Veterans, Caregivers, and our Community

Given that November is National Family Caregiver’s Month, Military Family Month, and November 11th is Veterans Day, Heather gave me the opportunity in this month’s blog to recognize our local military community. That community doesn’t just include those who served in uniform but also the family and caregivers residing in Pierce County.

Councilmember Hitchen reached out recently and asked me to do some research into the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and their Hidden Heroes program.  Hidden Heroes works with military and veteran caregivers to increase an awareness of these valuable members of our community who often get forgotten. Recent data from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation shows over 38,000 military caregivers provide compassionate services in Pierce County alone.

Pierce County is a unique place due to the relationship this community has with the 50,000+ active duty, reservists, National Guard, and over 92,000 veterans who live here. We live in a community that displays this relationship all around us: every day we see the C-17s that take off from JBLM, the servicemembers in uniform as we shop in grocery stores, and the 645 square miles that make JBLM the 4th largest base in the world.

What we don’t always see are the caregivers and the other family members who are providing medical, daily care, and emotional support for military and veteran families in Pierce County. The average military or veteran caregiver spends over 40 hours per week caring for their loved one. These family members are the hidden heroes that the Elizabeth Dole Foundation strives to highlight for our local leaders and communities.

Pierce County has:

  • 32,944 veterans with some level of a service-related disability (0 – 100%) and over 20,481 who are rated at 50% or higher for service-related injuries;
  • 5,414 veterans who are 100% disabled due to service-related injuries; and
  • 10,501 post-9/11 veterans who require a family caregiver.

My colleague, Aaron Van Valkenburg, and I recently worked with the Aging and Disability Resources Advisory Board and the Veterans Advisory Board to gather support for a Pierce County partnership with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and its Hidden Heroes program. After introducing this program to both Advisory Boards, we received unanimous support.

If you want to learn more about Hidden Heroes and what it is doing to support veterans and military members, please visit You can read about a local Hidden Hero Fellow right here in Bonney Lake; she writes about her own journey as a caregiver for her husband. I’m proud to report that in early November 2021 the County Council will be passing a resolution in support of a partnership between the Hidden Heroes program and Pierce County.

A community with a large military and veteran presence also has an equally large military and veteran family presence. As someone who had the privilege of serving in uniform and is a disabled veteran, I know the struggles families have as they watch their servicemember deploy, the lack of communication with their loved one in a potentially dangerous environment, and the impact that service-related injuries have.

Please take a few moments in the next few weeks to reach out to the veterans in your life. Thank them for their service but also celebrate the families who supported them along the way and served alongside them.

Often when we think about veterans, we may not fully value the sacrifices made by spouses, children, parents, family, and friends. If you know any caregivers, please reach out and thank them for what they do for their family members, friends and loved ones.

As a proud veteran of the Navy, I want to thank all who have served but also their families, their support structures, and the community that has lifted up my fellow veterans.

-Robert Sheetz, Veterans Programs Manager

September is Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month! The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) started the National Recovery Month in 1989 to bring awareness to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. This year’s focus is Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Community, Every Family.

Recovery is for everyone seems a fitting theme for 2021. The pandemic has brought behavioral health issues to the forefront as more of us are feeling the impact of mental health and substance use disorders in our families and communities.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, as many as 2 million Washington State residents reported increased stress and anxiety, and almost 1.5 million experienced depression during the first year of the pandemic. The younger a person was, the more likely they were to experience these symptoms.

Despite the dramatic increase in the need for behavioral health treatment, less than half of those wanting help accessed care. Access to behavioral health treatment is an issue that affects all of us. Families and communities often carry the emotional and financial burden of untreated behavioral health disorders. The good news is there are effective and evidence-based prevention and treatment programs available.

Here are a few steps we can take during Recovery Month to celebrate the gains made by those in recovery:

Fight stigma

Behavioral health stigma occurs when we negatively view someone because they are experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder. Stigma harms those suffering and their families, and often discourages people from getting help because they assume their behavioral health concern means something negative about them as a person.

One way to fight stigma is to educate yourself on mental health and substance use disorders. Instead of falling for the stereotypes found in online media and entertainment, learn how prevalent behavioral health disorders are, what treatments are available, and how they impact individuals and families.

