LCSNW Lutheran Community Services NorthwestSat, 16 Feb 2019 00:33:57 +0000en-UShourly1 Down Barriers to Behavioral Health in Prineville, 12 Feb 2019 23:43:38 +0000 post Breaking Down Barriers to Behavioral Health in Prineville appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Outfitted in her pink Converse sneakers, Behavioral Interventionist Mia Mikelic can’t wait to start her day at Barnes Butte Elementary School in Prineville, OR.

Her counterpart, Counselor Emma Saddler, is just as eager to get started each time she walks into the Crook County School-Based Health Center. The health center is located next to the Crook County School District’s administrative building.

“I love working with the children because they are excited to learn things,” Saddler said. “I have the honor of seeing them grow in positive ways at an age where they need so much support.”

Mikelic and Saddler are Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest employees who work with children and teens in the Crook County schools. Mosaic Medical provides physical health care for students, while we provide the behavioral health component. Mikelic and Saddler focus on breaking down barriers for children and families needing behavioral health services.

“Working in the school allows our therapy and skill building to be consistent, available and flexible,” Saddler said. “Sometimes it’s challenging to get families into our Lutheran offices, but we’re right there in the school. By coming to them, children have better access to both medical and mental health care.”

Mikelic agrees. Working in schools gives them a more accurate picture of what the kids are going through. They work directly with teachers, counselors and administrative staff to provide a holistic approach to care for the kids.

Saddler and Mikelic are a dynamic team.  Saddler focuses on therapy for children and families, while Mikelic works with students to build life and social skills. Sometimes Mikelic will even work with students in their classrooms.

“I help children apply what they’ve learned in therapy to the real world,” Mikelic said. “I support their coping skills in their environment. They do the best they can with what they are given.”

Their work is paying off. The Crook County School District is the number one referral source for LCS services in Crook County, with the Department of Human Services and Mosaic Medical a close second. The more people who use LCS services, the stronger and healthier the Crook County community will become.

This team is looking forward to growing services in the schools. Saddler would like to see more camps, groups and resources for families. Mikelic would like to focus on elementary-aged children and add an Interventionist to work solely with teens.

“Kids need services and that’s our jam,” Mikelic adds with a laugh.

This story was written by Communications Specialist Michelle Duff



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Advocates Question Proposed Title IX Changes Fri, 18 Jan 2019 23:11:03 +0000 post Advocates Question Proposed Title IX Changes appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed changes to Title IX of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 that would alter how universities handle sexual violence. Our victim advocates in Spokane who work with Gonzaga and Eastern Washington Universities are concerned about how those changes will impact victims.

“They are creating more barriers for victims, and there are already plenty of barriers,” said Kristina Poffenroth, who works as a Confidential Victim Advocate at Eastern. Kerri Handley is beginning her third year as Gonzaga’s Confidential Victim Advocate. She works with victims who have experienced sexual violence who attend or work at Gonzaga. 

“These changes limit a university’s ability to holistically respond to sexual violence,” Handley said. “They seem to limit areas where they can support students.”

The public has until Jan. 28 to weigh in on the proposed rule changes. Final changes are expected after the comment period closes.

Poffenroth, Handley and Advocacy Supervisor Millini Goodman outlined seven proposed changes to Title IX where they have the biggest concerns. They all agree that university leaders will have decisions to make on how they will support victims if rules change.

Their concerns about proposed changes to Title IX include:

1) Limiting the definition of sexual harassment and misconduct – Incidents would have to be “ongoing and escalating” before a university is required to investigate. Currently, universities must investigate all reports of sexual harassment and misconduct.

2) Increasing the burden of proof from clear and convincing evidence to preponderance of evidence when finding perpetrators responsible. This would make it more difficult to prove sexual violence. “It’s going to be up to the universities in how they respond,” Handley said. “But, they wouldn’t have the backing of Title IX when they deal with different situations, which significantly limits their ability to respond to and support students.”

