Watersheds Alliance bears new name and focus on urban landscapes
The Vancouver Watersheds Alliance, always a repository of Clark County’s most passionate and educated environmentalists, has gained even more visibility in the past years with a series of documentary screenings on green and urban issues. Monthly movies such as “Dirt!” “Dive!” and “Queen of the Sun,” which played at the Vancouver Community Library, take an in-depth look at humans’ impact on the environment, both urban and rural. The film series runs through June 26, and will end on that date with “Good Food.”
A free film and dinner series may seem like a strange fit for a Watersheds Alliance (formerly Vancouver Watersheds Council), but it’s in keeping with the VWA’s evolving mission – to educate and mobilize Vancouver residents around sustainability.
Bob Adams says the organization is setting its sights on the urban landscape and the impacts it has on watersheds.
“We want to educate people on what they do and how it impacts water,” said the new board chair, who is a contractor and landscape designer. Targeting issues like leaky cars and dog waste makes a large impact on the water that we all drink and use, he said. Even beautifying an “asphalt jungle” like Highway 99 in Hazel Dell can have an impact on the way people think about their surroundings and what goes into the water, said Adams. He said in new suburban developments, stormwater drainage infrastructure keeps rivers and creeks cleaner, but in older areas of the city, keeping waste out of water is much trickier.
Adams, who has worked on more than 25,000 square feet of green roof projects in the region, would like to help businesses step up to more innovative projects, such as using plants to cool buildings and keep excess water out of the storm drains.
Adams said the organization, whose strong focus is on community partnerships, is making an effort to expand its grant program to more neighborhoods this year. The Alliance makes small grants to neighborhood organizations for projects such as the recent rubberized sidewalk over tree roots in the Hough Neighborhood, and the new community bulletin board project in the Lincoln Neighborhood, as well as subsidizing street tree plantings and much more. Adams said they would like to reach some neighborhoods they have not previously made grants to, and help neighborhoods without strong organization coalesce over a funded sustainability project.
Vancouver Watersheds Alliance
“You always checked to see if my bathwater was too hot or too cold.”
To one little girl in foster care in Vancouver, this simple act of kindness by her foster mother, Kimarie Glover, meant a lot.
“It was something automatic for me,” said Glover, who is also a liaison for Families for Kids (FFK), a nonprofit organization that contracts with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to find and retain foster parents. “But to her it was a big thing – it meant I cared about her.”
According to data from the “Timeliness of Dependency Case Processing in Washington State – 2011 Annual Report,” the number of dependency cases (children legally removed from their birth home) in Clark County rose from 212 in 2008 to 360 in 2011. Statewide, dependency filings increased 33 percent from 2009 to 2010, setting an all-time high, but decreased 8 percent in 2011.
One BIG happy family: Kim Lawrence, middle with red cardigan, and Kim Glover, far right, have created a family for a mix of foster siblings and their own kids. Photo: Anne Becker
In Clark County, more than 630 children are in foster care, said Cindy Hardcastle, area administrator for the Children and Family Services arm of DSHS. But there are only about 430 active foster homes in the county. Tina Day, supervisor for the Cowlitz Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, said there are about 200 children in the program, but according to Jeanmarie Moore, a recruitment and retention specialist for FFK, there are only about 100 foster homes, down from 150 prior to the recession.
Because of the poor economy, “we’ve lost a lot of good foster homes,” said Moore, herself a foster parent for nine years. “People aren’t sure what they’ll be doing, and it’s gotten much harder to recruit foster parents.” Skamania County also has a poor ratio of foster homes to needy children, said Hardcastle – about 20 children and only 12 foster homes.
“Our number-one challenge,” said Rachael Curtin, foster care placement coordinator for Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, “is lack of licensed foster parents – it’s hard to keep sibling groups together.”
Budget cuts to Washington’s child welfare system aren’t helping matters. Day estimates that DSHS has seen about a 30 percent reduction in staff and finances.
“The foster care system is underfunded,” said Laura Osburn, executive director of Family Solutions in Vancouver, a nonprofit mental health organization that treats many children in foster care. “People’s caseloads are enormous.”
