Thursday, January 24, 2013

Homeless Census More Than Just Numbers

Above: Anna Schlect, city of Olympia's housing program manager, and lead coordinator for Thurston County's 2013 "Point In Time" homeless census count, reviews interview forms submitted by volunteer Marci Price this afternoon.
 by Janine Unsoeld

By late afternoon today, an estimated 200 - 300 homeless people arrived to take advantage of social services offered by regional partners, said Anna Schlect, city of Olympia's housing program manager.

The city and Thurston County entered into an agreement to conduct Thurston County's annual "point in time" homeless census. The city will provide preliminary result information to the county by March 1. The definition of homelessness includes people living in emergency shelters, transitional and substandard housing, those who are unsheltered, such as cars, tents, parks and sidewalks, and those living in the homes of family members or friends.

The census numbers are used by federal, state and local governments to help them qualify for tax funding and guides the allocation of tax dollars toward shelter and services. Eighty percent of the actual homeless count comes from agencies, said Schlect, so the results are not based solely on the census numbers gathered today.

In past years, volunteers have gone out to find and interview homeless people. This year was different. To reach the homeless who are not receiving shelter or services from any agencies, the event today involved a coordination of providers offering resources and needed on-site services in one location, proving that the census involved more than just numbers.

"This is the first time we've done's mostly been fantastic. As with any first attempt, there's been a few bumps, but this has been an amazing experience to see what it takes to put together a full service community center with food, social services, haircuts, and medical services...we even have even valet parking for people's bicycles and backpacks!" said Schlect. Schlect said the people who have come to take advantage of the services have been very appreciative, especially for the haircuts.

"Our partners have been wowed by the opportunity to get out of their normal flight path to spend time understanding all the needs of the homeless," she said. "We've also partnered with police, fire and medical services. In fact, this is a great trial run for how we need to respond to a natural disaster. Last year was Snowmaggedon. We needed to learn how to accommodate the homeless. So here we are, with four active faith communities within two blocks. This is where we can serve three distinct populations: families and children, unaccompanied youth, and single adults. After a natural disaster, people with homes get to go home, but homeless people get pushed out. It's heartbreaking...." Schlect has been involved with efforts to learn from the missteps of last year's cold weather response.

Sitting with Schlect throughout our outdoor interview, Schlect fielded a constant stream of volunteers returning from the field to discuss their interview forms, and answer questions from community members. Over a 24 hour period, about 175 volunteers will have fanned out to cover Thurston County and collect data in rural communities, the urban hub, and other areas where the homeless are known to gather.

Marci Price, who is employed by the city of Lacey, was one of those who returned her forms to Schlect. She said it was her first time volunteering for the homeless census and told Schlect she wants to do it again next year.

"It was very rewarding. Everyone I greeted was very receptive, welcoming, wanting to tell their story," said Price. Price told Schlect that she had contact with eight homeless people, but only returned three completed forms because the others had already been contacted by volunteers.

"Sometimes that feels like you didn't sell as many Girl Scout cookies but it's important to check," Schlect joked with Price. Asked by this reporter how long she spent speaking with each person, Price said it depended on how much they wanted to talk, saying she spent between five to 15 minutes or longer speaking with each person.

"You're the best!" responded Schlect. Schlect, however, genuinely praised everyone with that phrase many times over, thanking volunteers for their time.

The Homeless Connect event staged tents in the 800 block of Franklin Street today and used the First Christian Church as its base, providing the homeless biscuits and gravy for breakfast, spaghetti and meatballs for lunch, and chili and tomato soup for dinner. The warm space and musical entertainment was also provided throughout the day.

Local service agency volunteers were also available, ready to offer referrals for a wide range of mental health and chemical dependency programs, veteran's programs, and victim's advocacy assistance. Temple Beth Hatfiloh, across the street on 8th Avenue, offered a medical clinic, offering flu vaccinations, blood pressure checks, vision and dental screening, and more.

Preston Anderson, a housing case manager for the Veteran's Administration, said he helped five people today and feels he would not have reached them had it not been for the event today. "The older vets, Vietnam vets especially, were often given misinformation, became discouraged and stopped searching for housing - they gave up. So now, there's more of a presence and outreach to reach homeless veterans. Anderson said he attends the once a month meeting of the Homeless Coalition Taskforce coordinated by the county.

