Community Forum on April 3rd

April Forum

The Department of Youth and Family Services’ (YFS) Community Advisory Board (CAB) consists of Island adults and youth appointed by the Mayor. These volunteers serve as a sounding board for the Department and offer recommendations on policy and practices. Last year, YFS Director Cynthia Goodwin reworked responsibilities of the CAB to include offering an annual community forum on a topic of interest aligned with the YFS mission.

On April 3 from 7:00pm to 8:30pm at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center, YFS and the CAB present acommunity forum, “Successful Parenting on Mercer Island: Harmful Stress and Its Impact on Teen Health.” Addressing anxiety among Island youth is a priority for YFS’s Healthy Youth Initiative (HYI). The HYI Mental Health Action Team, comprised of Island volunteers and YFS staff, notes that 58% of 8th graders, 60% of 10th graders and 70% of 12th graders report being bothered by feeling nervous, anxious or on edge.

The forum is a “fireside chat” theme featuring a panel of youth and adult professionals. The event includes coordinated discussion among participants focused on tangible approaches parents can take to help their child cope with anxiety. Discussion will also include information on deciding when to get professional help for your child.

Director Goodwin, also acting as moderator for the evening, points out that, “the way the Island tends to define what it means for a child to be successful is part of the problem—as a community, we need to embrace the assets afforded by relative affluence and a great school system, while pushing back on the norms that support excessive and institutionalized pressure to succeed as the cost of social-emotional health.”

YFS and the CAB invite Island parents and teens (middle to high school) to attend this free event. Drinks and light refreshments will be served. For more information, contact Derek Franklin, YFS Programs Manager at or (206) 275-7745.

A Letter to the Community on School Safety

By Donna Colosky, Cindy Goodwin and Ed Holmes March 7, 2018

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS), Mercer Island Police, Mercer Island School District staff and the City have all received similar questions since the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida:

  • How could a shooting like that have happened?
  • Could that happen here on Mercer Island?
  • What’s being done to prevent a school shooting from happening here?

There is now, and has been, a great deal being done to prevent a school shooting on Mercer Island. These efforts are not labelled “active shooter prevention” or “gun safety.” They exist in the social-emotional curriculum taught in classrooms, availability of mental health and police support in every school, and expert speakers coordinated by the PTA’s Parent Edge. Gun violence prevention requires a coordinated response rooted in stakeholder collaboration, evidence-based approaches, and in community mobilization.

Collaboration. Since 1995, leaders from youth-serving institutions on the Island have convened a quarterly “Youth Concerns” meeting. First a School-City partnership, Youth Concerns has grown to include most Island youth serving entities. Co-chaired by Superintendent Donna Colosky, Police Chief Ed Holmes and YFS Director Cindy Goodwin, participants include: middle and high school principals, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, Boys and Girls Club, Young Life, Lifewire (domestic violence intervention), YFS school-based and outpatient counselors, YFS Court Diversion Coordinator, YFS Healthy Youth Initiative Coordinator, and the School Resource Officer. The group identifies problems and solutions, shares resources, updates each other on trends and activities, and identifies possibilities for collaboration. One of the primary focuses of this group is to align services and insure the community safety net is intact.

Evidence-based approaches. The gold standard of preventing anti-social outcomes for youth is strong relationships (and a strong community). Students who feel connected and engaged with their school and community more often launch into young adulthood with a sense of direction and hope, and are less likely to break the social contract of respect and safety for others. Mercer Island schools, and the community organizations that support and surround them, follow national recommendations for developing a school culture that is high in social connectedness and low in risk for violence by:

  • Co-locating community Mental Health services in schools (Each elementary, middle and high school has a full-time YFS mental health counselor on-site).
  • Identifying students with the higher anti-social risk factors including fighting, breaking rules and laws, those distanced or alienated from school, low interpersonal skills; low conflict resolution skills.
  • Developing restorative practices and alternatives to suspension and expulsion.
  • Emphasizing connections and fostering trusting and positive relationships between staff and students; and
  • Fostering positive relationships between student groups.
  • Offering an array of extracurricular activities that includes leisure/recreation, competitive, physical and cerebral to ensure that all students can be involved in at least one activity.
  • Teaching conflict resolution, citizenship and social competency with a focus on respect, dignity, sensitivity to others, and inclusion.