Kim Lawrence, another Clark County FFK liaison as well as foster parent for 11 years, said that because social workers’ caseloads have increased, foster parents must “advocate for themselves without a lot of communication. We need families that understand kids’ needs independent of the social workers.”
Unfortunately, said Lawrence, these needs, such as counseling and medical care, are increasing. She said that in years past, neglect was more a problem than actual abuse, but these days “we are seeing severe abuse issues, a lot of which are caused by drugs.”
Osburn has seen the same trend, stating that “kids come in in much worse shape [now] because there is such an epidemic of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs.”
The poor economy also is contributing to a worsening of the situation, said Osburn. For example, there are many eligible families who could benefit from Family Solutions’ services, but who cannot afford the gas money to come to the clinic.
The foster care system is also receiving more older children than previously, when newborns were prevalent.
“We’re in desperate need of foster parents for teenagers,” said Hardcastle.
Lawrence said that many foster parents were “afraid to take teens,” but that in her experience, she has had more trouble with her own teenage children than with fostered teens.
But whatever age, what foster kids need most, said Glover, is commitment. “There are kids out there who have been let down time and time again. We need committed families,” she stressed. For example, Glover once fostered a 4-year-old girl who had already been in 11 different homes.
Unfortunately, 19.7 percent of Clark County dependency cases that are successfully reunited with their birth home re-enter foster care within 12 months, compared to a national median rate of 15 percent and a state average rate of 13.8 percent. Cowlitz County’s re-entry rate is 35.8 percent.
Moore said that on average, a Southwest Washington foster child moves three times, and added that studies have shown that each time a child changes schools, the child experiences three to six months of academic decline.
“Knowing exactly why the re-entry rate for Cowlitz County is so high is a tough question – there are a lot of factors that play into it.”
One major contributing factor, she said, was that maintaining long-term sobriety was a challenge.
“When we saw the numbers,” said Tina Day, “we asked ourselves, ‘What are we not doing that we should be? How can we get a better handle on this?’”
Curtin encouraged people to consider becoming foster parents, and clarified that parents can choose which kids to foster based on age, gender, and behavioral issues that fit best in their home. The most important thing, she said, was to be “willing to pick up the pieces for a little person in trauma.”
How to get involved
Department of Social and Health Services. General questions about foster care for Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, and Wahkiakum Counties: Giselle Reyes 360-993-7947. For all other Region 6 counties: Wendi Pumphrey-Rios 360-725-6701
Court-Appointed Special Advocate program. Nonprofit organization needs volunteers to help make recommendations for what is in the child’s best interest, for children legally removed from their birth home. ywcaclarkcounty.com/volunteer/casa
Families for Kids. Foster care, respite care, babysitting, and transportation – provide an hour or a weekend of foster care, or a ride to a doctor’s appointment, to give foster parents a break.
Clark & Skamania: Kim Lawrence at 360-448-0861 or Kim Glover at 360-326-3864; Regional: 360-430-1510
Foster Grandparenting. In this federal program in its 47th year, seniors provide one-on-one emotional support, mentoring, and tutoring for children from preschool age to 18 years at schools and other sites in Clark and Pacific counties. Must be 55+, meet certain income level standards, and be willing to volunteer about 20 hours per week. Marianne Falbee at 360-448-9653
Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest. Mentoring Youth in Foster Care program provides children in foster placement with a caring, consistent big brother or big sister that can enrich their lives culturally, socially and academically. www.bbbsnorthwest.org. Cowlitz: 360-636-2765; Clark: 360-891-8382; Skamania: 509-427-8904
Donations may also be made to many of these organizations.