"This point in time homeless count allows us a better chance to help a part of the population we might not ordinarily get to - an opportunity to provide services to those we might not otherwise see," said Mark Freeman, Thurston County Public Health's social service director, as he hurried around the First Christian Church kitchen, whipping up a mean batch of chili for dinner.

Mark, a volunteer who preferred that I not use his last name, arrived to help in the kitchen. Asked why he volunteered today, he said, "I'm here because I feel happier with myself when I serve the community." Mark says he is a phone volunteer for the Crisis Clinic of Thurston/Mason County.

Nicole Hill, Tumwater city councilmember, also arrived for the dinner time shift, ready to help. Asked why she offered to volunteer, Hill said, "I feel well versed in many issues, but the social service arena is my weakness, so I came to learn, help, and get an understanding for what underserved citizens are experiencing."

Hill said she also helped do some in-take interviews with the homeless this morning. Clearly moved by the experience and the stories obviously still fresh in her mind, Hill immediately choked up and took off her glasses to wipe away tears. "Hearing some of the stories was humbling...the women's stories are difficult....the domestic violence...the's heartbreaking...." That was all she could say at the moment.

Ky, the Chicken Guy

Ky, 24, said he's known as Ky the Chicken Guy because he likes chickens. So much so, he rescues roosters and tries to find them new homes. He's pretty successful at it. Ky has been homeless since April.

I found him in the tent hosted by Covenant Creatures, a local nonprofit that provides pet food and assistance to street pets and their owners, the working poor, the disabled, and senior communities. Ky was accompanied today by Squeaker, one of his chickens.

Ky grew up in Edmonds and in 2007, received a Washington Association of Vocational Excellence (WAVE) scholarship. It was his work as a certified veterinarian assistant that got him the scholarship. He moved to Olympia with the intention of going to The Evergreen State College, but in the meantime, federal laws changed that barred his attendance. So, he enrolled at South Puget Sound Community College. A year and a half into his studies, Ky says the government said they couldn't pay for the scholarship.

"Before I moved down here, I had several veterinary clinic job opportunities lined up, but then the economy tanked, and those doors closed. Then I wasn't able to pay my rent. There was tension with roommates, so I moved out, and ended up on a farm in Lacey. But then they decided to grow marijuana on the property and I wanted no part of that, so...." Ky proceeded to give me more details about his current living location and situation.

Asked if he has accessed some of the services available today, he said he got a flu vaccine. I expressed concern for his safety and comfort on cold days like this, but Ky said his chickens are like "little heaters" and he is plenty warm in his tent.

I asked Ky if he felt safe where he was now. Expressing personality, humor, and confidence, Ky assured me of all my concerns, saying he successfully intervened when he saw a man beating a woman and rescued one of his chickens from getting its head bitten off by a opossum, so yes, he felt safe, and added, "I'm in control of my happiness whether I'm homeless or not...."

"You know, I want to break down stereotypes. When I tell people I'm homeless, they've actually said to me, 'You look too well dressed to be homeless,' or 'What drugs are you on?' I'm clean and sober. I don't do drugs. I have the most boring homeless story ever."  He said his goal is to get a degree in veterinary medicine, and own several acres to convert it into a cock-fighting rehabilitation center.

Asked what he needs, he said he needs chicken feed, since people tend to give dog and cat food to agencies like Covenant Creatures. Leanne Johnson, Covenant Creatures' program director, who was nearby throughout the interview, agreed. "I also need wood shavings for them, but not cedar."

Anyone wishing to donate chicken feed or wood shavings for Ky's chickens may do so through Covenant Creatures. They can be reached at (360) 357-6301, or go to  

Above: Ky, the Chicken Guy, and his friend Squeaker.
In light of the ordinances recently passed by the Olympia city council that target the homeless community, a community conversation about homelessness will be hosted by Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER) on Monday, February 4, from 5:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Darby's Cafe, 211 5th Avenue, in downtown Olympia.

A potluck will start at 5:30 p.m. From 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., homeless people are invited to speak about their experiences, then from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., the discussion will focus on finding solutions.

In last Tuesday's city council meeting, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum expressed his disappointment that the Salvation Army had decided to pull out of recent discussions regarding their involvement in providing a low barrier shelter. "I was very surprised and a little discouraged," he told councilmembers. Councilmember Nathaniel Jones also expressed his disappointment. "The city is interested in being part of the solution but we need partners."

