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Article of Interest - Children At-Risk

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Bridges4Kids LogoEducators Took Help Straight to the Kids Where They Lived
by Jake Ellison, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 3, 2003
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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 right there.

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 conferencing.

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 site.

You can only do so much with volunteers.


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