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.

Human Services Response to COVID-19

My favorite meme right now says something like this, “What a year this last week has been.”  I bet you all can agree.  From hour to hour, let alone day to day, we don’t know what new challenge or obstacle is going to come our way. But I can tell you that we are leaning in and doing our best.

As I’m sure you are aware, laboratory testing for Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is increasing throughout state which means we can test more people faster. GREAT! It also means we will begin to see more COVID-19 cases throughout Pierce County and the region. This is a scary time, and we are spinning like the rest of you. However, this is a great test for us in responding to change. We must be more adaptable and collaborative than ever before.

The Human Services team has been working diligently to get our staff set up to work from a safe place and practice social distancing. About 85% of our staff are working remotely and are still fully operational. We are still serving clients, but in more creative ways. As an additional precautionary measure, and because we are an agency that serves elderly and immune-compromised communities, we have suspended all walk-in services (everything is over the phone or by appointment). The health and safety of our staff and clients is our top priority, so we are offering alternative service options to help some of the most vulnerable in the community.

Here are some other updates on service expansion in our COVID-19 response efforts:

  • Our Veterans Assistance Program is expanding services to Veterans and their families who have been impacted by COVID-19. We are waiving income requirements and offering support to retain housing, pay for medical services, transportation and more. Veterans who have lost their jobs due to the impact of COVID-19 should come talk to our team, we have solutions and are here to help!

  • Our Aging and Disability Resources team is partnering with AARP to plan a “Tele-Town Hall” geared toward concerns and questions specific to older adults. Staff will be providing viewers with practical, up-to-date information about the pandemic to older adults. The Tele-Town Hall details are still being worked out, but as soon as it’s available you can find it here, along with other videos for older adults, their families and caregivers.
  • The Department of Commerce has approved $1.6M to support homeless shelters and our unhoused neighbors who need support. Human Services, along with the City of Tacoma, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD), and other partners are determining how to use the funds based on the needs of providers across the county. The funds can be used for personal protective equipment, staffing support, hygiene capacity like handwashing stations, staff housing resources, additional space to meet social distancing recommendations, and isolation and quarantine facilities.
  • With schools closing for at least the next 5 weeks, our Early Childhood Education and Assistance Programs (ECEAP) team is getting creative with lessons to support children at home. Teachers are recording virtual lessons that we can send to parents, so children don’t miss out on valuable learning. If you have one of our ECEAP kids at home, be prepared for some fun emails coming your way!
  • Our transportation program, Beyond the Borders, is working on a plan to support our vulnerable seniors with meal and medication deliveries.

I’ll also be joining Executive Dammeier at PCTV Sunday night to participate in a COVID-19 Town Hall. Submit your questions and learn more here.  I’ll share more details then about the response efforts we are part of.

In an effort to always seek the silver lining, I see this pandemic as a great test of how we respond to change – we are focusing on how to be adaptable, how to collaborate even more with our partners, and how to use Microsoft Teams. ?  And, my guess is that we will come out of this with some grand changes in our society…necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.  I can’t wait to see how we evolve for the better.

Finally, a special thank you to our first responders (which also includes our homeless shelter staff!) for their tireless work, and a shout out to the Human Services staff and other social workers whose month of celebration is somewhat overshadowed…we appreciate your role in our community, as well.

Be safe, practice grace, and stay in touch (from a distance).

Building Systems Together

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Partners,

It turns out that the adage is true – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.  I’ve been on the job for just over six months now, and what I’ve been most surprised by is the amount of system-building happening in all corners of our county. The challenges we face, and the opportunities we must take advantage of, need input, resources, and support from many of us in order to make an impact. I’m so glad that I, and others from the Human Services Department, are involved in these efforts, because we all need to work together for sustainable impact.

Here are just a few of the cool system-building efforts going on:

  • MultiCare’s Kids’ Mental Health Pierce County
  • Pierce County’s Birth-25 Advisory Board
  • Tacoma/Lakewood/Pierce County Continuum of Care
  • Pierce County’s Ending Veterans Homelessness Task Force
  • Behavioral Health Integration and Oversight Board
  • Criminal Justice Steering Committee
  • Mayoral Roundtable on Affordable Housing (soon known as the South Sound Housing Affordability Partnership, or SSHAP)

Someone told me recently that one asset that Pierce County Human Services brings to the table is the power of convening. I like the idea that the ability to bring people together – the right people, with  common goals and a common focus – can make all the difference in addressing systemic issues we face in our community.

