Sue Braaten, her family and the staff at the Best Western Wesley Inn and Suites had been hard at work getting ready for the highlight of their year—the annual Pierce County Alliance Christmas Party for foster families—which took place December 1 at the hotel. The Wesley has hosted the event for 11 years now.
Sue has long been an advocate for children living in foster care. She has served as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for more than 25 years and launched a foundation, the Homestead Community, whose mission is to create a community of homes and resources for children in foster care and youth facing homelessness. “I have always loved children and been drawn to help others. I truly believe we all have an assignment for our lives here on earth, and this is mine. It is a blessing to have the hotel to use to help others in our community. I always say it is God’s business, so we want to use it for his glory,” she said.
The PCA Christmas Party not only impacts the foster families but is also a very moving event for the staff at the hotel. Kathy Heerema, sales manager for the Wesley, said, “The party makes our Christmas and gives you a giving heart.” She has been present since the very beginning. “The first year, we heard the funds for the kids were almost non-existent. As we started thinking about our own children and what we wanted for them, we started raising money to help these kids,” Kathy said. “Our community was so moved that within three weeks we raised enough to get all the kids something very special. It was the year the iPod came out, and so that is what the older ones received. There were also great gifts for the younger children.”
All the foster families licensed through the PCA are invited to the party. They bring their own children and any youth in their care who range in ages from birth to 18 years old. Young adults who are alumni of foster care in the PCA housing program and who have children are invited as well. “The Christmas party is an event that my staff, foster parents and youth look forward to every year,” said Samantha Garcia, PCA’s youth services director. “The extraordinary amount of time and energy that Sue and her staff put into this party shows through in every detail.”
Samantha appreciates the time and effort that goes into making the event a success. “Sue gets the community involved and has dozens of helpers. Each year the families know that they will see Santa and Mrs. Claus, who sometimes arrive to the party via a firetruck. It’s a night where the families get to gather together, share a meal and enjoy each other,” she said. “There’s nothing better than watching the kids’ and teenagers’ faces light up when they get to take pictures with Santa and of course, when they get to open the gifts. The gifts are always thought out, age appropriate and amazing! Yet, the gifts really are not the focus. The family centered atmosphere and activities make the gathering unique and special. Some of the best moments of the parties happen on the dance floor. Most everyone gets pulled in by the fun and energy from the kids and ends up dancing or singing along to a song or two.”
Sue’s involvement with children in care has helped her become compassionate and knowledgeable about their needs and what helps the kids to hold their heads up a little higher. “This event lets the kids just be kids, not a ‘foster child,’” said Samantha. “Sue helps to create an environment where the families and youth get to leave the ‘foster care’ label at the door and simply enjoy each other and get immersed in the spirit of Christmas.”
Guests who stay at the Wesley Inn will find all kinds of ways they can help children in foster care. A festive Christmas tree sits in the lobby, with raffle tickets offered for sale, with proceeds supporting the Christmas Party. If you are looking for a snack, bars of World’s Finest Chocolate are available for purchase with the profits going to the party. Each hotel room has a cute stuffed animal which is modeled after the hotel mascot, “Wesley.” They are available for purchase and help support the Homestead Community.
This year, the Best Western Wesley Inn celebrates its 20th anniversary, and what a ride it has been. Twenty years ago there were no hotels in Gig Harbor, and Sue, with her husband Ken, saw an investment opportunity. In spite of having no hotel experience, they took the leap. “It was a great opportunity for a small business,” said Sue. “We chose the Best Western Flag because it offered the best business model for a small hotel and included marketing and a reservation system.”
Over the years, it has become more of a family business and a legacy that the Braatens will be able to pass on to their children. Their oldest daughter, Brooke Murphy, is the CPA for the hotel; youngest daughter Candace Rowley does the marketing; and oldest son, Bleu Braaten, has just come on board as the general manager. “Having the opportunity to continue in the family business is a tremendous honor,” said Bleu. “Not many families have the rich history of serving others and giving back for so long a period of time. Both my parents have modeled what true servant leadership looks like, and it’s our job to grow what they started.”
With the family on board, the Wesley Inn will continue to be a valued member of the Gig Harbor Community for many years to come. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, the BW Wesley Inn and Suites hosted an Open House December 6, inviting the public to join them for an evening of food, drink, local personalities and more.