The Olympia city council will host a study session on homelessness with Thurston County homeless taskforce coordinator Theresa Slusher on Tuesday, February 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the city council chambers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Puget Sound Partnership Seeks New Director

"...this transition will provide yet another opportunity for the Partnership to evolve...." says Col. Anthony Wright in his farewell letter.

by Janine Unsoeld

In what turned out to be one of his last Puget Sound Partnership meetings, the executive director, retired Col. Anthony Wright excused himself about 3:00 p.m. yesterday to meet with newly sworn-in Governor Jay Inslee and state agency directors.

At about 3:40 p.m., an assistant to Wright issued a press release from Wright saying that it was time for him to move on, and get back to his company, Normandeau Associates, thus ending his seven month tenure as head of the agency tasked with restoring the health of Puget Sound. Wright accepted the temporary appointment when Governor Gregoire asked him to take the job, and agency staff have known for about two weeks that he was leaving.

Explaining Wright's departure from the agency, the Partnership's public information director Alicia Lawver said this afternoon, "Tony had a personal commitment to former Governor Gregoire...he's been fantastic, and a champion for Puget Sound. He will continue on for the transition. He's committed to stay for a few weeks until a replacement is found...."

Governor Inslee's communications director, David Postman, said in a telephone interview this afternoon that a recruitment notice for a new director of the agency was posted and interviews for a new director may start as soon as next week.

"My understanding is that when Governor Gregoire asked him to serve, he always knew he was going to go back to his previous job, and he let Governor Inslee know that at least several weeks ago. It wasn't a surprise. A decision will be made with the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership and they think they have some great candidates," said Postman. Postman declined to name the candidates.

Says Wright in his farewell letter to the agency and Puget Sound partners,"While a change in leadership is never easy, this transition will provide yet another opportunity for the Partnership to evolve. Over the years, each of the Partnership’s executive directors has brought a different talent and provided enduring contributions that continue to propel the Partnership and its mission forward....The Partnership’s next leader inherits a solid foundation for action and I look forward to seeing this essential work continue to build momentum."

This reporter last spoke with Wright in November at a meeting of the Thurston County League of Women Voters, saying that when he interviewed with Governor Gregoire for the position, he eagerly told her he was going to "break some plates." She reportedly responded, dryly, "Well, how about you just chip them a little."

Whether Wright broke any plates, chipped them a little, or even had a chance to get them out of the cupboard is debatable, but his shoes yesterday, usually black and shiny, did exhibit quite a bit of mud.

The Partnership's Advisory Boards

Efforts to clean up Puget Sound has a long history. The Partnership group strives to work on an action agenda to prioritize Puget Sound cleanup and improvement projects, and work cooperatively to coordinate federal, state, local, tribal and private resources. The website says that they will base their decisions on science and focus on actions that have the biggest impact, and hold people and organizations accountable for the results.

Governor Gregoire's politically appointed seven member Leadership Council chose a science panel, composed of nine scientists, who report to the Council.

Another board, the Ecosystem Coordination Board, also advises the Council. This board is made up of 27 individuals representing the interests of federal government, tribal government, the state departments of Health, Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources, Ecology, ports, cities, counties, and environmental and business. Environmental interests are represented by the Washington Environmental Council and the Nature Conservancy. Business interests are represented by the Master Builders and Taylor Shellfish.

In typical acronym laded, state agency-ese, upcoming work plans were outlined by several entities as they gave 20 minute presentations on how they propose spending their allocated budgets to benefit Puget Sound. Some participants questioned how some multi-year, multi-phase efforts can keep up with emerging issues and solve big, overall problems. Concern was also raised on how to communicate regional success stories to local governments and encourage restoration efforts in counties with low resources.

At Thursday's Ecosystem Coordination Board, Wright stayed most of the day, participating in conversations about the the struggle of convincing private property owners against the hard armoring of shorelines, despite their having properly issued permits that allow it, and the delicate tightrope the agency must walk when dealing with legislators.

With the legislative session and Governor Inslee's term now underway, the group discussed the legislative process and basic questions of how to stay in touch with each other and how often. With the infrequency of meetings (the last meeting was held in late October) and the time staff spent in rebuilding their website, the group sounded like it was behind the eight ball.