Get help for yourself and your loved ones

If you or someone you care about is experiencing depression, anxiety, substance use issues, or other concerns, get help from a qualified professional. Asking for help takes courage but it is the first step in the journey toward recovery. Find local qualified providers using our Behavioral Health Services Locator.

Tell your story

Sharing your recovery story gives hope to individuals and families facing similar problems. Someone might read your story and be encouraged in their own recovery. Others might seek help for the first time.

To celebrate recovery month, we are asking the community to share their stories with us to be featured on our website and social media channels. If you have a one to share, or know someone who does, please use this link to share your story.

You can read recovery stories from previous years on our website at Please know that your submission can be anonymous, and you have the option to share as much, or as little as you like.

If you need ideas to get you started, try these:

  • How were you or a loved one affected by mental illness or substance use?
  • What happened before you or your loved one received help?
  • What helped you or your loved one on their path to recovery?
  • How are you different today and how are you experiencing recovery?
  • What else would you like others to know about recovery?

Remember, recovery is for everyone. No matter who you are or what you are facing there is hope for recovery and help is available. Our website has resources for families and providers, including maps that detail the local crisis system, should you or someone you know need to access these services. Lastly, please join us on August 31 via Zoom for the 3 p.m. Pierce County Council meeting, where they will proclaim September 2021 as Recovery Month.

If you are someone you care about is in crisis, please contact the Pierce County Crisis Line at 1-800-576-7764 or text 741-741. If you have a life-threatening illness or injury that needs immediate assistance, please call 9-1-1.

Thanks for reading.

Richard VanCleave, Behavioral Health Manager
Pierce County Human Services

Improving Processes and Engaging Residents

A note from Heather: “As we shift back into more in-person interactions in our post-COVID world, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to one of our newer leadership team members, Nelly Mbajah.  Nelly joined PCHS in February 2021, coming most recently from a position with Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD).  While at PSESD, and DSHS before that, Nelly spent most of her professional attention on ECEAP and other early learning initiatives.  We are glad to have her as part of our team, leading the Community Action Program (CAP) Division here at PCHS.  I have two more leaders to introduce you to soon, so look for their guest blogs coming up.  For now, please take it away, Nelly…”

Pierce County Human Services has recently opened our doors and returned to ‘normal’ office hours, so I want to wish all residents a ‘Happy Reopening’ from the Community Action Programs (CAP). I am grateful to have this opportunity to share a little of our world with all of you.

A little background before we get started, CAP works to reduce the impact of poverty through a variety of programs and supports. Pierce County’s CAP is one of 30 CAPs in the state, and over 1,000 nationwide. The CAP Division programs include:

  1. Energy Assistance – Provides heating assistance and conservation education to income-qualified households outside the city limits of Tacoma.
  2. Water Assistance – Provides water and wastewater assistance to income-qualified households outside the city limits of Tacoma. (Coming soon!)
  3. Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) – Provides free preschool and family support to over 300 income eligible children and their families through seven sites in six school districts. The sites are in Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley, Orting, Eatonville, South Hill, and University Place, along with two dual language (English/Spanish) classes in South Hill and Sumner.
  4. Tribal ChildReach – Provides early childhood developmental screening to Tribal children in partnership with the Puyallup Tribe.
  5. Weatherization – Supports income eligible households in making their homes healthier reducing heat loss, and saving money on heating bills, all through adding insulation, sealing cracks, and making other physical improvements.
  6. Minor Home Repair – Provides health and safety repairs for income eligible households that allow residences to stay in their homes. The repairs range from window and roof repair or replacement to plumbing and minor carpentry.

We all had to become more innovative when offering services during a pandemic, but the Weatherization (WX) and Minor Home Repair (MHR) programs also had to transition to a new contracting and procurement platform. A team of three(Donn Falconer, Kristy Lysell and Lynda Buchanan), with the support of several others, have been working diligently to make this happen for over a year and we are happy to say that the new system, ProcureWare, finally went live on July 1, 2021 (applause).


What is ProcureWare and what does it do?