Community mobilization. An important part of violence prevention is the role of parents and influence of the home. Effective, informed, and consistent parenting is shown to play a key role in violence prevention, reducing substance use, and building a child’s resilience in the face of stress, anxiety, and depression. While there is exceptional parenting on the Island, there are always those who struggle. Should Island parents act together and follow the national recommendations for parenting for prevention, the results would be powerful. These include:

  • Remain interested and engaged in your child’s life — get to know their friends.
  • Model positive communication and relational skills.
  • Learn about and monitor social media use.
  • Work collaboratively with schools and police should your child be involved in an incident requiring discipline.
  • Follow through with all discipline and treatment recommendations.

The “fix” for preventing school violence includes early intervention and weaving a strong social fabric. Institutions can do their part by sustaining programs that support the mental health and social-emotional development of all Island youth. The community can mobilize to support universal family management practices, policies and practices that reduce access to weapons, and act together to stop bullying and marginalization of any child. Our collective work must remain on-going. As the Island’s youth-serving providers, we are steadfast in our commitment to collaborative prevention work.


Donna Colosky is Superintendent of the Mercer Island School District
Cindy Goodwin is Director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Department
Ed Holmes is Chief of the Mercer Island Police Department


Anxiety and Our Kids: Join the Discussion

6:30pm, February 13th
Mercer Island Library

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services counselors will facilitate discussions about anxiety that began after the viewing of the film Angst.

Find out more about preventing and addressing anxiety with parents and counselors grouped by elementary, middle and high school age levels.

Counselors will answer questions, offer resources, and we will discuss ways to address anxiety together as a community.

All parents are welcome. No students, please. 


Presented in partnership with Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, Friends of Mercer Island Library and Mercer Island Parent Edge.


Click HERE for additional resources to identify, manage and overcome anxiety.


Angst Image

Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety

Join Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, MI Parent Edge and Friends of the Mercer Island Library on February 6th for a viewing of Angst, an IndieFlix film about kids and anxiety.  Angst is a must-see film that is relevant to the challenges our children are facing day to day.

This compelling documentary looks at anxiety, its causes and effects, and what we can do about it.

It features interviews with children and young adults including Olympic Champion Michael Phelps who suffer or have suffered from anxiety. Read HERE about Michael Phelps’ struggle with anxiety and why he wants to help fight the stigma and raise awareness around anxiety and kids. This film is a must-see for all parents — no matter the age of your child.

Join us at the MIHS PAC for a Resource Fair starting at 6:30, the film screening at 7:00, followed by a panel discussion.

This program is for parents of kids of all ages and for students in grades 5-12.

Sponsored by Mercer Island Parent Edge, MI Youth and Family Services and the Friends of the Mercer Island Library

Audience Guidance: Families, educators, students and community members will benefit from this film. Appropriate for age 11 years+. Under age 11 viewer discretion



Anxiety and Our Kids: Join the Discussion
February 13, 6:30pm at Mercer Island Library

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services counselors will facilitate discussions about anxiety that began after the viewing of the film Angst. Find out more about preventing and addressing anxiety with parents and counselors grouped by elementary, middle and high school age levels. Counselors will answer questions, offer resources, and we will discuss ways to address anxiety together as a community.

All parents are welcome. No students, please. 

Presented in partnership with Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, Friends of Mercer Island Library and Mercer Island Parent Edge.

Click here for Angst flyer.

Angst Film Brochure

Orthodontic Associates Named YFS Philanthropy Award Winner

Originally published in Mercer Island Reporter, January 24th, 2018

By Katie Metzger, Mercer Island Reporter

Dr. Kara McCulloch first learned about Mercer Island Youth and Family Services when she joined the practice of Dr. Bill McNeill, at Orthodontic Associates of Mercer Island, as his associate in 2010.

“He invited me to the [annual] breakfast, where I heard stories, watched the heartfelt video and listened to Islanders share thoughts about their experiences with MIYFS,” she said. “Every year that followed, I attended the breakfast. Many times, I was brought to tears listening to the stories of success due to assistance provided by MIYFS and our fellow Islanders.”

She is now the owner of the practice, which is the oldest on Mercer Island, and even more inspired to give back to the community. The MIYFS Foundation decided to recognize her in return. She and Orthodontic Associates were named the 2018 Philanthropy Award winner, and will be honored at the Feb. 7 breakfast.

McCulloch supports the organization in various ways, including shopping at and donating to the Thrift Shop, purchasing glass hearts as gifts, selling raffle tickets for the breakfast and hosting drives for food and school supplies. On Halloween, she hosts a “candy buy back,” and treats are donated to MIYFS.