Potential conflicts of interest were also discussed as some board members may also serve as lobbyists for their interests or in the case of agency representatives, it is inappropriate for them to push the Partnership agenda.

"We all have lobbyists up there - I'd rather know where the third rail is before I touch it, whether to intervene or stay away from it. Knowing this on a real time basis would be helpful," said Sam Anderson, who represents the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

"Welcome to my world," responded Linda Owens, legislative assistant to Senator Christine Rolfes, (D-23rd, Bainbridge Island). "The word of the week is interesting....a lot of changes, new committee names, staff being shifted's very busy. I'm sort of optimistic, maybe this is a persistent and carry on. Be as persistent as you need to - we're here if you need us."

As the conversation continued about how to proceed with a proactive agenda, Wright said, as if to explain his limitations and soon-to-be departure, "You'll see us not say certain things because we're a state agency. The Governor told me to do this, and I went for it...but there are gaps that are relatively obvious, but we'll be concurrent with the Governor. We need to get in there, with everybody, and make sure they know who we are...."

How that happens, and with whom as executive director, remains to be seen. Let's hope he or she doesn't mind getting a little mud on their shoes as they hit the ground running.

 The next meeting of the Ecosystem Coordination Board will be Thursday, March 21 in the General Administration Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. For more information about the Puget Sound Partnership, go to

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tree Maintenance in Sylvester Park, Old Capitol Building Campus

Above: Workers remove damaged limbs from a mature beech tree in Sylvester Park yesterday.
by Janine Unsoeld

Trees are being pruned, and some are slated for possible removal in Sylvester Park and the nearby campus of the Old Capitol Building.

Luke Colvin, owner of Arbor Care Tree Specialists, of Astoria, Oregon and his crew were spotted in the park yesterday taking care of some dangerous limbs. Colvin said that one tree, a Deodoria Cedar, had a "big fracture" in it as a result of last year's storm. The other tree they were pruning is a beech.

"These trees have some large crossing limbs in the upper canopy and some over weighted lower leaders...We've been honored to receive a two year contract with the state of Washington to maintain the trees in state parks and we're buried in work," said Colvin. He said the state has worked for two years on a progressive scope of work that includes an inventory and evaluation of trees throughout the Capitol Campus and state owned properties. Sylvester Park is owned and maintained by the state.

In late December, the company removed trees near the Insurance Building, and a nearly 35-foot-tall Western red cedar tree next to the Visitor Center at Capitol Way and Sid Snyder Avenue. That tree, which was adjacent to the pedestrian footbridge over Capitol Way, was diseased and posed a public safety hazard. Wood from the downed tree was offered to local tribes.

There are plans and a timeline of activities associated with the replanting of trees wherever possible. In the case of the four trees recently removed near the Insurance Building, replanting will not occur due to their proximity to the building. In three other campus locations where trees were removed, trees were replanted, with more replantings scheduled in the future.

Tree Inventory and Evaluation

Upon request of the state Department of Enterprise Services, Colvin's company evaluated the trees in Sylvester Park and the Old Capitol Building grounds.  At both locations, Colvin says he did not see any major signs or symptoms of root rot or large decay pockets in the trunks of the trees. Because of the lack of outward signs of major structural defects caused by decay, he only performed visual evaluations of the trees from the ground. 

According to the October 2012 report, his findings and recommendations mostly recommend proper pruning to repair storm damage, to establish proper structure and reduce tip weight on the lower leaders. This work will help insure long term preservation, help prevent future storm damage and reduce hazards.

Some trees, however, are slated for possible removal. Colvin's report includes the following description of his assessments:

Sylvester Park:

"Along the south side of the park, there is a row of conifer trees made up of Common juniper, False arborvitae, Western red cedar and Port Orford cedar. All of these trees have grown up in very close proximity to each other and thus have had a lot of competition for light and space. Due to this competition, the trees have taller heights than they should...and are over weighted in the upper canopies. Also, there are numerous included crotches because of co-dominant tops, minor to major storm damage and some small decay pockets. I recommend proper pruning and possible removal of a couple of the trees to reduce the hazards they pose.

Other trees:

On the west side of the park there is a row of six mature Norway maple trees that appear to be in good over-all condition. All six sustained minor to major storm damage. I recommend proper pruning to repair storm damage...."

