It all started with the clear data supporting the value of out of school time programming and the realization that it was up to us to help our kids succeed.

Washington County Kids decided to do something about the kids and families who were falling through the cracks. “While working with members of the Washington County Commission on Children and Families we recognized the need for out-of-school-time programs,” Katie Riley, WCK President and CEO says. “We work with many partners and support the programs that are doing good; but there’s a lack of awareness and nowhere near enough funding available to serve all the kids and families,” Katie adds. “We realized that the Commission could not provide the level of sustainable funding needed to meet those needs.”

Folks with concerns started meeting back in 2009. Susan Bender Phelps was WCK’s first Chair. It all started with an idea to help the kids.

“When I was a teacher at Hillsboro High, I saw how important it was for kids to get excited about real-world projects that were often not possible to cover during the school day and that is why I got involved in Washington County Kids.  These programs keep kids interested and inspire them to think about careers and their future.” 

–Don Domes, retired Hillsboro teacher

How did it all start?

Washington County Kids (WCK) was formed out of a concern that children and youth in Washington County were not being served. Specifically, we were trying to address the increased need for funding for out of school time (OST) programs. We have a deep commitment to kids; to improving their chances of success by ensuring that when they are out of school they have the opportunity to access programs that keep kids engaged and growing. Programs that engage kids can mean success for thousands of children and teens in our community. Even before funding cuts, programs that served this population met the needs of just a fraction of eligible kids. After a trend of reduction in funding over several years fewer children and teens are now able to be served. We know that the children and teens who do receive these services have significantly better academic and career success. We want to make these results possible for every student who needs them.

In 2002 the Washington County Commission on Children and Families was asked by the State Commission on Children and Families to conduct a comprehensive community plan. The resulting activity involved 200 community members participating in countless hours of review of needs and possible solutions to problems. The group’s final summit identified their highest priority as the implementation of community schools where the neighborhood school becomes the hub of the community, providing services that support academic success.

Two separate surveys of school principals were conducted to determine program needs. As a result, Family Resource Centers were implemented in each school district in the county or, in the case of smaller districts, in partnership with a neighboring district. In addition, Commission staff brokered support among diverse partners to create school based health centers in each of the large school districts. Commission funds were allocated to each school district to fund after school programs and other support services based upon the community area’s greatest needs. The Commission also formed a Community School Task Force that recognized schools with community school programs with a celebratory assembly including the presentation of a banner the schools proudly displayed afterwards. The committee held a community school summit that provided information and technical assistance to schools and community groups who wanted to implement similar programs.

Programs that engage kids can mean success for thousands of children and teens in our community

A new group was formed

In 2009 it had become apparent that the Commission did not have sufficient funds to address the Commission’s OST goals, so members of the task force decided to form a separate group outside the Commission structure. Key members included Katie Riley, Susan Bender Phelps, and Susan Stoltenberg. Susan Bender Phelps agreed to be the convener. The group initially called themselves the “Children’s Opportunity Fund Initiative of Washington County” or COFI and held monthly Steering Committee meetings that were open to the public. COFI researched different options for obtaining sustainable funding including pursuing foundation grants, crowd funding, social impact bonds, and seeking a community property levy. It was clear that the most viable option was pursuing a property tax levy. We researched groups that had already obtained levies for their communities; Seattle, San Francisco, Miami/Dade County in Florida, and Portland. We decided to begin gathering support in the community through endorsements. In addition, we realized we needed to conduct polling to determine if voters would support a levy.

Partnering for nonprofit status

A fiscal agreement was signed with Impact Northwest,* a non-profit with 501c3 status. With Impact NW as our fiscal sponsor, COFI could begin to solicit charitable donations through their accounting and online structures. In 2012 we learned that the Commission system was going to be disbanded within a year and effective December 2013 all funds that had been used to benefit local groups would be redirected to the Early Childhood Council. Later, it was determined that some of the funds would be used for older youth and those funds were redirected to the Youth Development Council. The County Commissioners regretfully stated that the county would not be able to replace any of the funding.

