The holidays are a time to celebrate, an occasion to shower your loved ones with presents. But perhaps the most impactful gift to give this season is to someone less fortunate. Whether it’s donating your time or your money — the smallest contributions can ripple into waves of change. On the following pages, learn about the people and organizations reaching out to those in need on the Eastside and beyond.
A Call for Help
By Lauren Foster
Connie Ellis always gets a little nervous when LifeWire’s phone rings. As a volunteer, she works the Bellevue organization’s helpline for survivors of domestic violence. The calls that come in can range from a woman fleeing an abusive husband and in need of a new place to hide to a mother overwhelmed with shame and looking for someone to talk to. Ellis is that person.
She’s the friendly, empathetic voice on the other end of the line. The stories she hears are not all new to her, either. It was after her friend escaped an abusive relationship that Ellis of Sammamish decided to dedicate a few hours every week to LifeWire.
Now, after hearing from the women (and also some men) who call in — she’s determined to stay on the line for those in need. When there’s a call for help, she answers.
The shame: I had a mom call me last week and say she was a failure because she didn’t leave sooner with her kids. And I try to say, “You’re calling me now.”
Feeling at fault: (People who have been victimized often ask) “How did I let this happen?” And they take a sense of fault. “Once he hit me the first time, I should have left,” but you don’t, and then what do you do? So, that’s what I think is hard. It’s a cycle. It’s just a really vicious cycle.
Emphasis on empathy: There’s still so much shame around (domestic violence). So, many people who haven’t experienced it, or (haven’t) known somebody who’s experienced it, think, “Oh, that will never happen to me.” Or, “I would never put up with that.” Or, “I would never let someone else do that to my sister, or my daughter, or my mother.” But it’s a lot harder.
Under control: If you don’t have any money, or even if you have money, your credit could be ruined. If you have bad credit, you can’t get an apartment, you can’t get a car, a lot of times (callers) may not have work experience because they’ve been forced to stay home. I’ve talked to women who have called from a friend’s phone because they’re not even allowed to have a phone.
Investing in survivors: We get calls from people saying, “My battery on my car just died, and if I can’t get to work, I’m going to lose my job, which means I’m going to lose my house, which means I’m going to lose my kids.” So, sometimes, LifeWire will help pay for a new battery because it’s not so much $100 for a battery, but a $100 investment in keeping her in her house, with her kids in school, in a safe place. For us, $100 (can be a lifeline) for somebody else.
The scariest cases: (I talked to) a woman. Her partner had tried to kill her and her four children. So she was fleeing and was in a hotel, and the police were looking for him. She had a house; the kids were in school but she couldn’t go back home until he was caught. That was a — “OK; they need help right now.” So, we were able to pay for a hotel for three days for them to just stay in hiding until the police could hopefully find him. That was a hard call. She was just going through all of this, so there were a lot of emotions, a lot of crying. In that particular one, I said, “I’m not going anywhere. Take your time. Take a breath. I’m here.” That’s what I want to provide. I don’t do the advocacy stuff as far as the housing. I just want to be the person who can empathize and believe them and see what we can do to help them.
“I just want to be the person who can empathize and believe them and see what we can do to help them.”
Lack of funding: There are a lot of calls for shelters. Last year on the Eastside alone, just within LifeWire, we received 11,000 phone calls for assistance. Out of that, we could only help 4,000. We just don’t have the resources; we don’t have the funding.
Knowledge is key: We do get grants, but I would say about 50 percent of our funding is from private donations, and so that’s really important. But until people really start talking about (domestic violence) and understanding it, a lot of people think, “I don’t want to donate because they put themselves in that situation.” I’ve had these conversations with people, and it drives me crazy.
Broad affect: There’s no stereotypical person. It does affect all social statuses.
The downside: The worst part of my job is when I can’t help somebody, and I have to turn him or her away.
Talking to her kids: I just want them to know these things go on. If it’s not you, it could be a friend, so just keep aware. Keep your eyes open to all of it. What can seem innocent, a “that’s just how he is” kind of thing — sometimes it’s more than that.
Advice for the public: Keep their eyes open to what’s going on around them. We do that for car prowlers, or for our neighbors when they’re away. We look out for people’s things, but I don’t know if we necessarily look out for people.
Giving time: I’m lucky enough that I have the time to be able to volunteer. It’s my job. I know enough now that I feel like I can help the way I really want to help. To quit now would be … it’s just not an option.
