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Tale of two women's long commitment to families of Granger - told again.

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It began with what I refer to as a "Michelangelo moment," that instant of inspiration to make a difference when Bellevue business leader Joan Wallace learned that the children in the mostly Hispanic Yakima Valley town of Granger would be going without food over the Christmas Holiday season.

The "moment" was 15 years ago this Thanksgiving as Wallace listened over dinner while her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, then principal of Granger Middle School, expressed concern that Granger's children. who had little food at home, would be going without their usual two in-school meals over the Christmas holidays because school would be out.

Joan WallaceJoan WallaceThus began an ongoing commitment by two women, one an educator and one a prominent business leader, whose continuing involvement changed the future for the families in the city of 3,500 where the population is 84 percent Latino or Hispanic and 35 percent of the families live below the poverty level.

It was five years ago that I first learned of then decade-old unusual commitment by Wallace to a cause distant from her Bellevue home where she has been involved in community causes too numerous to count.  

Updating the dramatic things that have happened in Granger because of Wallace and Wheaton has been my Thanksgiving offering since then, realizing each year as I write a new version that it deserves far more attention than the Harp.

The first step, when Wallace returned home that 2003 Thanksgiving season, was an email ask to a couple of hundred of her friends and soon was born the little 501c3 that for the holiday seasons since then has been sustained almost entirely by an annual Thanksgiving ask by Wallace to her giving friends.

The organization began as the Children of Granger and has become Friends of Granger, on whose behalf Wallace told me she "will send out emails to about 100 of my closest friends right around Thanksgiving."

Because of the response from Wallace's email request, the tiny charity's annual budget of under $30,000 that the annual email appeal has provided has been able to support some remarkable successes. While there is no staff or overhead, the cooperation of the school district, parents and local merchants, and even city officials have been essential for the successes.

The money raised from each Thanksgiving appeal goes for Christmas gift cards and food baskets purchased locally at the grocery in Granger, and, in the spirit of the season, sent anonymously to Granger's neediest families.  

Wallace, longtime president of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties, says that last year 125 of the families got $50 gift cards to use at Walmart and $75 food baskets purchased to use at the local Hispanic grocery.

Fortunately, acts of kindness and caring are not unique, or even unusual, in our region, as evidenced by the outpouring of support for the victims of the California fires or instances of support for the thousands of homeless and hungry in the Seattle area and those involved with non-profits that seek to provide help.

But in the case of Wallace and Wheaton, the remarkable thing is that the results of the sustained commitment to the families of Granger, a cause that would most likely have been beyond interest or awareness without them, have become measurable.  

"Every year we give each school-kindergarten, special ed, primary, middle school, and high school-a $200 slush fund for things like shoes, coats, etc, and each year we even end up paying for a funeral," Wallace said.

"While doing our best to take care of the immediate needs, we also believe it is equally important to cultivate self-sufficiency and to enable these children to finish school and break the poverty barrier," Wallace added.

Thus they focus on things they can measure, which began when they worked with mothers of pre-schoolers, 70 percent of whom can't speak English, and bought them learning toys and once they proved the value of their "Ready for Kindergarten" program, grants became available.

And the result of their efforts in terms of attitudes of the families has been manifested with the successful campaign of students, parents, and teachers at the middle school five years ago to build a program to improve attendance, using the slogan that became a mantra, "Every Child, Every desk, Every day."

Driven by the attendance-campaign slogan, the school set the mark for best attendance record in the state, with an absentee rate of 4 percent, compared to a statewide average of 16 percent absenteeism.  

The accomplishment promoted the creation of a special award, called Innovations in Education, that was presented at a banquet in Seattle in May of 2016 with support from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle law firm Patterson Buchanan, the Kemper Development Co. and Q-13 Fox.

The Yakima Foundation got involved with a grant for the attendance campaign and has supported the annual effort since.

After the community collected money over the years, "pennies at a time," says Wallace, that eventually became $60,000 for a splash park for the kids, Families of Granger provided the final $30,000 and worked with the city to get their agreement to maintain it. The splash park debuted last summer.

The little non-profit works with the school district to provide four-week summer classes so granger's kids can work on math and reading skills and some science but since the classes are academic only, Friends of Granger pays for a recreational component.

The latest accomplishment was the selection of the middle school as a School of Distinction, which means the school is in the top 5 percent of elementary, middle and high schools whose students have shown outstanding growth in both reading and mathematics during a six-year period.

To be considered for the award from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, a school must meet the current year's state learning targets on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning then be measured for six-year gains. The middle school has thus moved from the bottom 5 percent of the schools in the state to the top 5 percent in improvement.

Wallace and Wheaton shared the comment: "It continues to be a huge blessing to be able to support the children and families of this very special community."

The address to be among Joan Wallace's "friends" is Friends of Granger, P.O Box 4184, Bellevue, WA 98009.

I've used the "Michelangelo Moment" reference before as the story of Granger and the 501c3 that Wallace and Wheaton started, and the support that sprang up both in the Yakima Valley and the Seattle area, brought to mind the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where the outreached finger of the almighty touches mankind.
 
Fortunately, there are "Michelangelo moments" happening daily across this region and each is deserving of being singled out and brought to the attention of a population that needs to be made aware of the good around them.

