Jud Morris has become a fixture on the Key Peninsula since his arrival 16 years ago. He is executive director and the only full-time employee of the Children’s Home Society of Washington/Key Peninsula Family Resource Center at the KP Civic Center in Vaughn. The organization’s mission is to “develop healthy children, create strong families, build engaged communities and speak and advocate for children.”
Morris and his staff of six, including one intern from the School of Social Work at University of Washington Tacoma, work to fulfill that mission. Evidence of the positive atmosphere at the office is the composition of the staff—three of the current employees are former interns.
Demands for services have dramatically increased over the last 12 years, from 800 unduplicated clients in 2005 to 3,800 in 2016. Ninety percent of the people who use the services live below the federal poverty line. This number represents about 20 percent of the 17,500 residents of the KP. Because some clients require multiple types of service, the staff has documented 5,427 discrete service contacts so far in 2017.
Many of these contacts occur through KPFRC programs like Indoor Park and Ready, Set, Go. These are designed to engage preschool-aged children and their parents in activities that promote parent-child relationships, provide early learning opportunities and model socialization skills that will encourage cooperation and build self-esteem.
KPFRC has also organized several mentoring groups for school-aged children. Little Toasters promotes speech and leadership skills for girls from second through sixth grade to counter the reluctance girls often feel when speaking up in class.
Another group, Little Buddies/Big Buddies, provides cross-age mentoring by bringing middle and high school students together with elementary school children for after-school activities.
Another offering is Ready, Set, Go. This early-learning opportunity is designed for 3- and 4-year-olds and their parents or caregivers to prepare both child and adult to succeed in school.
The work that Morris and his staff perform on an individual level involves home visits, where they provide basic needs such as diapers, clothing and school supplies. KPFRC also serves as an information source regarding financial aid, health care and employment, as well as rent and utility assistance.
Since June 2015, the number of families turning to KPFRC for assistance with utilities and rent has grown from 134 to 201. There has been a 50 percent increase so far this year, including a growing number of grandparents raising their grandchildren.
Morris is a firm believer in “acts of intentional kindness” but recognizes that his regular budget and grants often fall short, so he turns to the community for help.
He recently took steps to address two problems that often affect a child’s well-being.
The first problem concerned children who could not pay for their school lunches and who were not signed up for the Free and Reduced-Price meals programs, often out of family pride. Teachers and office staff were covering the cost of providing food for these students. Morris has arranged a system that issues gift cards from local stores, so school staff are not paying out-of-pocket to feed these children.
The second problem had to do with children in kindergarten and first grade soiling themselves at school. The only options for the school were sending the children home, if an adult was available to pick them up, or turning to clothing from the lost and found. Both options only added to the children’s humiliation.
Operation School Dignity was started with the help of Jessica and Nathan Schlicher after a suggestion from their second-grade daughter, Juliette, who had seen classmates suffer these embarrassments firsthand. Through their contributions, Morris managed to provide all eight elementary schools in the Peninsula School District with five sets each of appropriately sized boys’ and girls’ clothing.
“These are what I call ‘acts of intentional kindness,’” Morris said. “There are times when we just need to get things done outside of our budget or existing programs, where people act because, in this case, they recognize that hungry or embarrassed kids don’t learn.”
For more information or to obtain assistance, call the KPFRC office at 884-5433.