It is an all-inclusive, integrated procurement platform for supplier management, e-sourcing, and contract management. This system allows contractors to register for the limited public works rosters which were specifically created for the MHR and WX programs. This makes it simple for bidders to register for the specific type of work in which they specialize, and in turn simpler for the County to release bids to contractors who specialize in and want to do this specific type of work. All communication is done solely in ProcureWare – from release of bid, clarifications, and finally the award. It is also a portal where contractors can upload their licenses, insurance, etc., which also notifies contractors when things are expiring so there is no disruption in being able to receive bids.

Why was the shift needed?

To ensure the County and contractors are compliant with all State of Washington public work laws and regulations.

Why is it important?

It’s important because it provides a streamlined and accessible contracting process for contractors and the County. It also promotes access to new contractors, flexibility in job scope, and lower costs (hopefully!!). Another benefit is that everything is in one place (bid request, questions, responses, addendum, and submission of bids), making it easier to update everyone at the same time.

What are the challenges and success of the system?

One of the challenges is gauging contractor interest in doing the type of jobs we post, creating a new sets of forms and processes, determining how to deal with emergency situations, and the general hassle of transition. We’ve experienced success recently as our first job was posted and we received 3 bids – YAY! We are now working on awarding a contract for the work to begin.

In addition to the Procureware launch, our division’s other big focus this year is the Community Needs Assessment (CNA), which we complete every 3 years. The purpose is to identify needs within our community, determine how well we are currently meeting those needs, and highlight what gaps exist. The information gathered is used to improve current services and explore the creation of new programs, services, or partnerships.

A small but mighty team (Connie Arias, Makaila Chames, Margi Rudy, Lynda Buchanan, and I) has been working on the 2021 CNA with a target completion date of September 30. The team began by creating a timeline (click here for the full graphic) and goals, with the intention of making this a more comprehensive assessment than the one done in 2018.

The team decided to survey county residents and social service providers to get a complete picture of needs and gaps within our systems. The provider survey was sent out to 173 providers and 78 were completed. The information gathered has been used to create a resource guide that individuals completing the community survey can request. The community survey went live on 6/15/21 and as of 7/19/21 we had 475 completed surveys —  200 more than we received in 2018. The survey is available online or on paper in multiple languages. Participants have until the end of this month to complete the survey.

Click here to view the entire timeline graphic: 

In a quick review of responses to a few of the open-ended questions on the survey, we found a wide variety of responses, which is expected after such a difficult year and a half, when so many of our residents struggled during the pandemic. We heard heartbreaking stories about the impact of the pandemic and lack of access to resources, encouraging stories about how services provided restored hope and even a few interesting requests related to employees and elected officials. Although we are still receiving responses, we are excited about what we will learn from this process and how it will inform our programs and services over the next three years. The survey is open until July 31, so please complete the survey if you haven’t already and share the link within your networks. We look forward to sharing the full report with you in the coming months.

Thanks to Heather for giving me the opportunity to engage readers on the latest news from Community Action Programs. We wish you all a summer filled with memory-creating moments.

– Nelly Mbajah, CAP Division Manager


Happy Pride Month!

I love seeing all of the celebratory social media posts recognizing June as Pride Month.  I live just around the corner from The Mix, one of Tacoma’s busiest gay bars, and I look forward to the annual Pride festival they host.  Like everything else, I’m sure it will be different this year, but hopefully it will still accomplish what I see as it’s main purpose: a celebration of Love.

I am a straight woman, married to my best friend, Scott, for almost 30 years now.  Growing up in Billings, Montana, and leading what I’ve come to realize has been a fairly sheltered (narrow?) life, I’ve had few gay friends or family. I would describe myself as open and tolerant of others, but I also am learning that even I have biases that shape who I befriend, how I engage with others, and what I think.  That indicates a lot of work that I have to do as an individual, to be not only aware of my biases, but to go even further to engage with, celebrate, and lift up people who are different from me.  I’m a work in progress.  What I can say with absolute certainty, though, is that no one should be able to tell me who I can love.  Scott’s my person, and has been since we were teenagers in college.  I chose him, he chose me, and no one else did (or should ever) have a say in that.  Pride is about that…celebrating everyone’s right to love whomever they choose.