It began with what I refer to as a "Michelangelo moment," that instant of inspiration to make a difference when Bellevue business leader Joan Wallace learned that the children in the mostly Hispanic Yakima Valley town of Granger would be going without food over the Christmas Holiday season.

The "moment" was 15 years ago this Thanksgiving as Wallace listened over dinner while her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, then principal of Granger Middle School, expressed concern that Granger's children. who had little food at home, would be going without their usual two in-school meals over the Christmas holidays because school would be out.

Joan WallaceJoan WallaceThus began an ongoing commitment by two women, one an educator and one a prominent business leader, whose continuing involvement changed the future for the families in the city of 3,500 where the population is 84 percent Latino or Hispanic and 35 percent of the families live below the poverty level.

It was five years ago that I first learned of then decade-old unusual commitment by Wallace to a cause distant from her Bellevue home where she has been involved in community causes too numerous to count.  

Updating the dramatic things that have happened in Granger because of Wallace and Wheaton has been my Thanksgiving offering since then, realizing each year as I write a new version that it deserves far more attention than the Harp.

The first step, when Wallace returned home that 2003 Thanksgiving season, was an email ask to a couple of hundred of her friends and soon was born the little 501c3 that for the holiday seasons since then has been sustained almost entirely by an annual Thanksgiving ask by Wallace to her giving friends.

The organization began as the Children of Granger and has become Friends of Granger, on whose behalf Wallace told me she "will send out emails to about 100 of my closest friends right around Thanksgiving."

Because of the response from Wallace's email request, the tiny charity's annual budget of under $30,000 that the annual email appeal has provided has been able to support some remarkable successes. While there is no staff or overhead, the cooperation of the school district, parents and local merchants, and even city officials have been essential for the successes.

The money raised from each Thanksgiving appeal goes for Christmas gift cards and food baskets purchased locally at the grocery in Granger, and, in the spirit of the season, sent anonymously to Granger's neediest families.  

Wallace, longtime president of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties, says that last year 125 of the families got $50 gift cards to use at Walmart and $75 food baskets purchased to use at the local Hispanic grocery.

Fortunately, acts of kindness and caring are not unique, or even unusual, in our region, as evidenced by the outpouring of support for the victims of the California fires or instances of support for the thousands of homeless and hungry in the Seattle area and those involved with non-profits that seek to provide help.

But in the case of Wallace and Wheaton, the remarkable thing is that the results of the sustained commitment to the families of Granger, a cause that would most likely have been beyond interest or awareness without them, have become measurable.  

"Every year we give each school-kindergarten, special ed, primary, middle school, and high school-a $200 slush fund for things like shoes, coats, etc, and each year we even end up paying for a funeral," Wallace said.

"While doing our best to take care of the immediate needs, we also believe it is equally important to cultivate self-sufficiency and to enable these children to finish school and break the poverty barrier," Wallace added.

Janet WheatonJanet WheatonThus they focus on things they can measure, which began when they worked with mothers of pre-schoolers, 70 percent of whom can't speak English, and bought them learning toys and once they proved the value of their "Ready for Kindergarten" program, grants became available.

And the result of their efforts in terms of attitudes of the families has been manifested with the successful campaign of students, parents, and teachers at the middle school five years ago to build a program to improve attendance, using the slogan that became a mantra, "Every Child, Every desk, Every day."

Driven by the attendance-campaign slogan, the school set the mark for best attendance record in the state, with an absentee rate of 4 percent, compared to a statewide average of 16 percent absenteeism.  

The accomplishment promoted the creation of a special award, called Innovations in Education, that was presented at a banquet in Seattle in May of 2016 with support from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle law firm Patterson Buchanan, the Kemper Development Co. and Q-13 Fox.

The Yakima Foundation got involved with a grant for the attendance campaign and has supported the annual effort since.

After the community collected money over the years, "pennies at a time," says Wallace, that eventually became $60,000 for a splash park for the kids, Families of Granger provided the final $30,000 and worked with the city to get their agreement to maintain it. The splash park debuted last summer.

The little non-profit works with the school district to provide four-week summer classes so granger's kids can work on math and reading skills and some science but since the classes are academic only, Friends of Granger pays for a recreational component.

The latest accomplishment was the selection of the middle school as a School of Distinction, which means the school is in the top 5 percent of elementary, middle and high schools whose students have shown outstanding growth in both reading and mathematics during a six-year period.

To be considered for the award from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, a school must meet the current year's state learning targets on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning then be measured for six-year gains. The middle school has thus moved from the bottom 5 percent of the schools in the state to the top 5 percent in improvement.

Wallace and Wheaton shared the comment: "It continues to be a huge blessing to be able to support the children and families of this very special community."

The address to be among Joan Wallace's "friends" is Friends of Granger, P.O Box 4184, Bellevue, WA 98009.

I've used the "Michelangelo Moment" reference before as the story of Granger and the 501c3 that Wallace and Wheaton started, and the support that sprang up both in the Yakima Valley and the Seattle area, brought to mind the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where the outreached finger of the almighty touches mankind.
 
Fortunately, there are "Michelangelo moments" happening daily across this region and each is deserving of being singled out and brought to the attention of a population that needs to be made aware of the good around them.
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