In the southeast corner of the park is a mature American elm tree. This tree sustained major storm damage and has some very over weighted lower leaders. In the lower canopy, this tree is pushing a lot of epicormic growth from the main trunk. This could be in response to the storm damage or be a sign of another underlying problem. Further in depth evaluation should be performed to determine the health and safety of this tree. If the tree is found reasonably safe to retain, I recommend proper pruning to repair storm damage...."

Old Capitol Building grounds:
Two trees are recommended for removal.

"On the southwest corner of the building is a mature Western red cedar. This tree sustained major storm damage and has many very over weighted lower leaders. I recommend proper pruning to repair storm damage...."

On the southeast corner and the east side of the property, there are ten semi-mature Sweet gum trees. All ten sustained minor storm damage and one sustained major storm damage. The one that had the entire top broken out, I recommend removal and replacement. For the other nine, I recommend proper pruning to repair storm damage...."

On the northwest corner of the property is an over-mature Port Orford cedar. This tree has three major co-dominant tops. At all three unions, there is extensive included bark and each top is heavily weighted in one direction. Also, there was very poor annual shoot growth, which is major sign of stress. I recommend removal to mitigate life, traffic, pedestrian and structure safety hazard this tree poses. " 

Colvin and his team are scheduled to be in the park and on the Old Capitol Building grounds throughout the week.

Above: New grass was recently planted where a 119 year old beech tree was removed last year after it sustained heavy damage in last year's winter storm.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 Legislative Session Starts Amid Climate Change Concerns

 Above: Not everyone is interested in climate change issues, as evidenced by the couple on the left. They might be interested one day, but, this morning, they felt pretty safe making out while a small group of folks gathered nearby.

by Janine Unsoeld

Climate change activists bundled up early this morning to head down to Percival Landing to observe another high tide in downtown Olympia. This one, however, was nowhere near the level reached in December. Budd Inlet, was, in fact, quite calm due to a high atmospheric pressure.

"The event is a non-event," said Andy Haub, city of Olympia planning and engineering manager, arriving this morning by bicycle to the gathering on his way to work. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum briefly hung out with the few shivering die-hards by The Kiss statue, who all then headed to the Bread Peddler for morning treats.

Haub will explain sea-level rise issues at the city's third annual community update on climate change on Monday, February 4, 2013, 7:00 p.m. at the Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Room B, in downtown Olympia. The event will also be hosted with Transition Olympia and a local group called Confronting the Climate Crisis.

This year’s discussion will focus on Olympia-specific implications and response to climate change and sea level rise. Haub will provide an update on the city’s ongoing sea level rise work and summarize a recently-released federal study of potential sea rise rates along the Pacific Coast including Washington. Rhonda Hunter, a former coordinator of climate change planning for the state Department of Ecology will discuss climate change action from the state to the individual level. Time will be provided for questions and answers.

2013 Legislative Session, Climate Action Rally Begins Amid Snow Flurries
Later in the afternoon, this first day of the 2013 legislative session, a grassroots climate action rally was held on the steps of the Capitol Building, featuring local speakers and musicians, including Jim Page.

Glen Anderson, coordinator of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation, which created the Confronting the Climate Crisis group, addressed the crowd.

"Climate scientists are virtually unanimous that the climate crisis is real, is caused by humans, and is getting worse very rapidly...on this first day of the Legislative session, we affirm that the climate crisis is our first priority, and we call upon the Washington State Legislature and Governor Inslee to act boldly to protect our climate. We are all in this together!"

Gar Lipow, a local independent journalist and author of "Cooling A Fevered Planet" and other books related to the climate crisis, was also one of the speakers.

"Washington State is a center of awareness about the climate crisis. Let's make it a center for action as well when it comes to creating green jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions....and let Washington State's citizen's push our national leaders for national action too!"

Above: Glen Anderson speaks at today's climate action rally.

Stephanie Angeles, 26, of Seattle, came to Olympia specifically to attend the climate action rally. A volunteer with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and a student at the University of Washington, her senior project is coal exports. "I'm dealing with it as a violation of the federal Clean Water Act and I spoke at the scoping hearing in December in Seattle....It's so important to be down here!"
The Climate Crisis and a Carbon Tax

In an interview later, Lipow said he is watching a proposed carbon tax expected to be introduced this session by the Senate Majority Assistant Whip, Senator Kevin Ranker (D- 40th District, Orcas Island).