Pierce County is big enough to have expertise and resources to address (most of) our needs, and small enough to know your colleagues across the table. If you see a gap in system-building on the list above, let me know, and we’ll put that convening power to good use!

All of you are doing important work to end homelessness, improve opportunities for our kids, shelter our veterans, and care for our neighbors with behavioral health issues. Thanks for including Pierce County Human Services and keep up the good work.




P.S. Check out the Human Services 2019 Summary. We are proud to share our accomplishments from last year!

Everyone counts, no matter where they live.

Greetings from the bunker!  I am coming up on my sixth month with the County – what a whirlwind it’s been! While there’s lots going on in every division of Human Services, there’s one event happening later this month that I want to bring your attention to: the Homeless Point-in-Time Count.

The Homeless Point-in-Time Count is an outreach event we do every year in January to learn more about the scope of homelessness in our county. The Count is organized by local governments and non-profits across the country, and federal agencies use information from the effort to create policy and programs, and to distribute funding. Locally, we also use the Homeless Point-in-Time Count to raise awareness about people experiencing homelessness in our community, and to distribute needed supplies. I’m volunteering to be part of an outreach team this year. I hope you consider joining us, as well.

I am not an expert on homelessness, but what I’ve learned in the last 6 months is even our “experts” are challenged with the situation we face here in Pierce County. It’s sad, frustrating, overwhelming, confusing, and, and, and…

That’s what’s great about the Count – for those who are able and want to, you can volunteer or donate supplies for us to distribute. If you wonder, “What can I do?” then here’s an option! And for those of you who wonder more globally about “How did they become homeless? Who are they? What do they need?” we will get answers to some of your questions, as well.

Another thing I’ve learned in this new job, though, is that there are many reasons people experience homelessness: unaffordable rents, historical discrimination, substance abuse, domestic violence, chronic unemployment, mental health disorders, family breakdown, etc. The list of reasons people lose their housing is long. It is a complex problem that requires complex solutions.

The Homeless Point-in-Time Count gives us valuable insight into what we can do better or more of to help slow (and hopefully, someday end) homelessness in Pierce County. Although it will take a few weeks to get our official data finalized, I look forward to sharing with you what we learned and how we plan to use the information to improve services. I’ll share more this spring.

In the meantime, learn more about the Count and sign up as a volunteer or donor.

Find out more about how we are approaching homelessness in Pierce County.

We want to help everyone have a safe, clean place to live. Thanks in advance for helping us figure this out together.

Saying Goodbye to 2019

Greetings from the bunker! As we get ready to put 2019 behind us, here is a quick review of the great work the Human Services Department has accomplished or funded in Pierce County:

  • County staff have answered over 12,000 calls to our Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), most from family caregivers. We have really stepped up our ADRC outreach and marketing this year, and it’s paying off! Have you seen any of it? We have eight digital shorts, a four-episode series on Pierce County Television, 3 commercials, and numerous advertisements through the Grand Cinema Theater and Pierce Transit buses. We have many resources to share with family caregivers, so if you are one or know one, call us at 253-789-4600.
A holiday advertisement for the Family Caregiver Program at the Grand Cinema.
  • Our Community Action Programs have provided over $600,000 in assistance (since October – just two months!) to over 1,400 low-income households who need help paying their energy bills. Without this assistance, their power may be disconnected, which creates dangerous situations for young children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.
  • Our Weatherization team worked with staff and residents at Marymount Manor to improve their heating and air quality by installing new ductless heating pumps and other eco-friendly items. Residents now have working fans, energy efficient heaters and lights that reduce energy usage and costly bills. Not only are residents breathing easier, but they are also enjoying air conditioning for the first time in 30+ years!
One happy customer at Marymount Manor in Parkland.
  • The Anchor Communities Initiative to end youth homelessness has driven us this year to expand street outreach focused on rural areas, people of color, and LGBTQ+ youth. We also have increased case management and access to services at our youth shelters.
  • In the area of Behavioral Health, we’ve funded over 8,000 hours of outreach to our county’s most vulnerable populations from the Mobile Crisis Intervention Response Team (MCIRT). We are looking forward to Comprehensive Life Resources expanding this program even further into Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and the Key Peninsula in 2020.
  • Our Veterans Assistance Programs had 75 new clients register for assistance this year, making a total of 3,050 active client files. The program provided $396,149 in relief to Veterans and their families for assistance with rent, utilities, and more. $31,455 was provided to the Incarcerated Veterans program, which offers the Alternatives to Violence Program inside the jail. This program provided counseling to 84 veterans and helped maintain a low recidivism rate (6.9%) for the year.

