This story has been updated since it was first published with reaction from Pastor Fecher and a preschool parent.
The Huckleberry Forest Preschool, which is located in the basement of the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church, will move, according to a statement provided to the Wallyhood blog.
The preschool owners said at a community meeting last Sunday that they were given just a couple days’ notice that a shelter housing up to 15 homeless men and women would open in the church balcony. Pastor Jami Fecher disputes this claim; he told us that the preschool was notified via email about the shelter on August 11. Fecher said, “We really love having the preschool in the building. We think it is a very good preschool. We hope they will not move, but comply with the lease and work with us toward building stronger ties to better serve this neighborhood.”
Many of the preschool parents were upset that SHARE, which runs the shelter, doesn’t do background checks on the homeless it houses. The school and shelter do not share space or hours.
The statement from the preschool read as follows:
The parents, staff and owners of Huckleberry Forest Preschool met Monday night and have decided that what’s best for the children, given the current situation, how it came to be, and how discussions are progressing to date, is for Huckleberry Forest Preschool to change locations so we can all move past this and they can get on with what they do best, which is taking excellent care of our children. Thank you to Wallingford in advance for supporting Huckleberry Forest while we make this transition.
A preschool parent told us that the Huckleberry Forest owners made a decision themselves to move the preschool, with no vote from the parents. The parent also said, “We don’t have a lot of preschool options and for this to be sprung on us really puts us in a bind.”
It is unfortunate that the preschool and church cannot get along — as a parent of an HF student, I would love for the preschool and shelter to find a way to share the same building. After all the miscommunications that have occurred over the past year, however, it does not seem that this is a viable option. I support the preschool in its choice to move, and I also support SHARE and GOG's work to minister to the homeless. Believe it or not, these two positions are not mutually exclusive.
I considered going to the meeting today because I think that face-to-face dialogue among community members is essential. However, I chose to boycott it because I had grave concerns about the ability of the moderator to lead a fair discussion — see news and discussion on the Wallyhood blog if you are interested in the details. I know that other parents chose not to attend for this reason as well. I hope that readers who look to this blog for a recap of the meeting minutes will keep in mind that it was a pseudo-open conversation which many people felt unwelcome to attend (because of Jami's choice of moderator.)
I can completely understand your concerns about the moderator, HF parent. I also agree that he was not an impartial choice, but to his credit, he did disclose his church affiliations once asked.
I did end up attending and actively participating in the meeting. I also had the opportunity to talk with him for about 45 minutes after the meeting. I felt that he did a fair job at taking questions, and everyone had a chance to speak. He came across to me as a very open person, and there were things that were brought up at the meeting that he said were new to him. After watching him run the discussion, and talking to him afterwards, I came away with a very positive impression. Hope that helps.
As to the meeting itself – I do not think that questions were fully answered at this meeting, once again. But I did sense that most of the congregation members in attendance were really listening to the concerns that were being voiced. In particular, there seems to be some followup on the topic of doing ID checks on the folks invited to stay at the shelter, which has long been a sticking point for many community members here and in other locations. We shall see, of course, whether anything comes of it, but it was a start.
I also left with the impression that much of the congregation was as surprised with the community response. Several spoke to how they were unaware of SHARE's issues and reputation, or the problems that the Ballard shelter had with the Level 3 sex offender. There were also issues raised with the details of the lease with the preschool and type and level of miscommunication on that front. In full disclosure, I am the woman who pressed on the issue at the meeting, since the preschool director was not there, and I felt strongly that her viewpoint was being mischaracterized in her absence.
Be that as it may, this meeting appeared to be an eye opening experience for church congregation as well. None of this repairs the damage already done to the preschool and its relationship with the church and with Pastor Jami in particular. Nor do I think the preschool should change its mind. I know exactly the impact that this situation can have on such a business, having lived through it two years ago myself. But I can say that I came away from this meeting thinking that it was less one sided than I thought it would be. I think there is real opportunity for dialog with some members of the congregation. I left my contact information with the moderator, and I would be happy to talk with any of them, as a preschool parent who is two years down the road from this.
Thanks for the summary. Like the person above, I too could not bring myself to attend this meeting today for fear that it would be a redo of last Sunday's meeting. My level of frustration was so high, I couldn't sleep that night. I just couldn't go 'there' again. Sounds like things were quite a bit different this time, which is great to hear. Your tireless efforts are admirable.
Thank you for taking the time to describe your experience! I am genuinely happy to find out that the conversation was more balanced than I had feared it would be, and that maybe some minds were opened to other perspectives.
I've been upset and discouraged by this whole conflict, but I feel more hopeful in knowing that the congregation was open to listening to the other side of the story. Also, I deeply appreciate that you spoke out against misrepresentations of the director's role in things. She is the person I feel most badly for in the whole situation, and I think that we should all give her a lot of support in this difficult time. It is shameful that people are trying to blame her for what has happened.
Let's keep hoping that this will all resolve in the best way possible. SHARE and the church will work with the surrounding community to run a shelter to serve people in need, and the preschool community will continue to grow and thrive at whichever location it chooses.