3) Schools would no longer have to investigate incidents that occur off campus. All kinds of student parties take place off campus, and many students live off campus. Handley estimates that 80 percent of the incidents she has dealt with at Gonzaga have occurred off campus. What happens off campus has a direct impact on a university’s on-campus environment.

4) Schools would be required to allow alleged perpetrators face-to-face cross-examination of a victim. In the legal system, cross-examination is allowed in criminal cases but usually not allowed in civil cases. Direct cross-examination can be retraumatizing for victims.

5) Universities would no longer be required to finish investigations of sexual violence incidents within 60 days, giving a university discretion to decide how long an investigation could take. In the legal system, it can take years for an investigation to conclude. “Our goal is to help victims heal, but it’s difficult for them to heal when there is an open investigation,” Handley said.

6) University faculty and most of the staff would no longer be designated reporters of sexual violence. There would be far fewer people mandated to report sexual violence to at a university.

7) Students who perpetrate sexual violence could claim discrimination under Title IX. A university’s focus could change from the victim to the perpetrator. If the changes to Title IX go through as proposed, universities will save millions in investigation costs. Their liability for sexual violence would be significantly reduced. Advocates say these savings would come at the expense of victims.

Submitting a Comment

The proposed changes to Title IX can be found in the Federal Register. You can make a formal comment on the proposed changes until January 28 by clicking here.


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Finding the Road to Recovery Mon, 10 Dec 2018 19:48:43 +0000 post Finding the Road to Recovery appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Klamath Falls, OR – It took Amber Avitable 20 years to find the road to recovery. It wasn’t easy to find, but now she believes in herself.

“I’ve learned that I have a purpose in life,” Amber said with a smile. “Nothing can hold me back in life if I don’t let it.”

The road started in her younger years. Her mom’s husband was abusive. Amber ran away, and didn’t finish high school. She first tried methamphetamine (meth) at 13. Use progressed from once in a while to all the time.

“It was the crowd I was into,” Amber said. “Meth was readily available.”

Pregnant at 18, she got herself clean during pregnancy, but went back to using. At 21, she lost custody of her son to his dad. She stopped using again when she was pregnant in 2009, but started back up after giving birth. She was dealing and held different jobs long enough to show income.

“I was as functioning as an addict could be,” Amber said. “I took care of my kids, had a home, and I wasn’t causing a ruckus.”

Amber was arrested April 20, 2017 for possession of meth. Her youngest child was taken from her by authorities. She came to LCS Northwest through Klamath County Drug Court. That didn’t start well. She failed her early drug screens, if she showed up at all.

Then life changed. Amber went to treatment for three months at the Transformation Wellness Center, an inpatient facility. That move saved her life.

“I never had so much fun in treatment,” she said. “There were 30 of us who wanted to get clean together. I had three months to focus on just myself.”

During those three months, her LCS Northwest Mental Health Counselor Kyra Letzring would visit. By working with Kyra, Amber was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder. She is learning to deal with anxiety and depression.

Amber is enjoying life more now that she is clean and sober. She’s a lot calmer, and a better mom.

“Our relationship is just a million times better,” Amber said of her children. “I’m actually present now instead of checked out mentally and emotionally.

“It’s a joy now to be a mom. It was rough then. It was a struggle just to be happy every day.”

Amber graduated from Drug Court recently. She also participated in our Supported Employment program, where we help adults diagnosed with a mental illness find and maintain a job.

Today, Amber is working at Biagio’s Bar and Grille in Klamath Falls. Her next step is to earn her GED. She eventually wants to become a peer support specialist for LCS Northwest and help other addicts with recovery.


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Gethsemane Welcomes LCS Immigration Mon, 12 Nov 2018 18:01:31 +0000 post Gethsemane Welcomes LCS Immigration appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Earlier this year, LCS Northwest was invited to house our Seattle Immigration Counseling services at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. We graciously accepted the offer.

