After a career spanning half a century of helping people in need, KP community leader Jud Morris will retire from the Children’s Home Society of Washington-Key Peninsula Family Resource Center as its Pierce County director, a post he held for 13 years.
Morris will officially pass the torch to his successor Dec. 31, welcoming Gina Cabiddu to the job in something of a homecoming.
Cabiddu attended Evergreen Elementary and Key Peninsula Middle schools and graduated from Peninsula High. She earned her master’s degree with honors in social work from the University of Washington Tacoma in 2017. She served as an intern under Morris’s supervision at various times in her academic career.
“Yes, I grew up here but now I want to grow back into this amazingly resourceful and progressive community,” Cabiddu said. “While there are many strong community leaders retiring all at once, there is also a whole new wave of energy coming to continue the work.” She said she feels inspired by this community where people see a problem and together find a solution.
Marcia Harris, who sits on the KP Community Council, said she was thrilled to learn Cabiddu had been hired. The two worked together during Cabiddu’s extended internship at the resource center. “She brings energy, caring and innate leadership that is compelling,” Harris said.
Morris said his guiding philosophy was based on three principles: That no children should ever be hungry, cold or go without holiday presents; that everyone needs support to be self-sufficient; and that all children should be successful.
“We have a problem of hungry students whose parents don’t want to sign their kids up for free and reduced lunch,” Morris said. Behind the scenes, CHSW subsidized those meals to make sure children were eating. “Hungry kids don’t learn,” Morris said.
The Little Buddies mentoring program was up and running at Evergreen and Vaughn but not Minter Creek. Morris said a van donated by John Dionas changed that.
Morris recognized a need for similar mentoring at the middle school level, so Little Amigos was born. “What principal is going to say no to a free mentoring program?” he said.
Little Toasters was inspired by a student who wanted to start a group teaching young girls how to speak and write speeches. “We went to Toastmasters, learned what they were doing, started a group and after 10 years Little Toasters is in all the elementary schools. We brought in women pilots, park rangers, bank vice presidents, to share how they made their career choices,” Morris said.
Kindergartners and first-graders sometimes have accidents at school and don’t have a change of clothes. “That won’t do,” Morris said. His staff bought five new sets of boys’ and girls’ clothes for each school. “Dr. Nathan Schlicher called to ask what we needed. We talked and their daughter volunteered to help out by replicating that in other schools,” Morris said.
Morris also created programs to help children and parents outside of school.
“United Way reached out to give more on the KP, so we started a cooperative preschool program called Ready, Set, Go!” that meets at the civic center once a week, he said.
Appreciating the needs and struggles of many grandparents and relatives raising children on the KP, CHSW started a support group called Relatives Raising Kids.
“I’ve always started programs without money,” Morris said. “It’s easier to attract money after you have a program people can relate to.”
Morris said he is also proud to have provided utility assistance for over 2,000 families.
“What deeply touches me is when people have a moment when either their lights are going to be shut off or they’re about to be evicted; I have resources here to make sure they aren’t,” he said. “It’s just one human being to another, recognizing the need to maintain self-respect, self-esteem, hope. For all of us being unique, we also have the same challenges.”
Outside CHSW, Morris helped start the Key Free Clinic, served on a committee to cap bridge tolls, helped to place suicide prevention signs on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and provided field placement for many student interns. He also relished playing Santa and bringing joy to children.
“For me, there was always steady movement forward, even if I didn’t always know what I was doing,” Morris said. Looking back, he said there were no tremendous left hand turns in his career path, no “aha!” moments. He decided to make a difference and focused his energy on making change.
Congressman Derek Kilmer presented Morris with a congressional citation Dec. 9 from the U.S. House of Representatives recognizing his community service.
“Jud Morris leaves big shoes to fill,” Harris said. “From my perspective, Gina is a fine choice, someone who will be wearing new shoes as she continues to support and build new programs supporting our KP families and children.”