25 families who are members of Rainier View Elementary PTSA received $500 (per family) from RVC Partner Organization AGE UP
No matter the obstacles, what was needed was action. As the president of the two-year-old PTSA at Rainier View Elementary School, Sarena Li said the reasons her initiative aims to support families in need are simple: she lives in the communities she serves, and the families in need of support are her neighbors, fellow parents, and her child’s classmates’ families; “And I have a responsibility to help because I’m in a position to help. It is only by sheer luck and privilege that I’m in a different situation than some,” Sarena said.
Rainier View Elementary school has a diverse student population, mostly from low-income, refugee, and other historically marginalized families in South Seattle. Since its founding, the PTSA has been advocating on behalf of, and alongside, families to be active participants in their children’s education and has provided families support to get access to food through Rainier Valley Food Bank. Then, when COVID-19 drastically changed the day-to-day reality for many families, Sarena knew there was an urgent need to shift all priorities to focus on supporting families’ access to necessities.
Food bags for families
Since last fall, the PTSA leadership worked with a Rainier View Elementary school counselor to provide, in partnership with Rainier Valley Food Bank, food bags for families to take home for the weekends. “We recognized that school is a huge source of food for families and weekends can be a hardship,” Sarena said, adding that they started with twenty-five bags during the school year and when schools closed due to COVID-19, the number of bags for families jumped to eighty.
Sarena shared that despite the rapid increase in COVID-19-related needs in the community, the school counselor played an essential role in ramping up support to families, but inadequate funding for schools and teachers proved a challenge for their collective efforts. “Our counselor, Mr. Gagnon, is a central piece of connecting families in our school. He speaks Spanish, the second largest language at our school, and is also Muslim. That right there personally connected him to so many.” Sarena said. She explained that with the counselor’s cultural and language connections, they were able to successfully collect information about families’ needs in a culturally responsive manner and connect families with the resources they needed. “He [the counselor] is only a 0.5 employee at our school. He has to leave next year because he needs a full-time job,” Sarena said. “The impact of him leaving is immeasurable. The fact that one part-time employee filled so many “holes” is unconscionable and shows how much social support is really needed at each school, especially Title 1 schools.”
Finding resources through RVC: AGE UP connection
“Every so often, we will hit a wall and come to an end with our funding. It is always a discouraging and desperate time as families continue to reach out and request support,” Sarena reflected. She was given RVC Capacity Building Director April Nishimura’s contact.
I reached out to April and told her a little bit about our story and asked for direct help as well as help in making community connections. April responded with the most heartfelt response and was so sympathetic and encouraging. She was the only person I reached out to that responded in that manner. She offered to connect me with a few other organizations and followed up immediately with those connections. She was exactly what we needed at that moment.”Sarena Li
AGE UP grants for families
One of the organizations that April referred Sarena to was our Operations Partner Organization AGE UP, which has been doing exceptional work providing direct financial assistance to young people and their families as well as others from the schools in the greater South Seattle area.
I emailed Hana [from AGE UP], and she replied that day. She said she had one-time gifts of $500 for 25 of our families. We have an equity tool that we use to decide which families to give to in what order. We figured out the families with the most need and gave the names and email addresses to Hana. She sent a very accessible, easy form to the families to fill out online and then will send them checks in the mail. For any families who didn’t have email or needed cash, Hana was very willing to work out other arrangements for them. Overall, it was a very accessible process, and Hana was so positive, flexible, and responsive. Really an amazing overall experience.”Sarena Li
Strengthening advocacy & growing representative board
We want our PTSA board to represent our student and family population. Our school is only 4% white. We know that there are many barriers for BIPOC parents to be able to volunteer time outside of home and work. We want to raise money to pay our board members a stipend to compensate them for their time. We have seven board members, and only 2 of them are white. One of them speaks only Spanish, so we have an interpreter at every meeting. We are making progress! At this moment we do not have money to pay them. Until the state and school district fully fund the staffing needs at all schools, we also need to be able to fund a full-time counselor.”Sarena Li
Fundraising and how to support this PTSA
The Rainier View PTSA is raising funds to continue connecting families in need of food and other necessities, such as computers and internet access for students who don’t have access, so they don’t fall behind in school during the COVID-19 remote learning period.
“We have a GoFundMe, and so far, we have raised $50,000 through friends, family, and other PTA’s,” Sarena said. “We are so thankful, but we need to think bigger and more long term. We would like to have enough to continue to support our families in a truly helpful way.”
To support families in need, donate to Rainier View Elementary COVID-19 Relief Fund at the link below: https://bit.ly/34lz6f1