“Mercer Island is a very special community. People call it ‘the Rock’ for many reasons, one of which, I think, is MIYFS,” she said. “MIYFS involvement in the community runs deep. No one is left behind; from families in transition, to troubled teens struggling with alcohol, drugs and depression, to the aging population, there is assistance.”

McCulloch said that she has personally known families who the organization has helped through rent and utility assistance, and has worked with teens who have braved substance abuse and changed their lives through counseling that MIYFS has provided.

“We never know what direction life will take us, or what challenges we might face,” she said. “Until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, we cannot truly know how important a safety net like MIYFS is.”

McCulloch and her family faced a challenge in 2011, when she found herself in an unexpected situation, facing a spouse with substance abuse.

“Through the kindness of family, friends and my community, I was able to pull myself up to weather a devastating divorce, significant financial hardship and the emotional toll it took on my children,” she said. “Today, we are stronger for having faced adversity and we have more compassion for the things that are truly important in life.”

She said she is grateful for all the help she received, from babysitting to grocery delivery, and today she lives by the “Golden Rule, with honesty, integrity and compassion.”

“I try at every opportunity to have gratitude and to pay it forward, since I know first-hand how important help is,” she said. “It is my great pleasure to be part of this community and to give back in whatever way I am able.”

McCulloch said that every time she attends the breakfast, it makes her proud to be part of the Mercer Island community and it reminds her that her success is possible only through the support of the same community.

“We can all do something. Even a simple smile can change the day for someone,” she said. “I guess that’s why our office motto has become, ‘because there is so much in life to smile about.’”

For more on the annual breakfast, see

MIYFS announces Orthodontic Associates of Mercer Island as philanthropy award winner

MIYFS Foundation presents a Facebook Live event “The Importance of Play”

Importance of Play

Tuesday December 12, 2017, 7:00 pm

The Social and Emotional Learning Task Force, part of Youth and Family Services’ Healthy Youth Initiative, will be conducting a FaceBook Live event for parents and educators of young children titled ‘The Importance of Play’.  To watch this event, simply friend and follow the Facebook page Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation.

Local pediatrician, Danette Glassey, will moderate panel questions to Judy Whitmer, Instructor at the Bellevue College Learning Lab and Linda Ernst, Children’s Librarian for the King County Library System. These Child Development professionals will address the importance of play to a developing child’s brain and the appropriate role parents and adults can play in facilitating (or staying out of the way of) this process.

Panelist questions asked will focus on:

  • What is play?
  • Why play?
  • What is the adult’s role in play? It’s easier than you think…
  • What are the barriers that prevent children from playing?
  • Tips for how parents get started? 0-2 year olds, 3-4 year olds, 5-6 year olds

Questions and Answers will be taken via telephone from audience members at the end of the panel discussion.

Join us next Tuesday the 12th at 7:00 or watch the video at another time from the Facebook page.


Resource list

Print Resources available through King County Library System:

  • Boyarshinov, Amanda.  100 Fun & Easy Learning Games for Kids: teach reading, writing, math and more with fun activities.  Page Street Publishing, 2016.
  • Brown, Stuart.   Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Penguin, 2009.
  • Elkind, David.  The Power of Play: How spontaneous, imaginative Activities lead to happier, healthier Children. DaCapo Lifelong Books, 2007.
  • Gray, Peter. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-reliant, and Better Students for Life. Basic Books, 2013.
  • Hansom, Angela. Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2016.
  • Hirsh-Pasek, Kathu, and Roberta M. Golinkoff, with Diane Eyer. Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How our children really learn- and why they need to play more and memorize less. Emmaus, 2003.
  • Johnson, Jeff. Babies in the Rain: Promoting play, exploration and discovery with infants and toddlers.  Redleaf Press, 2010.
  • Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008.
  • Silberg, Jackie. 125 Brain Games for Toddlers and Twos. Gryphon House, 2012. (author has other age groups as well).

Electronic resources



Local Community Groups Organizing Donation and Food Drives

Pumpkins Thanksgiving

Numerous community organizations around Mercer Island are organizing food and donation drives to help those who need extra assistance, especially around the holidays.

When local families need assistance, Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) can help through its Family and Emergency Assistance services which provides support for rent, utility, holiday, back to school and employment assistance as well as the Food Pantry at Luther Burbank Park offices.


Current Food and Donation Drives include:

New Season Market 5 Days of Kindness (add a contribution at register for MIYFS). Nov. 18-22.

MI Athletic Club Food & Donation Drive (incentive for $50 donations). Nov. 20-24.

Firefighter Union 1762 (Managing Food Drives at both QFCs). Nov. 22.

