"My dad was like, ‘what are you doing - you don’t have capacity for this.' ‘You have a child, you have a business, you have a farm
- where are you going to put this in your life?"
One late winter day, we met up with Quinn outside of a coffee shop in her hometown of Sequim, WA. We talked about all the things. Quinn is a 6th generation Clallam County resident, and as her dad so rightly pointed out when she first started volunteering with Olympic Angels 2.5 years ago, she has a very full life.
Quinn is an Endodontist (the person you go see if you need a root canal or other specialized dental consult.) She's also a talker. Quinn has a gift for helping her clients feel at ease by talking while she works. She calls it monologuing - it's hard to talk back when you are in a dental chair.
November 2019 she had a patient in her chair from Port Townsend and began monologuing to this patient about teen homelessness. Her stepdaughter who was at the high school had told her that kids were couch surfing or sleeping in their cars or were otherwise unhoused in Sequim. "I was like 'what?! That's crazy- maybe I should do something. What is happening to the young population is fundamentally changing the way Sequim looks, and I don't like how it looks."
It was a different Sequim that she grew up in and she didn't like where it was headed.
“And you can see that by three real quick generations what can happen…with teen moms, and then their kids become teen moms…it becomes this succession. And that’s a lot of people that fundamentally changes how an area feels.
It’s amazing how much happens that people locally aren’t aware of happening here. Children become adults and it becomes this massive societal issue. It’s already happening - we know the system isn’t going to work to keep that from happening… In the next 15 years when the system doesn’t change, the number of kids in foster care becomes three times what it was originally - what are you going to do with all of those people?"
That was a change that she felt was really perceptible.
“And what do you do? I was thinking I can’t really volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club - I have a job that makes it so I can’t get there before 5 pm."
Meanwhile, the patient can’t respond to any of this and she continued.
“It’s so frustrating not knowing where to go…”
All of this while not having any idea that her patient was deeply involved in launching Olympic Angels. The patient gets tipped up, and says “I have someone you need to meet - I think I have the thing for you.”
Quinn was deeply suspicious, because, as she said, everyone thinks they have a solution for you… but the patient invited her over to her house to meet Olympic Angels founder, Morgan Hanna, and learn more.
What Quinn was sensing about her town, was in fact a very real and documented thing.
Clallam County has a much higher rate of calls to Child Protective Services (CPS) that are screened in when compared with other counties in the state.
For the data nerds among you, the filing rates per 1,000 calls to CPS from Clallam County is 7.83% compared to 1.66% of calls in King County (Seattle). Said simply, this means that, even when accounting for other factors, when calls are made to CPS about suspected abuse and neglect, the State decides to put a child in foster care at almost 5 times the rate in Clallam County vs Seattle.
Here is the message Quinn heard that day:
If you troubled by the homeless encampments, go upstream. Start with foster care.
If you are fretting about the number of kids dropping out of high school, go upstream. Start with foster care.
If you want to influence teen pregnancy rates. Let's start with the kids in foster care.
The data is in and it is clear.
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in."
- Desmond Tutu
Since that day in her patient's kitchen, Quinn has been instrumental in bringing Olympic Angels to Clallam County. She has given her influence, her TIME, her treasure, and her talents to make this real for her town. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk.
For two years now, she has been in a dedicated Love Box group, supporting siblings as they journey through care. They give them what all children need to thrive, healthy adults who love to spend time with them, ask them about their schoolwork, and remind them that foster care does not define them.
But Quinn and her Love Box cannot do it alone. They need YOU.
CALLING ALL CLALLAM FOLKS - here are ways you can help:
We are calling the people for who this matters the most in Clallam. We need you to rise. We want you to make the connections and you to drive the process so that this authentic and useful for communities in Clallam County.
Just when we think Olympic Angels volunteers couldn't impress us more, we sit down and talk to someone like Al Bergstein. With a heart for mentorship, Al reached out to us about a year ago to see how he could help. At that time, there was a teen that was being moved out of the area due to lack of beds available in Jefferson County. We were worried that would be too much to ask of a volunteer - regular trips an hour away. It didn't phase Al though - he's made the trip at least twice monthly.
Building trust and being a consistent adult for youth, when advice and support are needed, is very serious to him.
All of our Dare to Dream mentorships are unique - some involve tutors, hiking, applying for a job...but for Al, building trust and showing up consistently have been especially important.
"So many of us - we may not have all the toolsets for the particular skill we need - and life can be pretty freaking hard that these kids come out of, and I wonder how many of us really comprehend how hard it is for them. They lose their families and that could mean that in addition to their parent, they’re being separated from their siblings. They could be struggling with mental illness - people in this situation do go through some pretty hard mental times. I think that it’s important to remember that little things can mean a huge amount to kids and that as adults who have been through a lot and seen a lot and understand a lot, we can offer some type of balance to their life."
"My feeling is that we all have to eventually make some peace one way or another about where we came from. Not all parents have the toolsets to be successful, and I'm trying to remind him of that. So whatever his feelings are that they’re balanced to some degree with the fact that “yeah, s#It happens.”
Most of their time so far has been spent talking music, school, games, getting dinner together (teenage boys eat a lot), and checking out area attractions. The mentee tags along when Al has photography projects and sees all kinds of new-to-him places. And Al has visions of taking him up Hurricane Ridge, maybe Mount Rainier, and seeing what's going on at the Elwah Dam.
For the time being though, they're keeping it simple. The youth he is supporting has to go through a major surgery in the coming months, and Al wants to make sure his mentee knows he can count on Al and his foster family to see him through it.
The surgery will put the teen in a wheelchair for several months while he heals. Al and several other volunteers have been helping the foster family finance structural accommodations to their house - a wheelchair accessible downstairs bathroom, bedroom, flooring and doorways. The fostering family hopes to open their doors to other children with wheelchairs in the future.
"Luckily he seems to have a fabulous foster family and that makes a huge difference. They’re really really dedicated to protecting kids this way and from what I can see they’ve done a fabulous job. But it’s been a struggle for them - they’re not super wealthy with unlimited funds to just go do whatever is needed. There’s been efforts to do some fundraising on their behalf. The state is putting in some of the changes that are needed because he’s going to be in a wheelchair for some months. And a number of us (volunteers) have reached out and have been raising funds to make the other changes."
Being a trusted adult is not something lost on Al - building trust and being there when advice is needed is very serious to him.
Whether it’s a conscious or obvious thing, trusted adults like Al are giving youth in foster care a footing. They're giving space for kids who have gone through distrust of the grownups around them, to learn to know how to trust a person in their life - and they can in turn give that some day and receive it from other people.
What our volunteers are doing MATTERS. They are stepping into the gaps of foster care that kids and families experience. They build trust, show up consistently, and give youth in care a sense of belonging and normalcy.