Although Ranker has not yet introduced the legislation, Lipow has read the description and says it is regressive. Ranker was interviewed by KUOW on January 7 on the value and advantages of introducing a tax on carbon in Washington state.

"By its very nature, a carbon tax is hits the poor, and it's hard to structure. If you have a carbon tax, it's a matter of justice and political reality for it to be progressive. So, the way you make it progressive is you spend the revenue in a way that benefits the majority of the people. Ranker's bill says it's looking at relieving business and property taxes. It's not going to help....If you pass a tax that's going to hurt the local plumber but not Bill Gates, how much support do you think you're going to get in the future?" said Lipow.

Lipow says he supports a carbon tax, but it's probably not going to be a high priority for him this session. Instead, he has developed a position paper called N.O. F.E.A.R. (No Obligation Funding of Efficiency and Renewables) that he hopes to promote with legislators.

"If we deployed all mature efficiency and renewable technology in Washington State where energy savings would pay back costs, we create tens of thousands of jobs, and grow our state's economy," said Lipow.

Lipow says that utilities in six states, including Oregon, finance insulation, solar hot water heaters, and other forms of efficiency and renewables by adding monthly charges to utility bills. Charges are tied to the meter, not the payer. A monthly fee becomes another part of the utility bill. When the current occupant moves, the next occupant is liable for it, just as the next tenant is liable for the rest of the electric bill.

Lipow suggests that Washington State can issue tax exempt bonds for purposes such as renewables and efficiency and then lend the proceeds of the bond sales to non-profit groups that engage in installing such technology, such as the Washington State Housing Finance Commission does.

"If we formed non-profit Renewable and Efficiency Districts in each county, they could partner with utilities to finance such programs on a large scale, funded by tax exempt bonds issued by Washington State," said Lipow.

The result would be that funds could be available to home owners, small business, and renters who would not need to borrow money to take advantage of the opportunities, and funds would be available to everyone, regardless of income level.

To learn more about progressive use of a carbon tax, Charles Komanoff will be speaking in Olympia on Wednesday, February 13, 7:00 p.m. at Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue SW. Komanoff directs the Carbon Tax Center, a New York based clearinghouse for information, research and advocacy on behalf of revenue-neutral carbon taxes to address the climate crisis.

The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation's climate action group meets at the Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW. The next meeting is Tuesday, January 22. For more information, contact Bourtai Hargrove at for more information.

For more information about the City of Olympia sea-level rise discussion on February 4, contact Andy Haub at (360) 570-3795 or Barb Scavezze, Transition Olympia, a local organization focused on building community resilience and self-reliance, at (360) 878-9901.

For more information about past high tides events in downtown Olympia, see articles on this blog at and type key words into the search button. 

Above: Stephanie Angeles of Seattle came to Olympia today to participate in the climate action rally on the steps of the Capitol Building.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hidden In Plain Sight: Elizabeth Smart Speaks About Hope, Survival

Above: Elizabeth Smart

by Janine Unsoeld

For Elizabeth Smart, the worst happened, but she is a survivor and now provides hope for other families whose lives are forever changed by the loss of a missing child.

Smart spoke Thursday afternoon at St. Martin's University to local Rotary groups and other community members. She was joined by Olympia resident Rani Hong, a United Nations spokesperson against human trafficking, and Thomas Nnour, 20, a student at Olympia High School who escaped war in his native Sudan.

The event was sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Thurston County and many other local service and community organizations, state agencies, and businesses.

"None of us are perfect or have perfect lives...Many of us say, 'Please, let this day be over.' Every single one of us, we all have our trials in life...No one else can understand exactly how you feel...but no matter how bad life gets, it will get equally as good....The worst time in my life was a story you all know about...." she began.

Smart lead her listeners into the very difficult subject of her kidnapping from the safety of her home in 2002 at age 14. She endured rape and torture for nine months, until she was discovered walking on a street with her captors in Salt Lake City. Her discovery was based on a tip called into 911, and her captors were confronted and arrested by police officers.

"I'll never forget the morning I was kidnapped and taken up into the mountains...I was brought into a tent, and the man followed me inside, and zipped up the tent. I was crying....I screamed out...." The man said he would kill her if she screamed again. She did not scream again. "I knew I wasn't ready to die yet...." Describing what he did and her feelings, she wondered if her parents would want her back.