Pride is also about loving yourself, no matter your gender identity.  We’ve come a long way as a society to celebrate our differences, but there are still biases and harmful behavior we need to mitigate.  Our LGBTQIA+ youth in particular face lots of bias, so I’m happy to share again this valuable list of resources that Kid’s Mental Health of Pierce County has developed for your reference and use.  Please check out and amplify the resources below.

Happy Pride Month, friends!

With Love and Pride,

Rental and Utility Assistance in 2021

Greetings, friends and colleagues!

When a coworker pointed out my last blog post was back in December, I was astonished. Where did the first ten weeks of 2021 go? I don’t know about you, but time feels like it drags by and disappears in an instant…not sure how both can be true, but it does feel like that.

A partial answer to what the last 10 weeks have entailed, however, includes finishing up our CARES-funded programs and accounting, taking a break from the trauma and uncertainty of 2020, and resolving ourselves to the fact that the pandemic did not actually end with the year, as so many of us had hoped. We also spent some time debriefing what we did well in our COVID response efforts last year, lessons learned, and what we can improve on. As it turns out, that reflection came in handy quickly, since we recently received two sizeable federal grants to provide rental assistance.

Pierce County and the City of Tacoma have partnered for a new rental and utility assistance program.

Human Services, in partnership with the City of Tacoma, has worked diligently to align efforts to ensure people already feeling stress from the pandemic can access resources to help stabilize their housing, including utility assistance.  This partnership will strengthen our ability to provide rental assistance to all of our community members who have had impacts during COVID-19

In 2020, it was obvious that funds to help keep people housed would be an early and ongoing need. In fact, the Pierce County Council made an initial appropriation of $250K to stand up our first rental assistance program early on in our pandemic response. As with all things COVID-related, they look so different in hindsight. We thought that $250K would be a great initial investment in helping people pay rent. Now, 12+ months later, we know that the eventual $20M we paid out in rental assistance last year still only scratched the surface. We provided an average of two months of rent to about 7,000 residents in 2020. According to our housing data, demand for help is more like 15,000-20,000 residents, and could be for all the last 12 months (if you do the math, that will cost almost $300 MILLION).

So, it’s a good thing that we have received another $58M to continue providing rental assistance in Pierce County, and we anticipate even more coming as the details are worked out in the newly passed American Rescue Plan Act. As for those reflections about what we did well and how we could improve? Well, we’ve used that information to improve on the following this time around:

  • Create a robust online application to streamline the process for providers, renters, and landlords
  • Allow landlords to pre-register for their renters who are behind in payments
  • Fund up to 12 months of rental arrears
  • Provide rental payments to cover informal leases or sub-leases
  • Connect our payment program with the Superior Court’s Eviction Resolution program to help tenants and landlords who need more than cash support

As many of you know, impacts of this pandemic continue to be widespread and deep, affecting our lowest income residents the hardest. Recovery is on the horizon, but it will be long and challenging for some. I’m grateful we have the relief dollars on the way to help our neighbors pay their rent and stay in their homes.

In future posts, I’ll share more about what else we will be doing to help our most vulnerable populations through these times, but for now, please help us spread the word about this vital program by sharing the flyers linked below.

Rental Assistance Flyers in English, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog and Russian.

In partnership,

Connecting with a Family Caregiver

November was Family Caregiver Month, so before it gets too far in our rear view mirror, I want to share a bit about our Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP), and highlight a very special caregiver here in Pierce County.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to speak to Pat Schlager, one of the hundreds of family caregivers we support across the County. To highlight the important work our family caregivers do each day I’m sharing Pat’s story.

Pat standing outside of her home in central Pierce County.

My first impression of Pat was that she’s a matter of fact, 80-year-old woman who does what needs to be done and doesn’t spend too much time worrying or complaining. Pat’s been the primary caregiver for her husband, Stanley, since his dementia advanced to the point where he could not care for himself. Before that, Pat and Stanley owned and operated an 80-acre ranch in Goldendale, where they raised cattle, horses and chickens. They bought the ranch after Stanley’s long career as an ironworker in Seattle. He was one of those fearless laborers you’d see walking across the narrow beams high over the city. Stanley loved the job, but over time the lifting and positioning of iron beams took a toll on him and he developed severe arthritis.