This urban congregation actively embraces people of many gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, abilities, ages, races, nationalities and ethnicities. Church members are interested in our refugee resettlement work and hosted a Circle of Welcome event in November 2017. They also organized an informational meeting for parishioners regarding our work with refugees in April 2018.

Johna Gray and Nandini Rao catch a quiet moment in the atrium at Gethsemane.

“We moved into the church at the end of June. It was the same week that Gethsemane offered sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant facing deportation,” recalled Nandini Rao, Immigration Staff Attorney and Program Manager for LCS Northwest.

Rao and Immigration Counselor Johna Gray are a small but mighty team. Between them, they are handling over 300 open cases. Their work ranges from helping immigrants apply for Green Cards (permanent resident status) and US Citizenship to assisting individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals, obtaining personal travel documents and sponsoring family members to come to the US.

Cases vary in length depending on the legal issue. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, it will cost an applicant $1,225 to apply for a Green Card with an expected wait time of 15 to 25 months for processing through the Seattle office. It’s $725 in fees and 16-18 months of waiting to become a citizen.

Sponsoring an immediate family member to come to the US is more complex. These cases involve interviews, exams and lots of paperwork. They take years to complete and cost the sponsor thousands of dollars.

“We have a family reunification case that was opened in 2015,” Gray explained as she held up a folder filled with several inches of paperwork. “Our client is a Somali refugee and she is trying to bring her family members here to safety. We worked with her to ensure that all requirements were met and all the  proper documentation was filed with the embassy. That was in 2017 and we’re still waiting for a decision.”

The women admit that the work is frustrating at times. Federal rules have been changing with little or no accompanying guidance in recent months. This can create anxiety and uncertainty.

“We used to submit client paperwork and Embassy staff would notify us when they wanted anything additional to determine a request,” Rao explained. “Now they are basing decisions on your initial submissions only. That forces us to gather and submit every possible piece of documentation we think they might want to consider in a family reunification case.”

In spite of the political uncertainties and burdensome red tape, Rao and Gray remain passionate about their work. They admire the strength and tenacity of their clients to overcome adversity and succeed in a new country.

Gray noted that LCS Northwest often develops long-term relationships with the immigrants and refugees that we serve. She and Rao routinely work with families resettled in this region by our Refugee Resettlement Program in Tacoma or youth enrolled in our Refugees Northwest Foster Care Program in King County. They help them navigate immigration issues from arrival until they become US citizens and beyond. They share their journeys.

This new partnership with Gethsemane gives them hope as well.

“The congregation has been very welcoming and members have asked what they can do to help,” Rao explained. “We’re looking forward to finding ways to engage them with us.”

Our Immigration Counseling and Advocacy Program (ICAP) provides low-cost immigration counseling services to refugees and immigrants in Portland, Beaverton, and Salem, Oregon along with Vancouver, Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. Learn more about what we do.


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Candidate Visits: Message of Hope Fri, 02 Nov 2018 19:36:20 +0000 post Candidate Visits: Message of Hope appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

By Erin Williams, District Director
(Editor’s note: Erin Williams leads our work in Spokane. Prior to that, she was our Director of Victim Advocacy in Spokane.)

We don’t endorse candidates up for election, but they can learn about us and we can learn from them.

With that in mind, I invited candidates for local, state and federal offices to visit us and with me in our Spokane office. With the election looming, I figured it would be the best chance to get them in our building. Eight candidates have visited so far, and one even brought reporters with her.

The invitation was extended because the people who we serve deserve to have their stories told to people making policy decisions. Those decisions can have a heavy impact on our clients. We want candidates to be aware of that impact.

After the interviews, three trends emerged to me. They are:

1) People in leadership want to understand the comprehensive needs of trauma survivors. A common response was something like “Wow.  I had no idea all this happens here.” There are no easy answers to trauma recovery.  Policymakers were inspired by the need for the variety of different ways we help people find health, justice and hope.  They were impressed by the incredible people who work for us in the office and out in the community. In short, our stories matter, and the vulnerability necessary to share them may be worth the risk.