"I was a 14 year old girl...I didn't watch the news much, but while I was on the floor of the tent I thought of those stories, saying that 'they found her body' and thought, they are the lucky ones, because they don't have to feel like their souls have been crushed...I fell asleep to those thoughts. I was chained up...I felt like my life wasn't worth living anymore. I was sentenced to a life less than an animal....I was a junior high school student about to graduate. I thought about how much I had changed in a day, I thought of family, my mom in particular...I didn't want to forget my mom's voice...."

Smart smiled as she remembered her disgruntlement upon hearing her mother's voice as a child telling her to go practice (harp), and do the dishes. Sometimes her mother gave her a choice - do the dishes or go practice, but her mother also said, "'once you're done with the dishes, you'll still have to practice.'" Of particular irritation to Smart was the sound of her mother singing at the top of her voice, "Oh What A Beautiful Morning!" to wake up her and her siblings at 6:30 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. each morning to get ready for school.

But as Smart lay on the floor of the tent, raped and alone, she thought of her mother, and said, at that time, "I would have given anything to hear her at that moment...."

Her mother also always told her that 'nobody's opinions mattered except for God's and mine.' Her mother always told her that 'He loves you and will never turn your back on you', and 'I will always love you, you will always be my daughter.'"

"Those words stayed with me and I decided I would survive, no matter what. I knew one day I would walk home....That decision was a big turning point for me. The things I was forced to do, no one could make me do now...."

Smart said the first happiest day of her life was when she was married early last year, and the second is when she was reunited with her family. A 911 caller had called to say that she thought she saw Elizabeth Smart on the street with her captors.

Smart had been coached by her captors with a story if there were ever any questions by anyone, and was told that if she didn't stick with the script, she and her family would be killed. Smart stuck to the script even as police questioned her that day. Finally, one police officer decided to separate her from her captors and asked her point-blank, "Are you Elizabeth Smart?"

In her mind, she said 95% of her wanted to say, 'Yes! Save me!' but the other five percent wondered, 'what if they don't believe me?' She said the majority won out, and she admitted that she Elizabeth Smart.

Smart was reunited with her family. "When I saw my mom, if I ever wanted to know what heaven was like, it was seeing her..." Smart said the best advice her mother then gave her was that 'the best punishment you can give that man is to be happy', I knew he would never steal another second from me again."

"We all have trials and rough spots, we can all come up here and tell our stories and we would all be amazed...I am grateful for what happened because of the opportunities and doors it has opened to me and what I'm able to do now - I wouldn't be able to speak for so many who can't speak out - right now there are so many children who are waiting for their miracle...for their chance to come back...people like you made a phone call. If you ever see anything suspicious, make the phone call. You never know whose life you'll be saving - best case scenario, there's nothing wrong. You could make a difference....Never hesitate...That phone call is what brought me home...." Smart concluded.

Rani Hong

Olympia resident Rani Hong spoke about her story of being kidnapped at age seven from her village in southern India. Near death by age eight, she became worthless to her kidnappers, and was illegally sold for international adoption and went to Canada. Eventually, she was brought to Olympia. She attended Garfield Elementary, Roosevelt, Reeves Middle School, and Olympia High School.

"I'm here to prove that, with love, we can heal," said Hong. Hong founded the Tronie Foundation and is a United Nations spokesperson against human trafficking. Another struggle at age 17 tested her emotional strength: her adoptive mother died of cancer when when she was a sophomore at Olympia High School. "I was alone and vulnerable 17 years old I wanted to run away, I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to tell anyone of my circumstances. I was going to drop out...."

Hong said she chose to live for tomorrow and because Rotary gave her a scholarship for her education to South Puget Sound Community College, she felt her community cared about her. Addressing the membership of several South Sound Rotary groups, she said, "It saved my life...never forget that...."

At age 28, in 1999, she was reunited with her birth mother, who had slept with her picture under her pillow every night. "I found her in a tourist hotel in mom cried and cried....don't ever lose hope...."

Thomas Nnour

Hong introduced Thomas Nnour, a 20 year old Olympia High School senior, who addressed the group. Hong said it was his first time speaking publicly about his story as a Sudanese escaping war and his journey to Olympia.

His story, too, was a story of hope and survival.