Yogabliss Practices in Gratitude (five yoga classes, class fee donation to MIYFS). Nov. 23.

Islander Middle School food drive. Through Nov. 22.

Island Park Elementary Huskies vs Cougars food drive. Through Nov. 17.

Northwood Elementary food drive. Through Nov. 22.

MIHS family-specific drive. Through Nov. 22.


Thank you to all the community groups supporting their neighbors around Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

If you are interested in hosting your own food and/or donation drive at any time of the year, please contact Kim Richards at MIYFS 206-275-7756.




Thanksgiving 2018

Yogabliss will be offering a range of special Thanksgiving morning classes again this year.

Proceeds from all classes will be donated to the Emergency Assistance program at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services which provides help for local Mercer Island families, youth and seniors.

A minimum $25 donation is requested for each class but please consider what your stretch gift can provide for local Islanders:
$50: One bag of groceries for an Island family
$75: After-school snacks for an Island youth for one month
$100: One full holiday meal for an Island family
$250: Shampoo, bar soap, toilet paper and toothpaste for 40 Pantry clients

Sign up for Thanksgiving classes at

Yogabliss Thanksgiving 2018

Dear YFS…What is Being Done to Support Diversity on Mercer Island?

Originally published in Mercer Island Reporter October 25, 2017


Dear YFS,

We recently moved to Mercer Island from outside the U.S.  We love the mild weather and number of children and families here. We hope to soon have children of our own. But there seems to be very little racial diversity here and we feel this not being white. What is being done to support diversity on Mercer Island?



Dear LH,

Thank you for this question. Although maybe not obvious, the topic of diversity is being discussed in many municipal, school district, business, and community circles. Discussions include evidence of the positive economic and social benefits of diverse communities and schools, but not a single answer to this complex issue.

Mercer Island is a majority white community of approximately 23,500: 80% Caucasian, 18% Asian (8% Chinese, 3% Japanese, 3% Korean and Filipino, Vietnamese and “other” Asian), and the remaining includes those who identify Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, and others. About 3% of the total population identifies as racially Hispanic or Latino (2010 Census). Given this community composition I can understand your concern with Island support for diversity.

I approached the Mercer Island school district and the City officials to ask about the steps being taken to ensure racial and ethnic inclusiveness in the areas of policy, boards/ commissions, and other input mechanisms.  Here is some of what is happening:

The Mercer Island School District has an Advisory Committee at each of its six schools. These discuss diversity issues on how the administration, teaching staff and parents can promote a more inclusive and equitable environment.  There is also a district Diversity Action Committee focused on equity and access. Staff and administration actively look for ways to include the issue of diversity and equity into academic and social-emotional learning curriculums.

A local parent group, One MI, meets to discuss issues of race, equity and access. This group developed a pamphlet for parents on how to talk to their kids about race and formed advocacy groups to raise awareness of cultural diversity.

The City of Mercer Island prides itself on supporting diversity. The City Council’s annual work plan includes the issue of diversity and equity. Last November they unanimously passed a proclamation reaffirming their principles and values related to inclusiveness which included 10 points to guide city work. Towards this end, City Departments developed a Diversity and Inclusion committee dedicated to issues of race, diversity, and equity. Examples put into practice by the City include:

  • Development Services Group uses facilitators at some meetings
  • Youth and Family Services recruits diverse members to its Community Advisory Board
  • Police train officers in cultural humility, prohibit biased-based policing, and officers are prohibited from asking immigration status on police contacts
  • Women and minority-owned businesses are intentionally included in solicitations for City contracts
  • City’s Emergency Management website links to critical information in various languages
  • Police Chief Holmes chairs the Public Trust of King County and the Committee for the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs working to build trust in communities
  • Youth and Family Services counselors and the Healthy Youth Initiative Board receive specific training in Cultural Humility to enhance outreach, orientation and membership

These policies and conversations are important to move us closer to full inclusion and equity. As a community that is majority white and privileged, addressing these issues head-on may not yet be the norm. Ensuring that all Islanders feel welcome and supported will take many more courageous conversations.

At Youth and Family Services, we continue to learn from the diverse families and individuals in the community. We hope to be a partner with you, LH. We have a lot to learn, along with the schools, government, faith, service and sports organizations about embracing diversity and the strengths is lends to any community.

Less than advice this week, I instead offer information, an open hand and my commitment to humbly engaging in further conversation.