2) People want to work together.  We didn’t force anyone to visit, but candidates who came by were honored to be asked. They were genuinely curious, and eager to continue partnering for a healthy community.  It can be tough to make time for this kind of “big picture” work with so many people to help, but it’s crucial to the success of our clients’ trauma recovery. It can’t be ignored.

3) People are more important than politics.  No matter what philosophy or ideology candidates come from, they all related to human beings at the center of the storm.  No one is immune from the devastation of trauma, and when we rise above the political fray, we’re able to connect with candidates and policymakers as people.  We are all better off when we focus on what binds us together rather than what tears us apart.

I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the candidate visit process. Frankly, I found hope and enlightening messages throughout the experience.



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Rapping for Mental Health Fri, 26 Oct 2018 21:45:12 +0000 post Rapping for Mental Health appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Three balloons float in Travis Civic Rybarski’s office. They’re a gift from a coworker celebrating his passion: rap music.


“When I come to work, being a rapper is still my first identity,” he said. “I’m also a youth partner when I’m rapping.”


As a Youth Peer Support Specialist in Kennewick for LCS Northwest, Rybarski helps young people navigate their mental health challenges. Those youth are often interested in rap or poetry.


“I want people to know it’s ok to tell their story,” Rybarski said. Through his day job, Rybarski sees how youth and their families struggle and triumph. Mental health may be his lens, but his message is that music allows people to take ownership of their stories.


Rybarski recently released a two-song EP, titled “Balloons,” under his stage name Ciivic. It tells two stories, one of vulnerability and the other of resentment. Rybarski even offers fans a mailer with two activities and two balloons to explore their stories and relationship to these two emotions.


“Working in mental health is the reason I’m a different artist,” he said. “I want to reach people and help them feel less alone.”


As a youth, Rybarski spent time couch surfing with friends. His family situation was difficult. Rap became his way of coping. Once he started rapping, life got better. His music started with impromptu rap battles in the park and progressed to shows for more than 100 fans.


“Rap built my confidence and I wanted it to be meaningful,” Rybarski said.


When he hosts mental health awareness events or when he is asked to speak at school assemblies, Rybarski gives a portion of his profits to a Tri-Cities youth shelter, My Friends’ Place. Rybarski never stayed there, but he always knew it was there if things got worse. This is a reality for many youth.


“If you have something to share, you do,” Rybarski said.

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Familias Unidas guides homeless family toward a brighter future Mon, 08 Oct 2018 17:15:02 +0000 post Familias Unidas guides homeless family toward a brighter future appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Like any parent, Hilda Rodriguez wanted a better future for her children. It’s what motivated her and husband Gabriel Robles to leave Mexico for a new life in the United States more than 27 years ago.

When their son found himself as a single parent raising three toddlers, the couple uprooted themselves again. Now in their 60s, Hilda and Gabriel gave up their longtime home in California and journeyed north to Everett, WA to help raise their granddaughters. They moved in with their son and cared for the children so he could work and support his family.

Life took a turn for the worse when their son had a personal crisis. Without their son’s income, Hilda, Gabriel and their grandchildren were facing an eviction in May 2017. They needed help.

Hilda learned about Familias Unidas Latino Community Resource Center in Everett from another organization and made contact in March.

Familias Unidas is one of our six Community Resource Centers in Snohomish County. Mariela Santos works there, and is the only Spanish speaking Housing Navigator serving Snohomish County.

“We provided translation services for them throughout the eviction process,” explained Santos. “St. Vincent de Paul helped the family with a one-week stay at a motel, then we moved Hilda and the girls into a women’s shelter. This gave us time to address other critical needs for the family, like securing health care for the girls, applying for temporary cash assistance for the family, and helping them sign up for subsidized housing.”

Gabriel was forced to couch surf and live in his vehicle while Familias Unidas guided the family through a maze of social services. A diabetic with high blood pressure, he had suffered three heart attacks recently. With the added stress of homelessness, Gabriel struggled to recover his health.