As Stanley’s dementia worsened, they decided to move to Pierce County in 2015 to be closer to state-of-the-art medical services, their 4 children and 17 grandchildren. Pat found out about the FCSP after calling our Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) looking for support.

The ADRC serves as the front door for local aging and disability services. It is staffed with experts who will assess your needs and work to find you the best services and assistance. Caregivers are offered a menu of services based on their needs, at varying levels of support, and are often introduced to other Human Services programs they may find helpful, like energy assistance.

Respite services are a key component of the program, allowing caregivers to take a break and practice self-care. The services are also based on a sliding scale fee to include caregivers of all income levels. FCSP participants may receive durable medical equipment, like a shower grab bar, to help with balance and mobility. They are also encouraged to attend free training opportunities offered year-round by the ADRC, featuring topics such as dementia, Medicare, Social Security and advance care planning.

One thing Pat wanted to share about her experience as a caregiver is that it is a lot of work – way more than you’d ever imagine! If she isn’t caring for Stanley, you can bet Pat is doing laundry, cooking, cleaning or taking care of the other man in her life, her dachshund.

Aside from household tasks, she helps Stanley with activities of daily living, coordinates his medical care and administers 35 medications regularly, including two insulin shots every day. Juggling caregiving responsibilities such as healthcare visits and social engagement were exhausting even before the COVID crisis and now caregivers face new challenges. Her advice for anyone new to caregiving is to be ready for the unexpected and to have lots of patience.

Although the work of a caregiver is hard and never-ending (you don’t get to “go home,” because you are home), Pat appreciates the respite hours she receives through the FCSP. Twice a week, for a total of six hours, a Home Health Care provider cares for Stanley. Pat uses this time to go grocery shopping, run errands, grab lunch with her daughter, or just take a nap! She shared that there’s little opportunity for relaxation when you are a caregiver, so she takes advantage of the time to herself.

“When you are married, you do what you have to do, sweetie, with a good dose of hope and prayers.” – Pat

If you are concerned about a loved one or their caregiver, our aging experts say the best thing to do is to TALK WITH THEM! Discuss your concerns, acknowledge you want to help and let them know support is out there. Many people who care for loved ones don’t consider themselves caregivers. They often view it as part of their ‘duty’ as the loving wife, husband, son, etc. No one wants to feel like a burden, and it can be difficult to ask for help, but it’s important both the caregiver and care receiver are interested in services. After both parties are on board, speak with your doctor to rule out any medical issues. From there, the next best thing to do is call the ADRC at 253-798-4600.

Thank you, Pat, for sharing your story with me, and thank you to all our family caregivers across Pierce County. The important work you do every day is not recognized often enough. Caregiving is a difficult job and this year has brought the added challenges and stress of caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is more important than ever to know that you are not alone and the FCSP is here to support you. We celebrate you during National Caregiving Month and always.





P.S. If you’re inspired by Pat’s story and want to get involved, consider joining our Aging and Disability Resources Advisory Board. ADR Advisory Board members collaborate with ADR to give input on community needs and priorities to improve services for local seniors, adults with disabilities and family caregivers like Pat.

Hope, healing and connection for women in Pierce County

October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so I want to take a few minutes to introduce you to a special program here in Pierce County, Catherine Place. Catherine Place operates quietly from Tacoma’s Hilltop as an “oasis for women.” It was founded in 2000 by the Tacoma Dominican Community and is now run by Executive Director, Traci Kelly, and five employees, with help from dedicated board and community volunteers.

Catherine Place is located in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

Catherine Place serves all women. Since women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, this means that serving survivors is an important part of Catherine Place’s programming. First, though, a bit about domestic violence in our country and in our community.

For many of us, home is a place of love, warmth and comfort where you have sanctuary and respite. For many others, though, home does not offer that same safety:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year.
  • Every nine seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten or assaulted by a current or ex-significant other.
  • Four out of every five women have been victims of crime.

