This summer, Greentrike, in partnership with the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) and Seeds of Peace, will facilitate expanded learning opportunities (ELO) programming centered around social and emotional learning (SEL). Seeds of Peace holds spaces for youth to speak on relevant issues and supports, and connects young people across Tacoma.

As Tina Tran, Outreach Coordinator of Seeds of Peace, recalls, the program began to take root when Seeds of Peace founder Fahren Johnson sat down for a conversation with Byron Williams of the Tacoma Housing Authority, during which they asked the question, “instead of communities going to a program over the summer, why not just bring the program directly to the sites?”

The summer ELO program was born out of the Tacoma Housing Authority’s (THA) 2Gen Family Engagement Program, a program that creates opportunities for families of elementary, middle, and high school students to learn about social emotional learning together. As a result, THA engaged Greentrike to create an engaging summer ELO program for THA youth with community providers offering creative arts, STEAM, and sports experiences in addition to Seeds of Peace supporting daily operations.

These pop-up registration events take place at THA sites where programming will take place, such as Bay Terrace, Salishan, and Dixon Village. This is especially helpful because, as Gary McCurty of the Tacoma Housing Authority points out, for many youth and their families, transportation can be a barrier preventing them from attending youth programming around the city or accessing resources.

This summer, the providers that will be appearing in ELO programs at THA locations are: Black Muse, Bricks 4 Kidz, Club Z! Tutoring of Tacoma, Game Time, Hearts for Kids, Metro Parks Tacoma, and Swan Creek Art Academy.

Gary McCurty, of the Tacoma Housing Authority

Gary McCurty is the Community Builder at the Tacoma Housing Authority, responsible for bringing different types of activities, events, and programs to five family properties in Tacoma, and plays a supportive role to the community partners in the program. Gary worked at the YMCA for eight years before transitioning to the Tacoma Housing Authority, participating in programming for families in the community and noticing the impact of program instructors on the children and communities that they served.

When asked about what inspires him to work with youth in this capacity, Gary wasted no time in answering, “I always believed that we all were put here for a reason. And some of us discover that right away. Some of us discover it later on in life. Unfortunately, some people don’t discover them. I would do this for free, so I just, I believe it’s something that I was put here to do. And what’s cool about that is knowing that and then working with youth, helping them discover what their gifts are.”

Sydney Hardy, of Greentrike

Sydney Hardy is the ELO, or Expanded Learning Opportunities, Operations Manager at Greentrike, responsible for finding program providers to implement accessible programming within the school districts and with partners such as Tacoma Housing Authority. Sydney also serves as a mentor and guide to Tina and Seeds of Peace, in part by helping to lay the foundation for the program’s success.

Sydney says that she has known that she wanted to work in a field where she could help people since high school. Since then, she has worked in early learning, with high school students in Americorps, always drawn to youth development, and eventually received her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership. “I feel satisfied and happy when I go home knowing that the community is a little bit better with our partnerships,” she says.

Tina Tran, of Seeds of Peace Projects

Tina Tran is the Outreach Coordinator of Seeds of Peace Projects, becoming involved with Seeds of Peace when it was introduced during workshops at her middle school by Fahren Johnson, current Sr. Director of Strategy & Partnerships for SOWA. As the organization led more workshops and Youth Summits, they began to become more youth-led, prompting the pilot of what would eventually become the summer programming that we see today.

Learn more about past Youth Summits by reading Greentrike’s blog post about the 2022 meeting here.

Jake Keister, of Seeds of Peace Projects

Jake Keister is a Site Lead with Seeds of Peace Projects, having started as a provider who played Ultimate Frisbee with the children and youth on sites. Once he connected with Tina, he became a core member of Seeds of Peace Projects and ultimately a Site Lead, using his experience to ensure that activities flow smoothly with current providers in the program.

What are ways that you’ve seen this program affect young people and communities?

Gary, eager to share how he has seen the program affect the youth and communities around him, describes what he sees when he checks in on programming at each site: “kids are engaged, kids want to come back to programming. And not only that, but the relationships, right? You want kids to be able to build relationships with positive role models.”

“I grew up with the programming too,” Tina points out. “My life was affected, and I think the special thing about having youth leads is that we connected with the youth in a different way.” She goes on to reminisce about how even a year after programming, the children and youth still knew the names of site leads, asked about their lives, and vice versa.

“That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Tina asks. “When we talk about building support and all that – it’s those connections….it happens authentically.”

Tina also adds that something that they learned over time was that site leads needed to be equipped with the tools to support the mental health of the youth that they serve. She recalls trying to bring a youth mental health specialist into spaces in order to address important problems. “When you think about mental health, you think, ‘we’ve got to bring in experts.’ But the thing is, the kids don’t have relationships with them, so they’re not going to talk to them.” She says that the most immediate people that they’re connected to, including site leads, would need to be equipped to support their needs.

Sydney expands, explaining that they partnered to get all of their site leads and providers trained in Teen Mental Health First Aid, and acknowledging that having a caseworker onsite would not have been the best course of action in these spaces. In other words, they found that building these relationships with youth made site leads and providers critical in identifying and addressing their needs, as well as providing and helping them find support.Sydney adds that many of the providers involved in the program are also involved in Beyond the Bell, an afterschool program at Tacoma schools, so it’s a great way for them to build relationships with students early on and recognizing the needs of the community in order to provide enriching activities year-round, rather than only during the summer.

What qualities do you look for and find in a great partner or provider?

Sydney reflects that the best partnerships have had elements of authenticity and fun. It’s a collaborative effort, band that community members work best when working together with the same end goals and not in silos. Oftentimes, folks in the community may have the same end goals but aren’t communicating.

She says that when looking for providers, she wants them to be aware of how to implement social and emotional learning practices into their curriculum, be able to learn how to be culturally responsive and have fun and be playful.

Gary agrees, pointing out that the current programming feels fairly effortless. “Like the pop-up today,” he points out. “I know that as long as — you know, whatever they (Seeds of Peace) need, I make sure they have it — I just step back and let them do their thing!” This gets a chuckle from each partner seated, and Gary points out that each step, including registration for the program, builds relationships.

Tina, having started as a Site Lead in college, looks at partnerships in the program in terms of youth-adult partnerships. “Sometimes, when we think of collaboration, it’s just in adult spaces. When it comes to relationships, are they willing to trust us, themselves, and their team? If each team can be accountable in their own space, then that trust can be built. Greentrike and THA trusted us youth and gave us the honor to be a part of these planning processes and meetings. I don’t think that comes naturally to organizations in terms of how they partner with youth.”

How has the program changed over the last three years, and what are you most looking forward to?

“I think every single year, we’ve been able to build better and stronger expectations for providers,” Jake says, recalling his early days of being a provider and comparing it to the current state of the program.

Sydney agrees, also pointing out that starting as early as possible was also helpful in keeping programs and providers organized. “Looking ahead, I think the program’s just going to get better and hopefully we can continue to expand to different Tacoma Housing Authority sites, and I think for Greentrike specifically, going to find ways to build this partnership year-round and not just summer.”

Thank You, Gary McCurty!

We’d also like to take some extra time to thank Gary McCurty for his partnership and support over the years! McCurty will soon be transitioning out of his role at Tacoma Housing Authority after years of working with children, youth, and families. His work has impacted the lives of countless youth across Pierce County.