Reaching for the Top: How Treehouse is Changing Foster Youth Lives
West Coast recently reached out to one of our storage customers, Treehouse, to learn more about this fantastic organization.
Treehouse works with more than 7,000 youth in foster care throughout the state of Washington to provide programs to help them succeed in school, fulfill key material needs, and provide important childhood experiences every child deserves.
Victoria Kutasz, Treehouse Program Manager – Material Resources, said that foster youth face enormous challenges that other children do not. “The average youth in foster care faces three placement changes. That’s three different homes, three different sets of values, and often times three different schools. And that’s just the average. It’s not all that uncommon to find youth who’ve experienced 20 or more.”
So, in 1988 by a small group of social workers founded Treehouse with the goal of granting small scale scholarships so youth could participate in school and extracurricular activities. They soon expanded by adding tutoring and material supplies like backpacks and school clothes.
In 2010, after learning that the high school graduation rate for foster youth in Seattle and King County was just 36%, Treehouse realized they had to shift their focus. In 2012, they launched an ambitious plan called Graduation Success to lift the graduation rate of foster youth to the same level as non-foster kids.
The Graduation Success program helps youth in foster care engage and invest in their own education and future. It allows students to create their own plan for graduation, and it delivers resources such as tutoring, credit retrieval, and college and career prep. It also creates a support system around them of caregivers, social workers, school teachers, and counselors. The program also aids in resolving education barriers such as school transitions, special education needs, and disciplinary actions.
Treehouse not only achieved their original goal of matching the state’s graduation of 82%, they exceeded it by 7%, meaning that 89% of Graduation Success students graduated by 2017. Now, they’ve set their sights on a loftier goal: doing the same thing across all of Washington State by 2022. To do that, they plan on doubling the number of students they serve to 2000 statewide in 500 schools. To accomplish this, they’re working with school districts to bring Education Specialists into new communities every year.
Kutasz explains that their work doesn’t stop with a student graduating from high school. “Our 2022 goal includes a commitment to stick with youth beyond high school graduation as they work to achieve a relevant credential, living wage job and stable housing. In the past, our commitment followed youth through their first semester of college. We realized that was not enough, and we’re extending our support to a successful launch into adulthood.”
Treehouse has a program that works with alumni of the Graduation Success program by providing ongoing support and resources. The program provides coordinated services to secure housing as well as funding for school or job supplies and additional academic or career needs.
Proof of the success that Treehouse has had can be found in the story of Tash Haynes. Through Treehouse’s Holiday Magic program, Tash asked for and received her first camera. This gift set in motion a career in photography that has taken her all over the planet. Tash along with her husband Ike own their own wedding and portrait photography business named Ike & Tash. Other Treehouse success stories can be found on their blog.
As part of Treehouse’s original mandate, they provided youth with things like clothing, backpacks, and school supplies. Donated items were kept in a small closet and requests for items were filled by volunteers and picked up by social workers to distribute to youth. Feedback from these formative years showed that having a retail model where youth and their caregivers could pick out their own items would go a long way to building their confidence and ensuring every item picked out was the best fit for youth. That’s how The Wearhouse free store was born. The store now serves over 2,000 youth per year. The Wearhouse staffs 4 full-time employees along with 2,000 volunteers every year. Volunteers work weekly or monthly doing customer service, organizing and stocking all their inventory and helping maintain the space. Hundreds more folks come in with their work, school, or community groups to do one-time volunteer shifts helping to sort and process donations.
The Wearhouse receives close to 100,000 donations per year, the majority of which come from individuals cleaning out their closets or who find a great sale and purchase a few extra items while they shop to donate. The store accepts new and gently used clothing, books, toys, and shoes as well as new school supplies, socks, and underwear. The Wearhouse also has hundreds of partners who host donation drives throughout the year, collecting items at in their schools, offices, churches and more. A small portion of the inventory is also donated through partnerships with local retailers who are able to donate sample, returned, and liquidated inventory.
Storage with West Coast Self-Storage
Because Treehouse relies on donated items, they do not always arrive during their appropriate season. Treehouse needed a place to store this out of season and overstock merchandise until the appropriate time. Enter West Coast Self-Storage Columbia City. Right now, for example, Treehouse is storing summer clothing and backpacks for their back-to-school season. They are also storing a portion of a big donation of booster seats, all of which couldn’t be displayed immediately in the store.
Kutasz says they’ve enjoyed working with West Coast. “We have had great experiences with storing our items with West Coast Self Storage. The facilities are impeccably clean and climate controlled, so we don’t have to worry about any of our donations getting damp or musty. The staff have always been incredibly helpful and friendly and have been great to work with as our storage needs have changed over the years. We really appreciate how secure the building is as well, knowing both our staff and our donations will be safe.”
If you or someone you know would like to donate items, volunteer, host a drive, or get involved in other ways with Treehouse, visit treehouseforkids.org/take-action to learn more.
About the Author: Derek Hines
Internet Marketing Specialist
Derek is originally from the great state of Wisconsin (go Badgers), but is slowly becoming a Pacific Northwesterner. As part of the Internet Marketing team, he writes extensively on storage, moving and life for West Coast Self-Storage, based in Everett, Washington.