"I left my homeland, war happened, so when the war starting, shooting, bombing, I see people dying, running around, airplanes bombing. We ran, ran, kept running. We walked nighttime and daytime. During our travel, many people, old people and kids (dying) on the way because they tired, there's no food or water...our enemy keep coming, fighting us. I was going to Ethiopia. On my way, we walk daytime and nighttime. From there, there were sick people who give up. We end up in Ethiopia. From there, we settled down. The Sudanese army coming and collecting little kids, kids. I didn't want to fight. The army came looking for kids. We escaped. I saw them but I ran away from them because I didn't want them to take me....From there, in refugee camp I live there as a minor so I have no mom. The UN (United Nations) - but we in a group - give me food and blanket at nighttime. Three years after what happened...they ask me, they find a better place. They would help me learn and find education. They did - they will take me to U.S. They want me to do interview and medical exam. Finally, they brought me to Washington State, put me in apartment. I learned to read and write and pay the bills every month. A lady comes and helps me. This is what I have...." Nnour continued his story saying he would like to go to college in the future. "It costs a have to pay for things, books, everything costs money when you go to college."

Matthew Grant, principal of Olympia High School, was clearly proud of Nnour, listening to Nnour and taking pictures of him greeting Smart and other well-wishers. About Nnour, Grant said, "He's one of the most loved students I've ever met at Oly, and he's one of the hardest working on so many levels...He's friendly, he's in tutoring...his work ethic is outstanding. He's a shining star at our school."

Above: Thomas Nnour and Rani Hong
The Kyron Horman and Lindsay Baum Families Wait For Their Miracles

A resource and information fair involving over 40 local organizations and agencies was held throughout the afternoon. Speakers from various groups gave brief presentations about their work.

Grays Harbor Police Chief Rick Scott is involved with the investigation of  Lindsey Baum, last seen June 26, 2009 in McCleary, Washington. He said that almost from the beginning, with his 30 years of law enforcement experience, "this didn't feel like a missing child." His agency quickly mobilized 30 FBI agents and over 100 officers within two days of her disappearance just blocks from home.

"You can never activate enough resources too soon when a child is missing....The case is active. We have investigated 4000 different tips and have continued to maintain a task force with the FBI, the Washington State Patrol, and other law enforcement. We continue to believe in our hearts that we'll bring Lindsay home."

Later, in an interview with Lindsey Baum's mother, Melissa, she said she was overwhelmed by Smart's talk. "The part where she said she wondered if her mother could ever love her again (after being raped), and how worthless she felt, got to me. I don't often cry in public, but that got to me....We're all so worried about minding our own business - I'm guilty of that too - but kids need to know that they will always be loved, no matter what...."

The Grays Harbor police department is currently thinking about issuing an age progression picture of Baum. It's been four years and her appearance has likely changed. Kyron Horman, age seven, disappeared from Skyline Elementary in Portland, Oregon on June 4th, 2010. Oregon authorities have already issued age progression pictures of him, with and without his glasses.

Human Trafficking and the Statistics

Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person to work. Human trafficking is modern day slavery. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 80% involves sexual exploitation, and 19% involves labor exploitation.

Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states. Eighty percent of trafficking victims are female. Human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity, following drugs and arms dealing.

The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services estimate there are 300,000 teenagers who become involved in prostitution across the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, 50% of trafficking victims internationally are under age 18.

In Washington State, around 80% of trafficked victims are forced into the labor maket. The 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report released by the U.S. Department of State reports that trafficking occurs primarily for labor in construction, manufacturing, health care and elder care, janitorial service, hotel services, domestic servitude, and agriculture. Due to its proximity to the border and waterways, the Seattle area is ranked in the top six places in the world to sexually exploit young boys and girls.

Anyone having information regarding Lindsey Baum's whereabouts are asked to contact 1-866-915-8299 or go to Anyone having information regarding Kyron Horman's whereabouts are asked to contact (503) 261-2847 or go to

Established in 2006, the Tronie Foundation creates safe havens for women and children victimized by international slave organizations. For more information about the Tronie Foundation, go to

The Zonta Club of Olympia works to advance the status of women by improving their legal, political, economic, educational, health and professional status. For more information, go to

Above: Rotary Interact student club members helped organize the event to bring Elizabeth Smart to the South Sound. Students from Rainier High School, Olympia High School, and Timberline High School pose with Rani Hong, second from right, first row, and Elizabeth Smart, back row, first from right.