These statistics are alarming, but it’s comforting to know there are organizations like Catherine Place whose sole mission is to offer hope, healing and connection. Catherine Place is built on the promise of offering a welcoming space and soothing environment. A conversation is the first thing that happens when women arrive – not an intake. Due to the pandemic, staff are unable to serve most clients physically in their building, but they are making it work with video conferencing, online groups and some in-person support, if a safe place is needed to talk.

Prior to the pandemic, women came to Catherine Place in various levels of need – some high, some low. Since COVID, staff report the clients they see on average have higher needs than clients prior to the pandemic; women and their families are more often in crisis. Intimate partner violence is increasing across the country as we deal with unemployment and other economic insecurities. Additional stress is put on families as children engage in remote learning and everyone is generally stuck at home together.

Unfortunately, we see the same thing here at home. Since 2005, the rate of domestic violence offenses reported to the Tacoma Police Department has been an average of 200 percent higher than the average rate for Washington state. Local data shows a 9.5% increase in felony domestic violence referrals for the month of September. During that same time, the average weekly volume to the Domestic Violence Helpline was 200 calls.

Experts estimate that about half of all cases of domestic violence are never reported to anyone. People may feel ashamed or fearful of retaliation. Many times, they simply don’t know where to turn for help. This is where Traci and her staff at Catherine Place come in.

Norma (intern), Mary (staff) and Anne (Board Chair) hand out materials at an outreach event.

Traci came to work in the domestic violence arena like many in social services – via other non-profit work that she initially started to pay for her fine arts passion. From the Museum of Glass, to Safe Streets, and now, Catherine Place, Traci has honed her skills in data management, fundraising and development. As the director, her current focus is on creating a sustainable program and being a strong partner in our community’s domestic violence system.

Here’s a little about what visitors can expect to find at Catherine Place:

  • Open 10:00 a.m. – 5 p.m. (like a day shelter)
  • Holistic model includes care for the mind, body and spirit
  • Bilingual staff serve both Spanish- and English-speaking clients
  • Programs include leadership development, healing and creative arts

You don’t need a problem to come to Catherine Place. Do you want to connect with other women? Need support to move forward in life? That’s what they are there for. Catherine Place can provide individual advocacy and mentoring, or if you are looking for something more creative, engage in their Reiki, aromatherapy or yoga services.

It was great to talk to Traci and learn more about the important work she and her team at Catherine Place do to support women in Pierce County who need a helping hand. Domestic violence and other crimes against women happen too frequently in our community, so it’s reassuring to have an organization like Catherine Place to provide vital and necessary support.

Women interested in visiting Catherine Place should call 253-572-3547. Contact them before visiting since in-person hours are limited during this time.

Friends, family members and co-workers who suspect someone they know is being abused can call the Domestic Violence Helpline at 253-798-4166 or visit the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.

As always, thanks for your partnership.

Guest blog: Caring for our seniors

Hello, from Aging and Disability Resources (ADR). I appreciate Heather giving me this opportunity to highlight the great work our team is doing.

For some background, ADR is designated as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Pierce County. We are responsible for local planning, coordination and administration of federal and state funds for programs and services that address the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. We manage the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), which provides unbiased information, community outreach, education and access to person-centered care planning to meet the individual needs of older adults, persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

Did you know that August 21st was National Senior Citizens Awareness Day? It serves as a day to highlight and recognize the amazing contributions of older adults in our community. If you missed it, that’s okay because every day is a great day to appreciate seniors.

If it seems like there are many seniors in your community or neighborhood – you’re right. You’ve probably heard of the “age wave” or the “silver tsunami,” these are two terms used to describe the massive shift in demographics in our country as baby boomers age. Currently in Pierce County, one in five residents is over the age of 60. By the year 2030, that percentage is expected to increase to one in four.

Seniors are a force to be reckoned with and in ADR we strongly believe in recognizing our aging demographic for the strength that they bring to our communities. Most seniors live full and vibrant lives, but occasionally need assistance to maintain their independence.


