Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Progress in the Pacific Northwest

January 22, 2013

As director of the foundation’s Pacific Northwest work, I have the honor of spending all day focused on issues that benefit families, children, and communities who live right here in the Pacific Northwest, a place my family and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation calls home.  I get to work with some of the most inspiring partners, grantees, and colleagues I’ve ever encountered.  Any success we help catalyze is only possible because of our partners in this community.

During the last year, Washington State saw some great progress and incredible wins to help children and families thrive—everything from launching a new way to help homeless families, to winning millions of additional federal dollars for Washington students.

The Pacific Northwest foundation team provided nearly $40 million in funding to support programs creating opportunities for all children to thrive in stable families, great schools, and strong communities. I wanted to reflect on the progress we made—together with our partners—last year and share what excites us about 2013. We aren’t slowing down!

Family Stability

Our partners are making great progress in creating smarter, better responses to family homelessness.  In 2012, King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties launched coordinated entry programs, which give families one simple way to access support services. Previously, people like Mindy had to call a list of nearly 25 numbers daily, or sometimes twice a day, to find support.

We continued to learn important lessons about housing stability for survivors of family violence from the groundbreaking “housing first” work of the 13 domestic-violence provider organizations across the state.

In 2013, our partners will explore rapid re-housing, the practice of getting homeless families quickly back into housing, helping them to become self-sufficient more quickly. This innovative new approach challenges some of our core assumptions about responses to families in crisis, and recent research indicates that the vast majority (85 percent or more) of rapidly re-housed families never fall back into homelessness. We like those odds.

Education Pathways

Last year was a year of incredible progress for our education work, which aims to support every child on the path to success, starting at birth and culminating in a college degree or certificate.

At the end of 2011, Washington State won a $60 million federal early learning grant—an incredible way to close out the year. We had more good news in 2012, when the state won a $25 million grant to expand home visiting services for at-risk families. In 2012, partners used this boost in funding to expand programs like Early Achievers and WaKIDS, efforts to improve early-learning environments and the interactions between children and their adult caregivers. We will continue to provide grants to support these early learning programs in 2013, so more students are prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Legislators and voters approved some significant state-level changes this year. Washington now has a new teacher and principal evaluation process, and voters approved the implementation of high-quality charter schools. For 2013, we are working with teachers and partners to understand how the Gates Foundation can best support these new initiatives approved by voters and the legislature.

Speaking of ways to close out the year … this region received some big news in December. The Road Map Consortium in South King County received a $40 million federal grant, which will be used to expand early learning opportunities, enrich science and math learning, and offer support to high schools so more students can take college-prep courses and get college advising.

Strengthening Communities

In 2012, a new foundation program awarded $7.5 million to 16 philanthropic partners in the Pacific Northwest. These partners re-grant our funds to smaller nonprofits, local projects, and community-building initiatives. According to Rose Lincoln Hamilton, our support helped the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation  double the amount of grant dollars it distributed last year.

In total, these local partners reach 90 percent of all individuals in poverty in the state. This year, we will work to continue to expand these strong local partnerships and align efforts to improve the lives of children and families.

We also know the best ideas often come from those working directly with students and families. That is why, in 2013—just as we did in 2012—we are seeking ideas for community-school collaboration that can enhance educational success for low-income students, both during and outside of school hours.  Our next deadline for ideas is May.

I am personally so privileged to work with my team, and our steadfast partners. They make this work so rewarding. I wanted to give Pacific Northwest team members the opportunity to share some of their big moments from 2012 and hopes for 2013. Stay tuned to our blog Impatient Optimists for additional updates from our team, or follow us on Twitter at #GatesVC to join the conversation.

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