Soon after arriving in Bellingham from North Carolina, Ray Deck was told he should use the word “skookum” as often as possible to sound like a local. Today, while Deck is pretty sure this was a joke, he did eventually look up the Chinook word to discover it means “strong and brave.” Later this word is what popped into mind when Deck was searching for a name for the movement focused on caring for Whatcom County foster kids.
Skookum Kids has operated in Whatcom County for roughly the last two and a half years. Skookum Kids aims to eliminate the gaps that can occur in the foster care system when it comes to service. Deck mentions that if people have heard of Skookum Kids, it’s likely in relation to one of their programs, Skookum House which cares for kids who are new to foster care. In the past 18 months, Skookum House has served about 300 kids. Trained volunteers, who all have a heart for helping foster children, care for kids at Skookum House.
“We do normal kid stuff with them, which is exactly what they need in the midst of such a stressful transition. We play, hang out, take them on fun outings, and get them to a doctor at least once,” Deck explains.
By inviting children to spend a week at Skookum House, social workers have more time to find the best fit possible for their placement. It also gives kids some much needed time to process all the changes taking place in their lives.
Deck continues, “This leads to better foster care outcomes in general. It helps social workers find a place that is ready and eager to care for a child just like them. When the kids are with us for the week, we depressurize the search. It allows the right placement to be made rather than a fast placement.”
Another program recently offered by Skookum Kids is called Skookum Parents. With this program, the goal is to assist families through the foster parent licensing process.
Now, Skookum Kids is ready to open a third chapter. In the search for additional space, a door opened for Skookum Kids when Deck crossed paths with Raleigh Kukes, founder and owner of Bellingham’s beloved play café, Perch & Play. She was looking to sell the business soon so Deck and Kukes began talking and dreaming together.
“There are a lot of things about Perch & Play that represent opportunities to serve foster kids in new ways. Perch & Play is very well designed and loved by the people who frequent it,” says Deck.
Deck mentions that Perch & Play is a great concept, however, while looking into buying it they had to consider that the business had not consistently generated free cash flow. So the Skookum team really had to look into how they could make it work.
Deck’s hope is that he and his team can execute further on some of the plans Kukes already had in place – things that will be exciting for families with young kids while also using the space to build programs that serve foster parents, foster kids, and social workers in our community.
Those who already frequent Perch & Play will likely be curious as to how the play café may change in the near future. “Perch & Play is going to stay like it is for the time being. It will grow and advance even,” Deck says enthusiastically. “We believe in the business of Perch & Play. We hope to make a couple of key changes and improvements that will hopefully attract people in the community.”
Deck mentions he will reach out to the community to learn what they love about the business and what suggestions patrons may have, ultimately selecting the most impactful options. He indicates he may introduce a monthly membership program with unlimited use and also offer a family night for foster parents.
Those already involved with Skookum Kids are very excited about this new chapter.
“Skookum Kids brings with it a talented staff that’s very capable of serving and supporting the Perch & Play staff in a way that they haven’t had before. Skookum Kids also has an army of volunteer support that when they saw the potential, got really excited and are ready to jump in as well,” Deck says.
To learn more about being involved with Skookum Kids, visit www.skookumkids.org or click here to get more information about volunteer options. You can also visit the Perch & Play open house on February 4 during normal business hours. Skookum Kids board and staff will be onsite to chat with visitors and celebrate the future.