Cindy Goodwin


Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for information purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email

Celebrate Halloween and Support the MIYFS Food Pantry

Mercer Island Martial Arts is helping restock the MIYFS Food Pantry shelves with a Halloween themed party. The party will be tons of fun, with a bouncy house, a martial arts demonstration at 2pm, costume contests at 2:30pm and of course candy! All it costs you is 5 (or more) items which will be donated to the MIYFS Food Pantry.

A big thank you from MIYFS to Mercer Island Martial Arts for orchestrating this great event.

The details:
20th Annual Community Halloween Party and Food Drive,
presented by Mercer Island Martial Arts, 2630 77th Ave SE, 106-108
October 28th, 12-4pm (come for the entire time or just an hour or so)

Click here for the full invitation.

Well-Being Starts with Being Warm

Two women outside in cold weather.

Originally published in Mercer Island Living, October 2017 

By Cynthia Goodwin, Director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services

The cooler weather has returned, children are settled back in school, and many families have begun thinking about their winter holiday plans. As many Islanders are able enjoy the warmth of fireplaces, soft down comforters and even family trips to tropical climates, others are kept warm through support provided by Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) Emergency Assistance Program and the Utility Reduction Program. Both programs are part of the YFS Department’s vision for Mercer Island to be a community where every Islander is reaching their full human potential. YFS does this by fostering well-being across the lifespan. Being warm is foundational to well-being. With warmth and the added security of knowing basic needs are met, a family is better able to focus on raising children and maintaining a healthy household.

Youth and Family Services’ Utility Reduction Program and the Emergency Assistance Program are the first tier in well-being. YFS staff use federal guidelines to qualify low income residents. Most often it is Mercer Island families or individuals whose situation becomes unstable through divorce, illness, loss of job, or as they age and rely on social security or social security disability. Through taxpayer dollars and many generous individual and community donations to Youth and Family Services, YFS is able to provide help. In particular The Isaac and Carol Auerbach Family Foundation, as directed by Islanders Rachel and Garrett Hyman, has made $10,000 grant donations for two consecutive years to increase the one-time (per year) rent or utility assistance from $600 per household to $1,000. These dollars help stretch assistance to more Islanders. And even with this generosity, more assistance is always needed and welcome.

In addition to rent and utility assistance, the Emergency Assistance Program also coordinates Thanksgiving and December holiday meals, and gifts for over 100 children during the winter holiday season to eligible families and individuals. Similarly, this support is largely available because of Islanders taking care of Islanders. By donating to the YFS Foundation’s Year-End Campaign or at the Annual YFS Foundation Breakfast every February, Islanders are making a impact in their community.

Other wonderful ways to make a difference include “adopting” a family for our holiday gift program or sponsoring meals, much like Lisa and Rino Caruccio who donate 20 full turkey & full trimming meals each year for YFS clients, or another anonymous Islander who donates $5,000 annually in support of Island neighbors in need.

If you, or your place of work, would like to help this holiday season please contact Cheryl Manriquez, Emergency Assistance Coordinator at 206-275-7869 by November 10th.


Voice Program Wins Community Service Award

Originally published in MI Weekly 11 October 2018.

Voice logo

The City’s longstanding youth volunteer program, Volunteer Outreach In Communities Everywhere (VOICE), received the esteemed Jon Nelson Community Service Award from nonprofit Community Lunch on Capitol Hill last weekend (October 8). The award recognizes VOICE’s exceptional service and leadership in supporting Community Lunch’s mission, which is to provide hot, nutritious meals and survival services to low-income people and those experiencing homelessness in Seattle.

“Community Lunch is one of our most popular organizations because it is so hands-on and tangible – our youth volunteers are really able to see the importance of the work they’re doing when they serve a hot meal to clients,” says Tambi Cork, Youth Development Coordinator for the City’s Youth and Family Services Department (YFS) .  “I think this project site is also one of the most influential on participants for that same reason – by spending time in a community so different from their own, our youth learn about poverty, food insecurity and homelessness first hand.”

VOICE has been supporting Community Lunch through volunteerism since 2008; it also supports dozens of other organizations across King County, many of which focus on food insecurity and homelessness (Community Lunch, Operation Sack Lunch, NW Harvest, TeenFeed, etc.); outdoor restoration/environmental work (EarthCorps, Mountains to Sound, Washington Trails Association, etc.); and community events (Cascade Bicycle Club, Mercer Island Farmers Market, Footloose Disabled Sailing, etc.).  Approximately 250 Island students provided about 10,000 hours of community service in summer 2017 at more than 50 nonprofit organizations in King County.

If you want to find out how/when to register your kids for Summer 2018 VOICE and SVP, send your email address to Tambi Cork (

VOICE volunteers