A Vancouver family with young children works together to grow a plentiful organic garden
Claire and Drew Beagle have a yard many city dwellers dream about – huge. A 10,000-square-foot lot, they have sectioned it off to represent the various segments of their contemporary lifestyle. There is a play yard for the kids, Henry, two-and-a-half-years old, and Elliot, 10 months, a garden space for Claire and a back patio and play area for adults, complete with a hand-me-down half-pipe skate ramp.
submitted by Claire and Drew Beagle
Drew, a Washington State Department of Transportation civil engineer, and Claire, a graphic designer and stay-at-home-mom, have put their talents and interests together to begin a garden that today encompasses 750 to 800 square feet in nine raised beds. Drew designed the beds with Claire’s help and Claire chooses the crops and – the best part – does the cooking.
Claire’s parents grew up farming literally down the road from each other in the Philippines before moving to California when her father joined the Navy more than 40 years ago. They grew vegetables, rice, bananas, kept animals and made wine. Her father’s farm is still in the family. Even on their small city lot in Sacramento, they have a large year-round garden, and send Claire the seeds of plants from their home like long beans, a special purple onion and gourds that literally grow six feet high.
“Their garden is huge. They eat three-quarters of their meals out of the backyard,” she said.
Though Drew’s father ran a nursery for the state of Utah, he did not grow up gardening, but he is happy to reap the benefits of handmade and garden grown pizza all year round.
“My parents taught me how to flash freeze,” said Claire. “They are about living off the land and using every little bit of everything they can.”
She taught herself how to waterbath can, and they have two chest freezers in the basement. Claire laughs while she shows me pictures of their impressive harvests from a previous season. Because of a method for growing tomatoes which involves a plastic bag called a watertower that is wrapped around the base of the tomato plants, they have had tomatoes towering over their bird netting when the rest of Clark County was complaining about terrible tomato seasons. They also grow the “three sisters,” which is a planting method of co-locating corn, beans and gourds or squash for optimal harvest and space saving.
Drew and Claire do not use any herbicides or pesticides, rather encouraging the spider population and purchasing ladybugs to help with aphids. Companion planting is another method of keeping vegetables healthy. When the dandelions start to get too prolific, they have little Henry head out to “pick Mommy some flowers.”
Is isn’t easy with two small children to keep up a large garden. Claire has set her limits – she grows from starts or seeds that can be sown directly into the ground. She does not do any seed starting and transplanting. She checks out Millenium Farms’ stash of plants weekends at the Vancouver Farmers Market, and then makes trips to the Ridgefield organic farm itself to get the good stuff – the interesting varieties of tomatoes that aren’t on sale at the market. She also shops at Portland Nursery and Shorty’s Garden and Home. Seeds come from Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit heirloom seed company.
They started in 2009 with three raised beds in the backyard (pictured at right), and learned from their mistakes as they went along. In 2010, Drew built a sweet set of six more raised beds with a bench in the middle. The beds have mini-benches for Claire’s ease and are raised off the ground by inexpensive pavers to keep the untreated 2x12s from rotting.
The new bed location is very lovely and is in close proximity to the kids’ play area, but it has one drawback – a black walnut tree. The juglone from the tree’s dripline, secretions from the roots and the walnuts themselves kill or maim most vegetables. They can only plant certain veggies and are opting for flowers in the bed closest to the tree. But they would never cut it down, as it provides great shade for the kids’ play area. Also, Claire is a crew leader for Friends of the Trees as well as a Neighborwoods Steward – her aim is save a tree where possible, not cut one down. So they are working around it, and planting what is possible, such as beans, carrots, corn, melons and squash.
submitted by Claire and Drew Beagle
Raised beds are very popular right now. They can be found in backyards across Southwest Washington, but are also dotting more and more front yards as time goes on. They are easy to work with, help with back-breaking labor, and save time, space and water. But they have to be topped off with many cubic feet of compost and fresh soil every year. To that end, Drew designed and hand-built modular fencing on their property, with wood and wire panels that simply slide up and out. This way, truck loads of compost, dirt and other materials may be brought in with little hassle.
On the day I visited their property, these modern parents were out in their garden with a baby monitor while both kids napped. And Drew, not needed for heavy lifting, had spent the morning with the kids while Claire readied the gardens for the season. Gardening is time-consuming but the Beagles make it a family affair, and it’s well worth it, sharing fresh organic food with their family all year long.
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