“Our stay at the shelter was not easy as one of the girls developed tuberculosis and was on medication for eight months,” Hilda said. “My biggest barrier was being separated from Gabriel and not having his help and support during this time.”

The family was homeless and separated for 11 months, but remained in touch with Familias Unidas. Santos and her colleagues continued to connect them to needed resources.

Grandmother-granddaughter together againThe center helped pay Gabriel’s medical bills, guided them through the legal system to maintain custody of their grandchildren, helped Hilda get eyeglasses, provided clothing, shoe vouchers, holiday gifts for the girls and so much more, Hilda recalled.

The tide turned in early 2018. Hilda and Gabriel were approved for subsidized housing through Everett Housing Authority. Familias Unidas helped pay off their eviction expenses and the family rented an apartment. By April, the grandparents and grandchildren were living together again.

“Our family is reunited thanks to Familias Unidas,” said Hilda. “Today we are all healthier, our granddaughters are enrolled in preschool, and Gabriel and I are able to provide for the children. Our future is brighter now that we are together as a family.”


Editor’s Note: Our Community Resource Centers make a powerful impact on people and communities by working to eliminate barriers and provide hope. Our caring staff represent the communities and cultures we serve in Snohomish County. Learn more about our services.



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8 Lakes Bike Ride Moves to June Thu, 13 Sep 2018 19:02:48 +0000 post 8 Lakes Bike Ride Moves to June appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Enough of the smoke already!

Our 8 Lakes Leg Aches annual fundraising bicycle ride in Spokane will take place in June instead of August starting in 2019. Next year’s ride will be June 22, and will take place the Saturday after Father’s Day in upcoming years.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve had the smoke issue,” said ride director Christie McKee. “It keeps getting worse each year. Everyone is saying this is the new norm.”

The 8 Lakes ride celebrated its 20th anniversary Saturday, Aug. 18. McKee said it was a “miracle” that the ride happened. Two weeks prior to this year’s ride, Spokane was inundated with smoke from wildfires. The 75-mile route was scratched.

By luck or divine intervention, Saturday of the ride was the only day where air quality was good enough for lead sponsor Kaiser Permanente to give the green light. Two days later, Spokane had the worst air quality in the nation.

Nearly 360 riders participated this year, which is about half the normal number. Notices had gone out prior to the event that cancelation was a possibility. When Saturday rolled, some riders signed up that morning.

Fundraising was surprisingly good given the participation. The event raised more than $70,000 to support our services in Spokane.  The big boost came from 64 pledge riders who raised about $41,000. More than 200 thank you notes have gone out to pledgers from all around the country.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 22, 2019 for the 8 Lakes Leg Aches Bike Ride. There will be courses of 30, 45 and 75 miles. Registration will probably open next year while snow is still on the ground in Spokane.


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Coping with Panic Attacks Tue, 07 Aug 2018 18:34:18 +0000 post Coping with Panic Attacks appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

Right as the interview started in our Prineville office, Christopher Koontz made it clear he had a rough night.

“I had a really bad panic attack last night,” he said. “It’s always tough for me to think clearly the next day.”

But for the next hour, Koontz talked about the debilitating panic attacks that brought him to LCS Northwest and the progress he is making. His first panic attack hit when he was working alone at a pizza and sandwich shop in 2015. His mom took him to the ER.

“I thought I was having a heart attack, but they told me I was having a panic attack,” Koontz said. At first, the attacks came every two weeks. Then the frequency picked up to having them every day.

Doctors said the panic attacks stem from an old spinal injury that creates anxiety. Koontz eventually spent 9 days at an inpatient psychiatric facility, where he was heavily sedated. Heavy sedation wasn’t the direction he wanted to go.

Then last December, he came to LCS Northwest in Prineville. He started individual counseling and group therapy. His panic attacks have diminished to once a week.

“I worked to lower my anxiety,” Koontz said. “My thinking started changing and how I was acting.”

When panic attacks hit, he can usually control them within 20 to 45 minutes. He thinks about positive things, uses breathing techniques, and opens a binder full of notes and pictures. The binder helps him focus.

