PORT TOWNSEND — It had become almost too much for Jessica Garcia of Olympic Angels.
She was working with 15 families — including 40 children — in foster care on the North Olympic Peninsula. As the nonprofit organization’s sole case manager, she also collaborated with about 75 volunteers in its Love Box and Dare to Dream mentorship programs.
Most are in Jefferson County, while two Love Box groups are active in Sequim, and one Port Angeles youngster is part of Olympic Angels (OA).
At the same time, nine more families were on the waiting list.
“I realized: I’m feeling overwhelmed,” Garcia remembered in an interview Friday.
Then, as 2021 came to a close, everything changed. OA hired its second case manager, Katie Davis, and finished a fundraising campaign for that position.
Originally aiming to raise $60,000, the organization received $72,000 in gifts from 132 donors.
OA’s mission is to walk alongside children and families in foster care by offering consistent support. Its Love Box program pairs groups of volunteers with foster kids and parents, while Dare to Dream is a one-to-one mentorship program for older kids.
A volunteer team led by Morgan and Ian Hanna of Port Townsend established the North Olympic Peninsula chapter of Olympic Angels in 2020. Then, last year came a leap forward: the hiring of Michael D’Alessandro as the first paid executive director.
The former Northwind Art director joined Garcia and part-time marketing manager April Thompson.
With local grants and individual donors, OA has now doubled its budget: from $200,000 to $400,000, D’Alessandro said.
“That’s still a small organization’s budget,” he said, while acknowledging that growing from zero to four employees is a big deal.
In recent months, grants have come from the Clallam County Behavioral Health Fund, from the CFOS Foundation, a component fund of the Seattle Foundation, and from local residents.
“We received donations from entire families giving together, and from a couple of kids’ save/spend/share jars,” Thompson added.
Davis, who previously worked with Garcia at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, is a third-generation Jefferson County resident. She grew up with foster siblings and she became the county’s youngest foster parent when she was 21.
OA hired Davis in November before her position’s funding was raised, D’Alessandro said.
“We didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. She has a lot of experience in foster care,” he said.
This week, Davis and Garcia will begin connecting with the families on OA’s waiting list. They will also work with people interested in volunteering to support kids in various ways — through assembling care packages, babysitting while the parents run errands or have a date night or, as one volunteer has done, baking a birthday cake.
Small gifts, such as $5 per month, mean a lot too, Thompson added.
A next step for OA: Adding another case manager to focus on Clallam County foster families. D’Alessandro hopes to do that in the first quarter of this year.
“We also have a handful of Port Angeles volunteers who’ve signed up,” he said; OA is “so close to making a Love Box out there.”
More about the Love Box and Dare to Dream programs and other ways to become involved can be found at olympicangels.org.
One volunteer, Thais Oliveira of Port Townsend, notes on the website that her work with Olympic Angels has allowed her to not only provide direct emotional support to a local youth, it has also helped her own state of mind.
“It sounds kind of self-centered,” she writes, “but volunteering takes a lot of anxiety away — from what you see on social media and in the news.”
Thompson, for her part, said OA has planned its expansion carefully, with support from other Angels chapters in Seattle and around the country.
Nonetheless, she said, this time is “thrilling for sure.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] dailynews.com.