Trust me, two years ago, I also could not eat or sleep either, and the firestorm that erupted in the community, the church, and the preschool was extremely traumatic. It was very hard to stay clearminded in the immediate aftermath, and the personal attacks on the parents, dismissal of each others' concerns, and accusations thrown around caused great anguish. Things are better now, but there were deep, permanent rifts that remain to this day. Given that I am two years down the road, and have had the luxury of time to think things through, I hope I can provide some insights at a time when all the parties directly involved (parents, neighbors, congregation, shelter clients, etc) feel so overwhelmed and divided.
As I have said several times, the more that the stakeholders involved can focus on the communication and process aspects, and move away from the ad hominem attacks, the better off everyone will be two years from now.
I think that is also extremely important to remember that this is not the first time that a SHARE-run shelter has been introduced in this exact divisive manner. I hope that some light can be shined on this aspect as well, and that any future congregations thinking about partnering with SHARE can learn from the (now many) previous negative examples. I think we can all agree that we know what NOT to do in the future, and our community stakeholders and city can craft a better process going forward from here. There is strong support for providing for the homeless in our city. I would really hate to see us lose that focus. No one wins, and everyone loses, if we cannot agree on a better way to do this.
One final comment for the parents who have felt alienated, then I'll shut up ;-). If you can find a way, do not give up on trying to make a connection with the Gift of Grace congregation. I know that many of you feel upset, particularly with Pastor Jami, but there are members of the church who seem willing to really listen. You are all still neighbors, and will still need to go through a transition away from the building as you move into a new home. You are all still connected and will be for some time. Give yourself the space you need to reach a little inner calm, but once you are ready, please send an email, attend a feast, go to the October meeting, and find someone who will listen. Do this either as a group, or as individuals, but do not permanently withdraw. It will make the healing process so much easier as you move forward.
And I would respectfully offer a similar message to the congregation as well. Speaking as someone who once felt betrayed and unheard and stereotyped by her former host church, please allow these parents some much needed time to regroup and catch their breath. Rather than make assumptions, please find it within your heart to sit with them, and really listen to their viewpoint when they are ready to connect once again. Help them transition to their new space with grace and goodwill. Make this a smooth, loving process for the school, rather than a contentious one, and it will become a valuable gift that you can give to them as well as community. You have an opportunity here to begin the healing process, and I hope you choose to take it.
Sorry to see the preschool move; love seeing those little darlings walk by my house on the nature walks.
/s/ a Wallingford Grandmother
HF Preschool – you're doing the right thing by moving. Don't feel guilty about it. If you do, family members should give money to support shelters and programs that end homelessness, (YWCA, Union Gospel, DAWN, etc) not ones that merely group long-term homeless overnight with no movement toward ending their status.
While several posters on other threads are basically correct that the residents don't really pose a risk to the children in the school b/c they won't overlap, their belongings – infested with bed bugs, undoubtedly – will probably remain in storage somewhere in the church. They will use bathroom facilities in the church — are they shared with the school? Look up the various threads on bedbugs and shelters in the comments, and you'll be confirmed in your decision to move the preschool. Move before all your school belongings are infested and you have to pitch them or spray them. You have a couple months, probably, given that the guys are all the way up in the balcony – but the church is no more immune to the nasty bugs than any of the other shelters.
It is very hard for me to believe that everyone in the congregation was unaware of the Ballard issues, the lack of background checks, and the consistent and loud community upset with each and every church that has done this. Yes, it is a church mission. But how can the neighborhood response be a surprise to anyone? Let alone to everyone? How? It happens every single time. And have the other pastors who represent churches that have been infested with bed bugs been honest about ALL that when they tell other churches that “it's really no impact” or whatever?
I support churches that want to embrace this mission, but they shouldn't be willfully blind or naive. It's a mission that requires foresight and contingency planning and, frankly, a lot of cynicism on the part of the church about SHARE and the homeless, in order to actually force SHARE and the occupants to run a good, clean, safe, honest shelter.
Let me get this straight: The preschool is moving because background checks have not been performed for the 15 people who are sleeping in the church during hours that DO NOT coincide with the preschool's hours. In all the time the preschool's been in operation, did it run background checks on all the people who live near the preschool and who ARE around during the hours that the children are present? I think I can guess the answer to that.
Wallford, In response, I'll repost a comment from the first thread on the topic which was back on Sept. 15th, comment # 60:
“To all you bleeding hearts who love to make ridiculous claims such as:
“As for the “danger” from the homeless themselves, the chance of someone meaning harm to children is probably roughly the same as the “stranger danger” in the general population–meaning extremely low.”
Do you really believe that bums, sorry, “homeless',” don't have a much higher incidence of criminal records, drug and alcohol problems, and mental illness than the general population? Then why are they homeless? Wait, don't tell me; they're simply “down on their luck.” So these offramp guys I've recognized seen for years have been unlucky this whole time?
But hey, you're so bighearted and sure that they are no physical threat, how about you put it to the test. Tonight, take a stroll through a Wallingford neighborhood. And then go take a stroll through one of the “jungles” under I-5 . Then tell us where you felt safer. “
No, the preschool is moving because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they were grossly misled when they signed their lease. They thought they made it clear in advance that a shelter would be a dealbreaker. The church felt they could bring in the shelter regardless of what was verbally agreed to at signing, by nature of some unusual clauses they added at the last minute to the lease.
The preschool is leaving because they no longer trust the word of the church.
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