He participates in two groups – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Healthy Boundaries. He’s met others who experience panic attacks. He’s met some who no longer have them.

“Being able to talk and share that you have problems makes us more comfortable with our own problems,” Koontz said. “You don’t feel alone. It’s not as scary.”

Koontz says he is much happier and smiles a lot more now. But, he’s not where he wants to be in life. An excellent math student who has already taken two types of calculus, Koontz is more than half way to an associate’s degree in accounting.

“I just want to be self-reliant,” he said. “I have a long ways to go.”

His goals include owning a one-story house, earning a decent paycheck, and becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

“I can’t say that I’ve made any progress without Lutheran’s help,” Koontz said. “They have all the resources and tools available for people like me.”


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Reform Ride for Refugees: The Backstory Wed, 11 Jul 2018 16:15:02 +0000 post Reform Ride for Refugees: The Backstory appeared first on LCSNW. ]]>

In the summer of 2016, two friends who lived in Kitsap County (WA) were following the plight of Syrian refugees. They discussed how they could support their refugee neighbors.

As triathletes who biked frequently and Lutherans who were aware that 2017 marked the anniversary of the Reformation, one friend mused: “What do you think about organizing a bike ride for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to support refugees?”

The genesis of the Reform Ride for Refugees was seeded.

Just as Martin Luther took a stand for religious reform 500 years ago, we’re asking people to take a stand to welcome refugees by participating in this ride.

Allison Pringle and Pastor Sigi Helgesen–the two friends–invited five Lutheran churches in Kitsap County to partner in making the ride a reality. Church leaders agreed that this should happen and a leadership team was formed. They would hold the first ride in August 2017.

Planning began in earnest and volunteers stepped forward from the five sponsoring churches: Silverdale Lutheran, Poulsbo First Lutheran, Vinland Lutheran, Bethany Lutheran and Our Savior’s Lutheran. The team agreed to donate all proceeds from the bike ride to Lutheran Community Services Northwest’s refugee resettlement efforts in the Puget Sound and to Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center.

“This was before the presidential election, before the refugee ban, before DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was in jeopardy,” said Pringle. “After those events occurred, the significance of our ride became even more timely and important.”

Just as Martin Luther took a stand for religious reform 500 years ago, we’re asking people to take a stand to welcome refugees by participating in this ride. Our refugee neighbors fled persecution and violence in their homelands and are reforming their lives in this new country, Pringle explained.

The butterfly might seem like an odd element in their logo but it is significant.

“Butterflies symbolize migration and transformation–our refugees,” Pringle noted. “It also represents the Butterfly Effect, which states that a small action locally can cause change elsewhere. We want our action of organizing this bike ride to effect larger change. It might be raising awareness and education about refugees, changing attitudes, bringing communities together, and engaging Lutherans.”

The Reform Ride for Refugees hit its mark. The inaugural event drew almost a hundred riders, engaged over 40 volunteers, attracted community support and raised $13,000 for refugee programs.

According to John Forseth, Refugee Reception and Placement Program Director in Tacoma, the program placed 598 refugees in the Puget Sound region last year. Each refugee receives a one-time grant of $1125 to help with resettlement expenses, which doesn’t cover the true cost of building a new life. Proceeds from the bike ride serve as an emergency fund to help refugees who need additional assistance to get them on their feet.

“We are grateful to our generous ecumenical partners in Kitsap County for their ministry and support in organizing Reform Ride for Refugees,” Forseth said. “We are helping refugees rebuild their lives in the Puget Sound with their assistance.”

The second Reform Ride for Refugees is coming up on August 11 and Pringle is again coordinating the event. Organizers hope to draw 200 riders this year and raise $20,000 for LCS Northwest’s refugee reception and placement services in the Puget Sound.

The ride start/ends in Silverdale, offers several route options, and features a post-ride celebration with a beer garden. Visit the Reform Ride web page for more details including registration.


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