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.

Trauma Informed Care Cuts Out-of-School Suspension Rates

“I always hate blaming a school because they can’t help who walks through the door,” Fred Schrumpf, Director of Community Partnerships for Spokane Public Schools, recently told the Spokesman Review in a front page article on new approaches to student discipline. Alarmed by Spokane’s high dropout rate, which floated around 30% five years ago, Schrumpf and others began looking at alternative approaches to student discipline.

Empire Health Foundation partnered with Schrumpf and Rogers High School to educate teachers in trauma-informed curriculum. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as abuse or neglect are the second greatest predictor after special education status of health outcomes, behavior and academic failure. If we fail to equip teachers with the tools and education they need to understand how a student’s trauma is likely the root cause of their emotional and behavioral needs, the toxic stress presents a huge barrier to these young folk’s academic success.

Teachers at "Help for Billy” book study

Teachers at "Help for Billy” book study

Through the partnership, Rogers staff has been exposed to a series of professional development opportunities including training by Sound Discipline, Circle of Security and a 6-week “Help for Billy” book study led by Schrumpf among other interventions. As one teacher said, "I really learned strategies to work with the students in my class and how to help them regulate." In the 2015 – 2016 academic school year, Rogers saw a 42% decrease in out-of-school suspension, and the overall rate of disciplinary incidents dropped by 32%. "This work is very much needed at this time in education,” said another teacher, “I love it. Can we have more of this training?"

Projects like these and others led by Spokane Public Schools helped to nearly halve the dropout rate to 15.5% in 2015, but Spokane’s discipline rate was also the highest in the state that year with near 8% of students suspended or expelled. There is much more work to be done. Transforming our region into the best place for young people to learn starts in nurturing healthy homes as well as schools. Our subsidiaries Rising Strong and FIN are working to reduce ACEs upstream by keeping families united, and Empire Health Foundation remains committed to mitigating the effects of complex trauma in our community. 

Family Impact Network Uniting Families with Uber

In the Spokane region, every year nearly 700 children are removed from their homes and placed in the care of friends, relatives, or the foster care system. The only opportunity these kids have to see their parent(s) is during scheduled visitation times at visitation centers like the Salvation Army Visitation Center in Spokane. Unfortunately, some visitation providers report that 40% of all scheduled visitations are cancelled. The high rate of cancellations and no shows to visitation times is not only fiscally costly, but most significantly they directly affect the parent-child relationship and the rate and timeliness of unification of the family. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the necessity of ensuring that children have frequent visits with parent(s) to prevent stretching and damaging the parent-child relationship that takes place when children are deprived of uninterrupted, day-to-day relationships with their parent(s).

Everyone has been frustrated by the rate of no shows and cancellations. Through our work with the Family Impact Network (FIN) we partnered with the Salvation Army to provide ride services at no cost to parents via Uber. The goal was to collect data that tested our hypothesis that providing individualized transportation to and from scheduled visitations would reduce the rate of no shows and cancellations. What initially was intended to be a three-month trial spanned a six-month period; during this time a total of 427 rides were provided to 25 voluntarily participating parents. At the end of the pilot program data showed that as more parents accepted Uber rides there was a decrease in the percentage of missed or cancelled appointments. Parents within the program cited the rides as a significant help in balancing the coordination of health appointments, meetings for treatment, job interviews, and visitations with their child; during the course of the program one parent interviewed was able to transition to home visits. We can only imagine the heartbreaking choice some of these parents are faced with in choosing between child visitation or a health appointment or job interview. If we were able to re-program dollars that were spent on missed visits to increase transportation options, that would be a win for everyone.

Empire Health Foundation is proud to have subsidize this pilot that is demonstrating an innovative approach to solving a pressing need for our most vulnerable families.

Paper Tigers Screenings in May and June

EHF is delighted to announce more screenings of the documentary Paper Tigers will be held throughout our community in the months of May and June!  The film follows a year in the life of an alternative high school that has radically changed its approach to disciplining its students, becoming a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence and disease that affect families.  If you are curious about the innovative work being done to prevent and mitigate Adverse Childhood Experiences here in Washington State, check out one of the screenings:

Click the button below to download a flyer with the full list of screenings!


For more information, contact Christina Kamkosi at

Paper Tigers Screening at Gonzaga on Sunday, April 17

For those of you looking to learn more about trauma-informed approaches to working with adverse childhood experiences or ACEs, Gonzaga University will be showing a screening of the documentary Paper Tigers on Sunday, April 17.  The incredible work being done at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla was part of EHF's inspiration to explore supporting trauma-training and restorative justice initiatives at Rogers High School here in Spokane, where we collaborated to reduce the out of school suspension rate by 35% in one year.  Come check out the movie to learn more!