Took Help Straight to the Kids Where They Lived
by Jake Ellison, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 3,
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What did Tom
Lovitt, a University of Washington education professor, and an
elementary school principal do when they discovered that more
than 100 kids from one low-income apartment complex were
struggling in school?
They went to the sprawling, high-density complex, the Juanita
apartments in White Center, rented an apartment and began
teaching the kids and helping their families change their lives
In 1993, Lovitt and Leslie Perry, principal at Hazel Valley
Elementary in Burien, not only set up a program to help
children, but they also established the foundation for New
Futures, a Burien-based charity.
New Futures runs a host of family-support programs out of
apartments in three of King County's largest low-income housing
projects: Juanita apartments, Vintage Park Apartments in Burien
and the Windsor Heights complex in SeaTac.
This is the first year New Futures will receive donations
through the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Readers Care Fund. The
charity is counting on your support to help it establish its
fourth location at the 98-unit Arbor Heights apartment complex
in White Center.
Lovitt, 73, who retired from UW in 1997, has continued to work
with New Futures off and on since he helped create the on-site
programs. Here he sheds light on the origins of New Futures and
its core mission.
How did it all start?
That apartment business kind of sprang from our work at (Leslie
Perry's) school. We decided we'd go over there and try to rent
an apartment, as we did, and just set up after-school tutoring.
At the beginning there were 20, 25, 30 of them who would really
participate. We sent out a leaflet and let all the parents know
what we were going to do.
What were some of their first responses?
Well, most of them were real pleased ... that if nothing else,
it at least gave them a safe haven right after school. Because
it's a huge apartment complex down there and that whole area
down there is just apartment after apartment. So there were
problems. You get domestic abuse, violence, those sorts of
problems. It took quite a bit of time just getting things set
up. At the beginning, too, we had a real close relationship with
the teachers at Hazel Valley. They were very, very much in tune
with the whole business. They knew who was going there. Some of
the teachers came over to the Juanita apartments for
What makes the program effective?
It's answering a lot of needs. The educational needs of the
kids, and the educational needs of the parents and just working
with them to really just try to improve their lot down the line.
And, instead of setting up a program where ... they have to get
a taxi or a bus to come to school, we're going to them. It's one
thing for a professor type to dream up this theoretical project
and then impose it on somebody. But when you go someplace and
you can see what their needs are and what the facilities are and
what the problems are, well, then you can bend and twist and
shape it and tweak it so that it really fits their needs. It's
just trying to get into those places so that you can really give
them a better life.
What does a child get out of the program?
I think the most help we give them is that boost in reading,
writing and arithmetic. That gives them the feeling, the esteem
that says, 'Look. I can do it.' And with that, if in the third
grade, fourth grade, fifth grade ... you're up to par and then
you go into middle school, why, your chances of staying are
good. And, if you can graduate from high school, well, then your
aspirations will be beyond that. So it is a linking of steps all
along the way.
The more graduates you've got, the better the employment
situation is. It just builds on itself all the way. It's money
in the bank. Fewer of them would go into welfare. Fewer of them
would become homeless. Fewer of them would be in Medicaid.
Why does New Futures need money?
Every time you do (try to spread the program), it costs a bundle
of money. You have to hire other people to come in to the new
You can only do so much with volunteers.
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