WALLA WALLA — Children’s Home Society offers help for families in crisis. It’s a statewide agency, begun in 1896 by a couple who wanted to find permanent homes for orphaned children. Since then, it has expanded and changed with the needs of the families and children it serves. Now CHS has five offices across the state, in Walla Walla, Vancouver, Spokane, Wenatchee, Seattle and King County.
Meagan Anderson-Pira, community director at Children’s Home Society of Walla Walla, said in its early stages the organization was a kind of adoption agency. It was originally called Washington’s Children’s Home Society. The agency’s name was changed to Children’s Home Society of Washington in 1959.
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Call Children's Home Society at 509-529-2130 or visit their Facebook page.
“We opened the branch office and home for boys on the Stubblefield Estate in Walla Walla in 1947,” she said.
By the 1990s the organization had relocated to the Denny Building. In 1999 they opened a new facility at 1612 Penny Lane. With assistance from the Sherwood Foundation they now own their building, she said. It’s a large, two-story, modern facility with ample parking and interior space for meeting rooms, conferences and individual counseling sessions.
In broad terms, the organization helps area children and families. More specifically, the services provided include family support, parent education, counseling, mentoring and early learning, as well as summer and after-school programs at the Farm Labor Homes.
“We usually work with whole families,” she said.
Some services are offered at no cost because of grants and private funding, and some can be billed to a client’s insurance.
CHSW’s Early Head Start program is its only program specifically for those with low incomes.
“We want to help families be as healthy as they can be and help them meet their potential,” said Anderson-Pira. “We are known for working with low income and families in crisis.”
In addition to counseling and early-childhood education, CHSW offers Home Team Parent Aid, a parent mentoring program, where volunteers in the community are paired with a parent. They also host the Triple Point support group for gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning teens.
CHS’ 33 staff members and four interns network with schools and do outcalls to homes and other locations.
“We provide services here and mental health services at the Juvenile Justice Center,” she said. “We serve kids at the Farm Labor Homes and the kiddoes that need center-based care. Their families are working and going to school.”
CHSW has good working relationships with other local agencies. They take care of clients’ emotional well-being and refer people to the other agencies for other types of concerns, such as emergencies, housing, food and other issues.
“Not only are we good friends with one another, we are so blessed to have the organizations we have,” she said. “Helping kids and families is not really that complicated. They need someone to listen. They need adults who care.”
The economic downturn has affected clients and aid organizations alike, she said.
“We are very fortunate to still be around. Many of our partners in King County didn’t make it. We are very dependent on local donors and we have a very generous community,” she said, adding that CHSW personnel are very appreciative of the assistance.
The last few years the need has increased, and at times the donations have been down.
“The foundations give out money from the interest on their investments and that is a lot less. We always need donations and volunteers,” said Anderson-Pira. Last year they had help from 165 volunteers, with 20-30 of them volunteering regularly, she said.
“For the children in the community, I think it’s been a hard experience these last few years. When parents are strained financially, it can really permeate the whole family. I believe all parents want to be good parents, even if they don’t know how or don’t have the tools,” she said. “When families are stressed we see abuse go up. It’s distressing. Kids and families are in more dire situations than we’ve seen before.”
“That said, kids are really resilient,” she said. “They are bright and hopeful. They need adults that care about them.”
Anderson-Pira loves the work and positive results. “We are able to work with families that are really struggling, hopefully intervene in time to get them to a healing place so they can be together,” she said.
“I’m optimistic. I couldn’t be in this business without being able to see things getting better,” Anderson-Pira said. “For families, it can change generations, families are so smart and so good. At the same time, I don’t see the need for our services diminishing. We will grow and change to meet the needs in the community as it changes.”
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.