From Sisters to Families: Rising Strong at Holy Names

"I see birdies!"

With that, two year old Lilly gave her approval for the future home of the Rising Strong program.

Rising Strong is a collaboration led by Catholic Charities and the Empire Health Foundation for families at risk of separation due to parental substance abuse. Based on proven models in Oregon and California, Rising Strong will provide housing, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, and a range of supportive services for the entire family for 12-18 months. By keeping kids safe and the family together, trauma is reduced for children and parents are much more likely to succeed in treatment. 

We are fortunate to have secured an amazing site to house the program: the convent and grounds which have long served as the home of the Sisters of the Holy Names. The convent is a well maintained 86 unit building with a flexible floor plan and expansive natural surroundings. The location is only three miles from downtown, and near Spokane Falls Community College and other important services. We hope to accept our first set of families in early 2017.

The convent served the needs of the Sisters for the past fifty years, but how will it work for the families who will arrive with a background of struggle and trauma? What kind of renovations will be needed to ensure the space is safe and promotes healthy family functioning?

To try and answer these questions, we invited a group of seven families and five observers to the site for what we called our "parent experience event." We created a daily schedule, assigned rooms, and asked the families to interact with the space as if they were the actual participants in the program.

The overall response from the families was encouraging, with parents sharing comments like:

"This place is an opportunity parents did not previously have."
"Very peaceful."
"This is an amazing space."
"I could see myself wanting to come and sit here every day, just to think and be."

Of course we also identified ways the space could be made safer and more effective for recovery. These included closing gaps in stairwells, making the bathrooms kid friendly, individual family food storage, flexible bed configurations, and brighter paint in the bedrooms. 

Showing the pluck of a future researcher, 9 year old Mercedes grabbed a pad and pencil and proceeded to produce three pages of observations including:

“Babies can choke on bark, put grass down instead.”
“Put fences around the pond, but also grates so you can still put your feet in.”
“Be able to cook for your own family together.”

All the feedback (Including Mercedes') will feed into our renovation plans.

Thank you to the Sisters of the Holy Names for making this dream possible; thank you to Providence Health Care’s Community Benefit program for their generous contribution; and finally thanks to all the families and observers who came out and participated. Your support and encouragement make all the difference.