Seattle Foundation Blog

Fostering Resilient Environments

Treehouse Uses COVID-19 Response Fund Grant to Support Youth in Foster Care


November 17, 2021

We’ve heard the stories echo across the nation: children, young adults, and their caregivers dealing with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One area of significant challenge: remote learning. In 2020, nearly 93% of households with school-age children reported they engaged in some form of “distance learning” from home. This stressful situation proved even more challenging for families from lower-income households.

The State of Washington felt the impact of this disruption earlier than most school systems across the country, as illustrated in the decision of Governor Jay Inslee to close all K-12 private and public schools just days after the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Shifting to remote learning had serious implications on schools as well as a range of organizations that provide educational enrichment and supports to students, like Seattle-based nonprofit Treehouse. Treehouse grappled with these unforeseen challenges in their work to support youth and their caregivers who experience foster care.

“Youth who are in foster care, especially at a young age, are often defined by that. It becomes a part of their identity, usually negatively,” Treehouse Director of Marketing and Communications Margaret Su shared. “We help them get the resources they need to be the best versions of themselves that they want to be.”

At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Treehouse surveyed staff about the impacts of COVID-19 on students in their programs. They found that 44% of students in their Graduation Success program needed academic support, tutoring, or homework assistance, and 36% of foster and relative caregivers needed more help to meet the educational needs of kids and young adults in their care.

Treehouse stepped up to meet this need by pivoting to deliver programs remotely and with more flexibility. They also advocated for federal emergency relief funds to specifically support the students they serve. This advocacy resulted in $1.3+ million for the Treehouse CARES project, which provides support for tutoring and helps address the educational and social-emotional impacts of the pandemic.

In addition to federal funds, Treehouse also benefited from community support. Seattle Foundation's COVID-19 Response Fund provided $25,000 of unrestricted funding to Treehouse to assist students like Dulce, a senior in their Graduation Success program who reached a milestone this year when she passed all of her classes for the first time.

In a story written for the Treehouse Blog, Dulce shared that the nonprofit connected her with an academic tutor, Emily, whom she now considers family.

“If I didn’t have Emily, I wouldn’t be passing half my classes,” Dulce shared. “We get along really well. I had done tutoring before, but it was awkward. With Emily, I feel comfortable, like I can be myself.”

Supporting Treehouse and more than 370 other community organizations through the COVID-19 Response Fund is one way that Seattle Foundation is leading the effort to create a resilient environment, equitable economy, and just democracy for those most impacted by racial and wealth disparities. These are the key pillars of the Blueprint for Impact. Likewise, Treehouse has made its own commitment to become an anti-racist, multicultural institution. The nonprofit has taken steps to achieve this aim over the past few years. This is especially important as the organization works with BIPOC youth who have experienced trauma.

“We want to make sure we’re providing a safe space for youth and families who use our services,” said Brandon Joachim, a social impact analyst with Treehouse. “We also want our staff to have the support that they need to carry out anti-racist programs.”

The Treehouse CARES project has funding to last through December 2021. So far, this effort has supported more than 850 participants and 51% are youth of color.

Seattle Foundation also supported Treehouse’s Just-in-Time funding, providing young people with the opportunity to participate in extracurricular arts, athletics, or educational experiences of their choice. Just-in-Time also sustained paid tutoring throughout the pandemic and helped students with educational supplies, like laptops for virtual learning. Joachim said this assistance has been invaluable to the youth they serve.

“A big part of how we define our success means that youth who experience foster care and are connected to our services feel they have someone who is willing to be there for them and back them up as they pursue their educational goals and prepare for adulthood.” Joachim shared.

Partnering with Treehouse demonstrated how powerful it is when funding goes toward operationalizing community-led solutions. Giving to Fund for Inclusive Recovery, which was created so Seattle Foundation can continue carrying out the mission of the COVID-19 Response Fund, is one way for donors to engage in this effort.

Those seeking funding can click here to learn more about submitting a Letter of Inquiry for Fund for Inclusive Recovery ahead of the Nov. 19 deadline. To see the full list of ongoing funding initiatives at Seattle Foundation, visit this page.

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