In November 2012, Susan Bender Phelps was elected Chair of the Washington County Democrats and was no longer able to devote as much time to Chair COFI. Katie Riley agreed to chair the group. She embarked on an active campaign in 2013 to expand the endorsement process and collect additional donations. An eNewsletter was started in 2013 and articles were printed to profile partner groups who were administering out of school time (OST) programs. Lisa Allen agreed to serve as newsletter editor. Several articles were reprinted in area newspapers.

In 2013 a grant was obtained from Meyer Memorial Trust to conduct polling to assess the public’s response to a potential levy. Bids were obtained from four polling firms and one was selected to conduct the poll. In January 2014, telephone interviews were conducted and 500 registered voters responded to the polling questions. Approximately 58% of respondents stated that they would vote for a levy that supported OST programs. These results were presented in individual meetings with County Commissioners but they were unwilling to place the initiative on the ballot due to other priorities. In June, 2015 a formal presentation and request was made at the County Commissioners regular meeting to place the initiative on the ballot. Approximately 20 supporters, representing partner organizations, attended in support of the initiative. Unfortunately, the Commissioners were not able to take action at that time.

WCK now has approximately 150 endorsers and almost 700 people on its listserve of supporters

Simply Washington County Kids (WCK)

In 2016, group members decided to change the name from Children’s Opportunity Fund Initiative of Washington County to the Washington County Kids Fund to make it easier to identify the group. Steering Committee members agreed to file and collect signatures for the levy initiative to be placed on the ballot. When the request was filed, Washington County Kids Fund received a letter from the County Counsel that only the County Commissioners could place a tax initiative on the ballot.

It was time for dialogue. In 2016 we held a summit of all organizations serving OST programs in the county. All community partners were invited to attend. Attendees agreed that Washington County Kids Fund should continue to serve as a convening/organizing group for the community and that WCKF should also pursue the goal of providing information on best practices. In 2016 the name Washington County Kids Fund was shortened to simply Washington County Kids (WCK). In fall 2016, WCK partnered with Oregon ASK (After School Kids) to present a workshop on STEM/STEAM, highlighting existing successful programs. Approximately 50 people attended including mayors from three cities. In spring 2017, WCK presented a workshop on Engaging Parents that was attended by approximately 20 staff from various OST programs throughout the county.

During the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions a bill was introduced to allow the formation of Children’s Special Districts by initiative petition. Although it received support and passed the Senate, the bill died in the House Revenue committee.

WCK now has approximately 150 endorsers and almost 700 people on its listserve of supporters.

“As Executive Director and co-founder of a non-profit that delivered mentoring programs for at-risk teens, I was privileged to see hundreds of young people blossom as they transformed their lives. When I saw how many more kids can be served with support from the Portland Children’s Fund, I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Washington County, where I live, have this, too?’ What a difference we could make.”

–Susan Bender Phelps, CEO, Odyssey Mentoring LLC

And, Conversations

In January 2018 WCK received funding from Meyer Memorial Trust to conduct Community Conversations with parents and guardians and other community members who are interested in OST programs. These community conversations focused on talking about the need to support children and youth with OST programs, experiences they have had about trying to obtain access to those programs, current experiences, and desires for the future. A full report, “The Imperative to Act,” and an executive summary were published in March 2019.

A new nonprofit

In  2018 WCK leadership decided it was time to file for 501(c)(3) status. As its own nonprofit the organization now secures grants and tax deductible donations directly to cover annual operating and program expenses. 

WCK currently has approximately 150 endorsers and almost 700 people on its listserve of supporters. 

Current activities

WCK developed a new strategic plan at the beginning of 2020 that outlines priorities and programming goals over the next five years. WCK fills an important need in the county as the only county-wide coordinator serving afterschool and summer OST programs and is also a liaison to the county’s early learning hubs. Throughout the year we facilitate networking and educational opportunities, the sharing of best practices, and foster collaboration among many of our county’s OST providers. 

The organization’s Steering Committee meets on the 4th Monday of each month from 6:30-8 pm  (check the website for locations). All are invited and welcome.