The power of volunteering: Each person makes a difference, and if we all just even gave two hours a week to any charity, not necessarily this one, just what a difference I think it would make.
Showing up to help: The hardest part for me is not taking it home. There have been a couple (of calls) that have been particularly bad. I mean, they’re all bad. Nobody calls here because they’re having a great day, generally. There are times I have a good little cry and get it out. I talk to my husband, I talk to my kids, and I talk to my dogs. I try to put myself in my happy place and just think, “It was a really hard day, but at least I was there.”
LifeWire’s 24-hour helpline: 425.746.1940. lifewire.org
Helping Her Hometown
Suzy Burke-Myers, a native Egyptian, invests in women and girls in Zagazig
By Shelby Rowe Moyer
Suzy Burke-Myers of Redmond was 6 years old in 1969 when her family emigrated from Zagazig, Egypt, with minimal resources: $400 in their pockets and the name of a local Catholic priest who helped them settle in Pacific Northwest. Her dad chose Seattle because a family member mentioned it was nice there.
“Anytime you go anywhere, people always want to come to America. They think it’s paved with gold,” she said.
But it was a humble beginning for the Burke-Myers family. Her father, a former teacher, got his first job washing dishes at The Spaghetti Factory. Her mom worked at a factory making parts for Boeing airplanes.
“My dad ended up working at the University of Washington as a librarian for the Middle East section and retired there after 30 years,” she said.
Burke-Myers, a financial advisor with Edward Jones, had never been back to her home country until 2009, about 40 years after her move. Exploring the city of Zagazig, she visited a girls’ orphanage, which sparked a passion for philanthropy.
“When we got there, it didn’t look very safe. There were cracks in the walls and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “We met all the girls, and they were so sweet. They were trying to show us these plastic saucers — you know, when kids are trying to show you their toys, but they didn’t really have much. I looked at my husband, and I just started bawling.”
Burke-Myers started by donating small items to an orphanage for girls. Today, she sets aside 20 percent of her income to help fund a range of projects, such as helping build a community center, fund raising for a cardiac center in Alexandria and creating vocational training centers in Cairo. She wants to help more women living in rural villages learn to read and write — a starting point for a brighter future for families.
“We can build stuff, but you have to train people for jobs, to be able to go out and make a living for themselves,” she said. “Women are the key to change; they have to be involved.”
Hole in One
Scott Oki, an early Microsoft vice president and golf mogul, uses his fortune to help others
By Todd Matthews
When Scott Oki calls to mind the modest means from which he grew up, he does so with a blended sense of wonderment and pride.
Born in Seattle and raised in a tenement apartment building, Oki shared a three-room unit (kitchen, living room, and bedroom) with his parents, brother, sister, and grandmother. Oki’s dad, Bob, worked for the U.S. Postal Service; his mom, Kim, was a secretary at the Federal Housing Administration.
“I didn’t grow up with money,” Oki recently recalled. “We didn’t even have a bathroom to ourselves. It was a shared bathroom, one on each floor of this apartment complex. I still remember just how dirty the bathroom always was. When it came time to do our weekly baths, my mom would bring the Brillo pads and stuff like that to make sure everything was clean.”
Oki had a career full of success. He led Microsoft’s International Division, and eventually was promoted to senior vice president of sales, marketing, and service. The technology empire went public and he started The Oki Foundation, a private charitable organization largely focused on children’s health, welfare, and education. After retiring and developing a portfolio of Puget Sound golf courses, there was even more to give. Forbes once estimated Oki’s wealth at $750 million, a figure Oki has described as inflated.
“My parents had always given back. Not money. But they gave back a bunch of their time because they never had money to give. I felt that I needed to establish a receptacle that, in future years, could help benefit those less fortunate,” he said.
“I felt that I needed to establish a receptacle that, in future years, could help benefit those less fortunate,”
The Oki Foundation has five unpaid employees: Scott; his wife, Laurie; and their three kids. They plan to keep it that way. And while Oki, now 69 years old, jokes about officially retiring (he technically retired from Microsoft at age 43), he plans to always keep philanthropy a part of his life.
“I do have a bucket list of things that I would like to do, personally. I think that doing things to benefit those in need will always be a part of it,” he said.