I am proud of the work everyone in the department has done this year, both as professionals and as great human beings. Each year staff members choose to host at least two charitable drives that benefit the community. The Peanut Butter Drive this past spring produced enough donations to make 24,576 peanut butter sandwiches and help fill 6,000 bags of food distributed to children in Pierce County. Just a few months ago employees participated in Santa for Seniors through our partners at Lutheran Community Services. Because of the generosity of Human Services staff, an additional 200 older adults living in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities will be receiving gifts this holiday season.

Santa for Seniors volunteers preparing to wrap and deliver gifts and donations.

I am now in my fifth (already?!) month as the Director of Human Services for Pierce County, and I continue to learn more every day. In addition to getting to know many of you at meetings and events across the county, I’ve been spending time “in the field” with our amazing staff and contractors providing weatherization support, health homes case management, homeless outreach, encampment cleanup, minor home repair, veteran support, and affordable housing. The needs are vast and varied, but Pierce County is answering the call. This is only scratching the surface, so if you want to learn more about our great work, I encourage you to visit Open Pierce County.

Happy Holidays, and please keep our active duty and veterans, both overseas and in our neighborhoods, in your thoughts and plans for the season.

Thanks for your partnership. Cheers!

Happy Veterans Day

Today I attended a lovely Veterans Day lunch celebration in Gig Harbor at the Point Fosdick Antique Airplane Hangar.  Lt. Wood was the keynote speaker, and he encouraged Veterans to reach out and share their military experiences with young people to build more awareness and create stronger connections.

This week I’ve asked Sean Dennerlein, our Veterans Assistance Programs Supervisor, to take a turn as a guest blogger. In this week’s blog, Sean talks about his experience as a Veteran and what it means to celebrate today.


This week I had the honor of attending 8 (of 14) Veterans ceremonies in and around Pierce County; and I am equally honored that Heather has asked me to write a blog pertaining to Veterans Day.  In searching for words to write, I find myself relating to the sentiments expressed by the mayors of Lakewood and Tacoma.  At each of their respective city events, the mayors were asked to address their time in the military; both expressed discomfort at the thought.  As I consider what is at the root of this uneasiness, I am met with the difficult reality that we belong to a select part of society that suffers from a form of institutional survivor’s guilt.

Lakewood City Hall Veterans Day Event

I don’t mean this as a critique of Veteran culture; but as an explanation of the continued burden these men and women endure on society’s behalf.  Those of us who peacefully completed our military service are regularly reminded of those who never had the chance; and as such, to honor a Veteran’s service is to inevitably invoke memories of those whose service cost more than our own.  This week I saw firsthand how hard our community worked to ensure that these men and women feel valued.

Tacoma War Memorial Park

For this our society has established a unique tradition.  Veterans Day and Memorial Day are two hallowed days set aside to honor those who have risked everything, and those who have given everything.  On this day, Veterans Day, I am exceptionally proud of the citizens of Pierce County, who have so faithfully upheld their duty to honor those who would not seek honor for themselves.

Gig Harbor Veterans Day Celebration

May we learn from this day a lesson for every day: to be proud of the humble, to value our liberty, and to honor those who commit their lives to a cause greater than themselves.


Sincerely Yours,

Sean Dennerlein, Veterans Programs Manager