You are probably aware that seniors have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, they were identified as a high-risk population and strongly encouraged to stay at home to remain safe from the spread of the virus. However, staying at home for months on end can lead to other issues, like social isolation and shortages of basic necessities. From the onset of the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that senior nutrition was a huge need and an area where ADR and our partners could get involved.

Here are just a few things we are doing to help:

  • Senior meal sites have been forced to change their model because of the pandemic. Many sites quickly adapted to home-delivered or to-go meals and continue to provide seniors with nutritious meals every week.
  • We developed a new partnership with a company called “Mom’s Meals” to bring home-delivered meals to hundreds of Pierce County seniors during this pandemic. Participating seniors across Pierce County are delivered two refrigerated or ready to heat meals per day.
  • Our ADR team is partnering with senior centers to ensure that seniors receive essential groceries. Bags containing critical food staples and household supplies have recently been distributed to seniors in the Summit-Midland area, Eatonville, and Bonney Lake – each time serving more than 50 seniors. In the coming weeks, the team is making plans to distribute groceries to seniors in Orting, Buckley, Tillicum, Graham, Anderson Island, and the Key Peninsula.
  • We are partnering with Pacific Coast Harvest (PCH) to distribute fresh produce from local farms to seniors and adults with disabilities. For the remainder of the year, PCH will distribute 500 fresh produce bags per week at various locations across the county.
  • Finally, we are partnering with the Emergency Food Network (EFN) to provide essential funding to support their efforts in feeding Pierce County seniors. As an umbrella food distribution hub, EFN distributes food to more than 80 food banks, pantries, meal sites and shelters across Pierce County.

These are just a few of the many ways that ADR is supporting seniors and individuals with disabilities during the pandemic, but these efforts have been made possible in large part due to funds from the federal CARES Act.

We so appreciate the efforts of all our staff and our partners and their commitment to serving our community. We couldn’t do our work without them.

Interested in learning more about what ADR does? Check out one of our many outreach events happening over the next few months.

To access programs and services for seniors, caregivers and individuals with disabilities, contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 253-798-4600.

Thanks for reading,

Aaron Van Valkenburg, Division Manager
Pierce County Aging & Disability Resources

Summer Update

Happy Summer, Friends!

I am proud of my twenty-five year career in public service, and if there’s a silver lining to all the uncertainty and fear around COVID, it’s that public servants like me really have an opportunity to step up.

And step up we have.

Not only are your government employees working under strange conditions (at home, behind plastic barriers, over the phone, etc.), but they are also facing the same challenges so many are struggling with such as children at home, poor internet connections and dining room table “desks.”

But you know what? None of those challenges can hold back the public servants who work for the Pierce County Human Services Department. When I reflect on their hard work and dedication, I’m reminded of a quote from American television personality, and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers:

“Real strength has to do with helping others.”

From organizing food drives at senior centers to sending supportive e-cards to colleagues, and lending our office space to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s growing team of contact tracers, this team of compassionate, creative, and adaptive government employees is delivering critical services in this desperate time of need. Read on to catch up on the latest developments in the Human Services COVID response.

  • Providing up to 3 months of rental assistance to income-qualifying households through an online portal and multiple local non-profit organizations.
  • Offering mortgage counseling and financial support to families at risk of losing their homes due to job-loss related foreclosure.
  • Funding our county’s network of more than 80 food banks and pantries.
  • Contracting with over 20 senior centers across the county to help them adapt their spaces and services.
  • Delivering meals and boxes of food to seniors.
  • Supporting our Veteran population with housing costs, gas cards, and grocery vouchers.
  • Supplementing services offered by our domestic violence and behavioral health providers.
  • Expanding supported employment and transportation resources for our neighbors with developmental delays.
  • Expanding shelters and other emergency housing for residents experiencing homelessness.
Volunteers helping give supplies to seniors at the Mid-County Senior Center.
ADR staff and partners prepare bags of essential food and household items to low-income seniors at the Mid-County Senior Center.

For information on each of these programs, check out our COVID-19 help website, or reach out and I’ll share details or refer you on to one of our department’s amazing staff. And, we could really use your help to get the word out about these great services across our county, so if you have networks we should connect with, let me know! We have flyers, graphics and more.