Eastside Organizations that Give Back
By Zoe Branch and Shelby Rowe Moyer
The center was founded with a vision that all rescued animals would eventually find a loving home, eliminating as far as possible the need for euthanasia. Unique in its ongoing commitment to find homes for every adoptable animal, Homeward Pet has rescued and found families for thousands of cats and dogs in the Puget Sound region.
In 2003, after its move to a new location in Woodinville that included a built-in veterinary clinic, Homeward Pet was able to reach out and accept animals in need from across the country: A small shelter in West Virginia no longer able to support its animals sent 31 dogs from the East Coast to Woodinville, and 35 animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina were sent to Homeward Pet, where they were cared for by foster families and ultimately adopted into new homes.
Homeward Pet’s adoption center also offers community programs that aim to reduce the number of unwanted animals in an effort to end the abandonment and mistreatment of pets. Homeward Pet Low-Cost Spay & Neuter Clinic provides affordable surgeries for low-income families, and the Homeward Pet Food Bank donates pet food and supplies to families who need assistance in caring for their pet.
Dog adoptions include free training sessions, and dogs and cats in need of training and socialization receive daily help sessions while in the adoption center. The staff is supported by nearly 400 volunteers who dedicate time and energy to support the shelter’s mission of providing love and support to every animal that comes through the door.
In 1962, the Kindering Center was founded by five Bellevue mothers of children with disabilities in an effort to support children who are disabled, medically fragile, or at-risk. A nonprofit and early intervention center, Kindering welcomes children of diverse abilities and provides educational and therapeutic practices that allow them to blossom and succeed.
Now the largest early-intervention center in the Northwest, Kindering serves more than 4,000 infants and toddlers each year in a variety of ways. Early-intervention programs like physical therapy, speech-language therapy, and special education are complemented by other programs, like family support for parents and siblings, and outreach and consultation that seek to assist homeless families, foster homes, and more.
It is clear that the work done by Kindering is both powerful and meaningful in the Bellevue community. Of the infants and toddlers who graduate from early-intervention programs, 99 percent make measurable progress in development, and 46 percent do not require special education services after their time at Kindering. On average, early intervention by Kindering saves local schools $11 million each year by reducing the need for special education for Kindering graduates.
Originally launched as a school service project that encouraged students to donate items to children in their community, Kids Without Borders has expanded to support children in more than 30 countries. It has attracted international volunteers, provided opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful service, and influenced countless lives around the world.
The Assistance League is an all-volunteer nonprofit that helps those whose lives have been hindered by hardships or violence. To date, it has served nearly 20,000 assault survivors across the state, and helped some 5,500 people start a new life. It’s also worked to provide school clothes for thousands of students and worked with hundreds of homeless women to help them find their footing.
Homelessness continues to be a mounting problem in the region. Hopelink helps lift homeless and low-income families, children, seniors, and people with disabilities out of poverty by providing skills and resources. Services focus on adult education, emergency financial help, employment help, energy assistance, family development, financial literacy, food assistance, transportation, and housing. Serving people in north and east King County, Hopelink also provides transportation services throughout King and Snohomish counties.
Horseback riding is fun and beneficial. At Little Bit, children and adults with disabilities ride horses to help improve their limitations. The center was founded in 1976 by Margaret Dunlap, who found horseback riding slowed the advance of multiple sclerosis. Today, Little Bit serves 230 riders and patients each week with 22 horses.
The future starts with youth. This national organization operates 12 Bellevue sites, offering a safe and fun learning environment that aims to help kids reach their full potential.
The Pink Daisy Project supports young women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer by providing “care and comfort” to make the process easier to manage.
Eleven local food banks count on Eastside Baby Corner for baby food, formula, diapers, cribs, and car seats. A local pediatric nurse founded the organization in 1990 because she was concerned about the number of babies who didn’t have adequate food, clothing, beds, or safety equipment. In 2016, Eastside Baby Corner reached half a million orders of absolute essentials filled.
Bellevue Lifespring was the Eastside’s first nonprofit. For more than 100 years, the nonprofit has helped feed, clothe, and educate the city’s residents. Some of its programs provide children the opportunity to do back-to-school shopping, and, during the holiday season, Lifespring runs its Adopt-a-Family program.
According to the Hope Heart Institute, 68 percent of adults and 32 percent of children are overweight. The institute has made it a mission to serve the community through cardiovascular research and education. It offers youth and women’s programs, and CPR and AED training.
The nonprofit works to rescue victims of human trafficking and provide aftercare services in partnership with service providers in five countries.