out to existing preschool staff across the county so more educators can accept kids with disabilities,” says Laura Kneedler, VP of Education & Therapy Services.
“If we built another school, we could serve 80 more children,” Kneedler says. “But by partnering with some of the early learning centers in King County, we can reach thousands of kids.”
IMPACT is off to a good start. Just three months into the program, the team had already added 12 local early learning providers to its roster of partners. At six months in, they were halfway to a goal of reaching 6,000 children in King County—a goal they initially projected to take three years.
Kate believes IMPACT will make a difference even for preschools already striving for inclusion. She points out that Gavin’s previous daycare “was not a bad daycare”—for instance, the staff made it possible for Gavin to see a physiotherapist and occupational therapist at school. “But someone like Gavin needs a little bit more,” she says.
One example of “a little bit more” is being flexible at mealtimes. At Gavin’s previous school, Kate says, he would get overwhelmed when served a whole plate of food. As a result, he was going home hungry. But at Northwest Center Kids, the staff worked with Gavin’s occupational therapist on a solution: they presented Gavin with a little bit of food at a time so he could process it better.
“The difference is the mindset,” Kate says. “There aren’t insurmountable things that need to happen in order to take care of a child like Gavin. It’s about changing the little details.”
Northwest Center has made a lasting impression on Gavin, and will continue to shape the family. Laura, a little girl born when Gavin was two, will start preschool at Northwest Center in September.
“Inclusion is important for all children,” Kate says. “It’s important for children like Gavin, who learn better and can learn from other children. It’s good for any child, just understanding it’s okay to be a little bit different.”
To learn more about IMPACT, visit nwcenter.org/IMPACT.
At just four months old, Noemie was having trouble getting enough nutrition. Her diagnosis was complex: tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion; acid reflux; food allergies; and sensory processing disorder.
Noemie’s pediatrician referred her to a special clinic for children who have trouble getting enough nutrition. As the months passed, she saw other specialists in gastroenterology and nutrition, and began outpatient feeding therapy. And yet, Noemie made little progress.
Finally, the pediatrician referred Noemie’s family to Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers’ (ESIT) feeding therapy program, and they began working with occupational therapist Molly Nolan-Jones. The in-home visits were valuable, but after a few months, Nolan-Jones felt that Noemie’s diagnosis was not complete.
"At that point, Molly told us what turned out to be some of the most important words: ‘I feel like something else is wrong; you need to take her back to the gastroenterologist,” says Noemie’s mom Nichole.
“Molly became more than a feeding therapist,” Nichole continues. “She became a family advocate. She spoke with doctors on our family's behalf, and she was instrumental in helping the doctors find a proper diagnosis: eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease.”
Eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease (EGID) makes it painful and difficult to swallow and digest food. Because Noemie’s EGID diagnosis was delayed, she had developed a pediatric feeding disorder. So Nolan-Jones continued to work with the family.
“I provided education about how to present food, how to engage in sensory play throughout her day, sensory approaches to food, and mealtime routines at their home,” says Nolan-Jones.
When Noemie turned 2, Early Supports transitioned her occupational therapy services from her home to the Early Learning classrooms at Northwest Center Kids at Greenwood.
"Noemie, her mom, and I would join the classroom at lunchtime,” says Nolan-Jones. “Our goal was for Noemie to spend time around other kids who were eating and enjoying food. This was motivating for Noemie, and she would eat more food during these meals.”
This past fall, Noemie officially transitioned to Early Learning as a student.
“Words can’t even explain how thankful I am to Molly and everyone at Northwest Center,” Nichole says. “It made a big difference in Noemie’s life and saved her from further complications. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Learn about EGID at Apfed (American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders). Visit Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers to learn more about services for children from birth to age 3.
Launched in September 2018, IMPACT™ (Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team) has already made a significant impact on the early learning community in King County. The program, which provides training and support to childcare centers so that they can welcome children with special needs up to age 5, has already added 12 local providers to its roster of partners. The IMPACTeam™ is currently working with more than 70 kids and 25 individual teaching staff and child care directors.
It was an epic day at the 7th Annual Northwest Center Golf Classic as more than 120 players competed in rounds of championship golf at The Golf Club at Newcastle. Golfers got out their putters on the greens and also their wallets to give green: they raised $85,000 to launch EPIC (Expanding Play, Interaction and Communication), a new Northwest Center Kids initiative that will provide early and ongoing support to families of children with autism.
Event host Bill Krueger, former Seattle Mariners ace and Northwest Center’s strategic relationship officer, competed with some of his professional athletic pals including former Seahawks defensive end Alonzo Mitz, former Mariners pitcher Erik Hanson, Charlie Furbush, former Mariner and current MLB player, and former Mariners centerfielder Brian Hunter.
CEO Gene Boes with Samira Salkic, AVP Community Manager at 2017 Holiday Drive partner Umpqua Bank, with Mike from The Big Blue Truck™
Want to make a big difference for people in need this year during the holidays? Join Northwest Center’s 2018 holiday drive. Once again, we’ll fulfill the wish lists of families in need by collecting toys and clothes that The Big Blue Truck™, Northwest Center Kids, and our executive team will distribute for the holidays.
Kam grabs a slice of “watermelon” from the play food on his family’s coffee table. He pretends to eat it, then offers some to Ricky, his dad.
It’s more than a happy family moment, says Susannah Major, a Speech Language Pathologist with Northwest Center Kids. “This is huge,” she enthuses. “Pretend play is such a prerequisite for language.”
Derby Honoree Brian Evison of DAE Capital, second from left, with Patricia Mary, Sarah, and Matt Evison
What an impact The Derby had on IMPACT™, a new initiative from Northwest Center Kids. The silent and live auction held in April at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, with a goal of raising $100,000 to launch the new service, instead raised more than three times that amount with donations totaling $306,000.
Vital need sparked a new approach to inclusive early learning
Katrina Caron, Director of Early Learning at Northwest Center’s Chinook location, gets the calls all the time.
“Parents will have a child with a special need and they can’t find care anywhere. Or their child is going to be kicked out of their preschool. Or the current school is not meeting their child’s needs. I have to say, ‘I’m really sorry, but I have to put you on our waitlist’ when we can’t take more children.”
Anthony and his mom Sara
Anthony looks at the world a little differently—and often beautifully.
“When Anthony goes up a hill, he says it’s heavy because it makes his body feel heavy,” says his mom Sara. “What a unique way to describe that feeling.”
Still, Sara and her husband Jason struggled to find a preschool that would nurture Anthony’s potential the same as any other child.
The program that Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) has pioneered in collaboration with the University of Washington Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (UW NICU) is not only making a huge impact on families whose babies are beginning life in the UW NICU; it’s also making one statewide.
What is something special about you?
Though sometimes difficult to answer, Chris Ulmer asks this question to nearly everyone he interviews. Ulmer, a special education teacher turned an internationally renowned speaker, travels the globe interviewing people with disabilities. His goal is to not tell their stories, but to give them the opportunity to tell their story themselves.
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