Mr. Rodgers’ mom must have been pretty awesome to raise such a wise and kind man. When he was a child, sad and scared about the world around him, she said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I’m really proud to be leading one of our county’s own department of helpers. Public service at its best.





P.S. To make up for my missing blog posts this summer, stay tuned for a BONUS guest blog later this month. Did you know Senior Citizen’s Day is two weeks from tomorrow on August 21?

Supporting our Communities during COVID-19

Greetings from Human Services!

It’s been a minute (okay, more like 2 months) since my last message out from Pierce County Human Services Department, and how things have changed.  I won’t keep you long, since I know you are all busy and a long weekend is about to begin, but I have just a few updates to share with you.

First, COVID-19.  It’s sickened hundreds in our county, proved fatal to over 70 individuals, and has changed life as we know it for everyone else.  Human Services was one of the first county departments to “go virtual” in mid-March, so all of our staff have been working from home for about 2 months now.  It’s not been easy for many reasons, but I am proud to report that all staff are fully employed from their homes, and we’ve been able to keep almost all of our programs up and running in some modified form.

Senior care is happening via phone and video chat, ECEAP teachers are creating videos for our kids, and we’ve (finally!) moved to signing contracts electronically so we can continue working with our large provider community.  I’m proud of the work the Human Services team has done to adapt to their new environment so they can continue serving our neighbors and those who need us most.

Terrell, a student from one of our ECEAP classes, proudly shows off his artwork from a virtual zoom lesson provided by his teacher.

Beginning in February, Congress began passing several funding packages to address our country’s response to COVID-19.  On March 27, they passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes the Coronavirus Relief Fund.  Jurisdictions with populations over 500K, like Pierce County, received a direct appropriation of relief funds.  Smaller jurisdictions (from Tacoma to Carbonado) are receiving an allocation of relief funds through our state’s Department of Commerce.   For all of these funds, the spending requirements are few, but important: spend before the year ends, don’t supplant other expenditures planned before March 2020, and use the funds to respond to COVID-19.

The County’s share of relief funds is $158M, and you’ll see lots of information on social media and in the news about how we are spending these dollars to help our community respond to and recover from COVID-19.  Here at Human Services, we are focusing on the following areas of need:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Housing Stability and homelessness
    • Shelter expansion
    • Rental assistance
    • Mortgage assistance
    • Affordable housing supports
  • Domestic and family violence prevention and intervention
    • Legal services
    • Shelter and outreach capacity
  • Transportation and other services for disabled and elderly populations
    • Senior center supports
    • Transportation to essential services
    • Supportive employment aid
  • Veterans services
    • Emergency grants for rent, utilities, gas, groceries, and other basic needs
  • Behavioral health services
    • Provider grants to maintain services, facilitate telehealth and physical distancing, and prepare for a surge in service demands
  • Child and family services
    • Support technology needs for our most vulnerable students
    • Help families access and pay for child care as they return to work
    • Support child care providers as they prepare for a new norm in child care

It’s an ambitious task to disperse over $22M to people who need it most over the next 6 months. We will have to be responsive, quick, and flexible. We must be fiscally responsible with our citizens tax dollars and ensure equity and transparency in our funding decisions.  Likewise, our provider community will need to step up and provide even more services in this time of uncertainty.  Finally, the people we serve, and who pay the taxes that eventually fund our work, will need to be patient, but we ask you to share input and hold us accountable.  I’ll do my best to keep you informed of what we are doing, but know you can always go here to check up on our progress.

So, that’s what’s up in my corner of the world.  Life continues to go on…our seniors graduate, babies are born, some families lose loved ones, and we all adapt to a new way of working, socializing, exercising, eating, celebrating, and connecting.  If you are anything like me, you fluctuate between resignation, acceptance, sadness, and frustration many times in a day…it’s a journey for us all.

What I am constantly bolstered by, though, is the amazing displays of innovation and resilience happening all around us.  Look for them, and keep in mind that amidst all of the change and uncertainty, there are incredible opportunities for our community lie ahead.

Enjoy your family this holiday weekend and spend some time remembering our fallen soldiers; may they rest in peace and not be forgotten.

Stay safe and be well, my friends.