Creating Strong Families and Building Engaged Communities
Children’s Home Society of Washington - Key Peninsula
By Jillian Chandler
Children are one of a community’s most precious resources, and it is up to all of us to do our part in helping to ensure our children reach their full potential. Serving children and families at more than 18 sites throughout the state, Children’s Home Society of Washington (CHSW) is dedicated to ensuring children reach their full potential.
Founded in 1896, Children’s Home Society of Washington is the oldest and largest family prevention services provider in the state. With a mission to develop healthy children, create strong families, build engaged communities, and speak and advocate for children, CHSW focuses on providing comprehensive services to children from birth to age 12, providing an efficient and unified support system for children and families to access various services that meet all their needs.
Gina Cabiddu joined Children’s Home Society of Washington - Key Peninsula more than six years ago, where she worked her way from an intern and volunteer to family educator and now, in her current role, as community manager for the Key Peninsula site.
“I was drawn to CHSW because of my passion for prevention-based services, the statewide presence of the organization, and the multi-tiered level of impact the organization has,” says Gina. Her passion for social work and serving with Children’s Home Society of Washington stems from her own experiences of growing up in the foster-care system and being raised in the Key Peninsula community.
Children and families are connected to Children’s Home Society of Washington through ongoing community partner engagement, which provides referrals, website and social media engagements, community events, and word-of-mouth efforts built through the long-standing, trusting relationships with the families and community members they serve.
“CHSW has been a leader in child and family services for nearly 125 years because of our commitment to quality service for the children and families we support,” affirms Gina. “Our organization emphasizes statewide programming and operates as one organization while possessing the capacity to address the specifications of each community’s unique needs and resources.
“Coupled with a nimble ability to evolve and reimagine success in challenging times, we are afforded the opportunity to continue as a leader in the industry with a common vision to help children and families thrive.”
The children and families served span across the Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor, and Pierce and Mason counties. Each family CHSW works with is required to complete a one-page Welcome Form for CHSW to learn more about the family and their culture, and to more easily address the immediate needs they seek relief for. In addition, CHSW can offer resources that can promote long-term stability and goal attainment.
The people CHSW serves are vast—they come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, gender, family size, education, career and income levels. There is no fee nor income requirements for any service offered to the families that Children’s Home Society of Washington serves.
Serving families that are prenatal through end of life, those with or without children, single parents, multifamily households, guardianship or parental custody status, and more, “CHSW provides a comprehensive continuum of care to 39,000 children and families each year in early learning, family support, out-of-home care, child and family counseling, adoption and advocacy,” says Gina.
Working with families while acting as an extension of their family and advocate for their needs, CHSW supports families in a number of ways: rent/mortgage, utility assistance, food and gas cards, school supplies, clothing as needed (when available) and more. “Community members are aided in navigating complex systems with support as CHSW can sign families up for food stamps and health insurance and also navigate family court, juvenile court, mental health and substance use treatment, and more with our case management services and referrals,” affirms Gina.
The Key Peninsula has a team of just seven who serves more than 1,200 different people every year with over 5,000 services annually, “which leads to so many humbling journeys we get to be part of,” smiles Gina. She recalls one such journey: “One comes from our Little Buddies, Big Buddies program. Several years ago, we had a high school girl volunteer as a mentor for younger students in our academic and recreational mentoring program. She so enjoyed it, her high school aged brother became a mentor with her, and their elementary school brother continued in the program. Fast forward to 2020, the high school girl has now graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in social work because she was so empowered by the impact she made with CHSW in her community. The high school brother graduated Peninsula High School and received a scholarship bolstered with the community service on his resume as a Big Buddy. Last, the elementary school brother aged into becoming a Big Buddy as a middle school volunteer to mentor elementary youth just as his siblings had before him.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, including important organizations like Children’s Home Society of Washington. But fortunately, they were able to quickly mobilize their teams across Washington state and shift to a virtual format for as many services as possible. This allowed them to continue providing support with minimal disruption at a time when families need help more than ever. According to Gina, CHSW’s Key Peninsula branch has always operated with a focus on literally meeting clients where they are at—whether that be at their office, in schools, at community sites, through home visits, phone calls, emails and more.
When it comes to what Gina and the rest of the Children’s Home Society of Washington team find most rewarding, it is the knowledge that they are changing the lives of children and their families for the better. “The most rewarding part of the work we do are the breakthrough moments in seeing the positive impact our work has on the children and families we serve,” says Gina. Preventing a family from becoming homeless by paying their rent after medical bills stacked up after an unforeseen medical incident.
Seeing a sixth grader testify in Olympia to legislators about how she wants CHSW’s elementary girls’ empowerment program to go statewide because it’s given her the skills and confidence to pursue a career that will help her support her family. Helping a veteran who is a single dad of several youth get his rent paid and utilities taken care of so he doesn’t have to worry about where his family will be sleeping, and him being able to choose new clothes, toys, and food and gas cards from the holiday program so he can go beyond meeting the basics with dignity. Seeing a grandparent who is caring for a child, whose parents cannot do so safely because of substance abuse, have a partner to help them in attaining guardianship to prevent the kids from going into foster care.
“Every day, we get to be part of alleviating family suffering, celebrating their triumphs and growth, and breaking cycles of abuse, neglect and poverty with resources and support for families and community members,” reflects Gina. “Our entire team is invested because we grew up here, raised our families here, and these are our neighbors. When we all are supported, we have a strong community that can accomplish amazing things. I am so honored to work with such a heartfelt, talented and committed team in such a caring and generous community.”
To find our more, whether you or someone you love is in need of help, call 253.884.5433 or visit ChildrensHomeSociety.org/pierce. For those interested in volunteering with the organization, you can email Donna Verretto, community engagement officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.