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 www.yogabliss.org

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 miyfs@mercergov.org.

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 (tambi.cork@mercergov.org).

VOICE volunteers









Telephone Town Hall

Take Part in Discussion of City’s Financial Challenges, including budget impacts on Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. Wednesday October 11th, 7-8pm.

In July, the City began a public engagement process to share information about the City’s financial challenges with the community and to seek public input on how best to balance the budget. As part of its outreach, the City is piloting a new technology that allows interested residents to join a moderated, community meeting by telephone or computer, providing a new option for those who are unable to attend in-person. Participants may ask questions in real-time, and a recording of the event will be available afterwards. This interactive meeting is known as a “Telephone Town Hall” and anyone can join in, or just listen, from any telephone.

What does this have to do with Mercer Island Youth and Family Services?

For the 2017-2018 Budget cycle, significant deficits have been projected in the General Fund and Youth and Family Services (YFS) Fund, which account for most of the City’s services (excluding utilities). The General Fund pays for a wide range of City services such as park maintenance, police and fire services, and special events. The Youth and Family Services Fund pays for school counselors, emergency family assistance, and employment assistance.

The imbalance was temporarily solved using 2016 surplus revenues in the General Fund, which were generated by the high level of development activity on the Island, and one-time resources in the Criminal Justice Fund, which was folded into the General Fund in 2017. However, this budget balancing solution is only temporary, meaning the projected deficits will occur in 2019.

Sign up to take part in the Telephone Town Hall here:


More detailed information about the budget, process, impacts, and further opportunities to get involved:




Help us balance the budget

Friday Introductions

School Counselors 2017

School Counselors 2017

Mercer Island Youth & Family Services (YFS) introduces our licensed mental health counselors in all six Mercer Island public schools: Chis, Cathy, Harry, Jonathan, Liana, Julie, Laura and Anna.

Our team of counselors are in all Mercer Island public schools every day making your child’s school experience the best it can be.

Our counselors are trained to identify problems before they become crises. They also teach your children mindfulness skills, address bullying prevention, and help them to learn about empathy and how to problem solve in order to be their best academic selves.

They are different from academic counselors who are funded by the school district.

Your donations, along with MI Thrift Shop proceeds and City of Mercer Island fund YFS counselors. This kind of emotional support is rare in public schools.

You can read more about the YFS Mental Health Counselors here and how your child can connect with YFS Counselors at each Mercer Island school here.

Please support YFS counselors today – donate online at www.miyfs.org

YFS Says Get Screened for Depression

Depression Awareness Month

October is Depression Awareness Month

National Depression Screening Day is October 5 and Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) calls on Islanders to get screened for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders and to raise awareness about the importance of mental health.

“There is no such thing as health, without mental health,” quotes MIYFS Director Cynthia Goodwin. As a community, we all play a role in recognizing warning signs of depression or anxiety in ourselves, family and neighbors.

Depression is a common, treatable mental disorder that will often show-up in adolescence and early adulthood. Studies indicate that 15-20% of young people are likely to experience an episode of depression before adulthood.  However, due in part to the stigma against treating mental health on par with physical health, most do not get help.

Much like a sore throat and fever might suggest the flu, so do changes in sleep/ appetite, poor concentration, loss of energy, loss of interest in usual activities, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, or recurring thoughts of death or suicide hint at depression. Both would suggest a trip to a medical provider is necessary.

Depression takes many forms and has many causes. Sometimes depression can be a single event, while at other times, it is a recurring health issue. While the very symptoms of depression – such as feelings of hopelessness or lack of energy – can make it difficult to ask for help or to believe that things will improve, we know that with appropriate treatment, most people can recover.

MIYFS invites all Islanders to join us October 5 and spread the word about the importance of mental health check-ups. Parents can contact their pediatrician or MIYFS school counselor (in all public schools) for consultation or screening. Adults are encouraged to contact their physician or MIYFS counseling staff (206.275.7611) for assistance. Learn more at www.nami.org or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-800-273-TALK). In King County, call 2-1-1 for any mental health crisis.

To learn more about how to keep kids in crisis safe, please join Parent EDGE and The MIHS Forefront Suicide Prevention Team for a free training on Wednesday, November 15 at 7:00pm in the MIHS library presentation room.

Off to College, Parenting Still Required

Originally published in MI Living, August 2017.

Graduation caps

Parenting doesn’t stop when kids graduate.

As summer vacations wane, many Island parents will send their children off to college. These young adults say good-bye to childhood haunts, schools, and friends and prepare not only for a new campus, but for a whole new stage of life. Parents, too, must enter a new phase. Having an “empty nest” does not mean you can stop parenting.

As any parent of an adult child will tell you, parenting does not stop once your child goes to college. In fact, some will suggest it never stops – for good reason. Youth do better socially, psychologically, and economically as adults due both to nurturing parenting birth-18, and due to parents who stage engaged thru approximately age 25. Just like parenting a toddler is different than parenting a pre-teen, so is parenting a college student different than parenting a high schooler. And all are vitally important.

The need to continue parenting through the college years is partially rooted in brain science. The frontal lobes of the brain, often referred to as the brain’s “executive manager,” is the last area to fully develop. Up to ages 24-26, the brain’s ability to make effective decisions is still forming. Structurally, the process of myelination is involved. This is the coating, over time, of axons of some nerve cells in a fatty tissue “myelin” that allows neural signals to travel through the brain more quickly and without a loss of signal—in essence to allow the brain to function more efficiently and eventually to make more mature decisions.

Before this process is complete the brain is primed for malleability and learning but not necessarily wisdom. Yet at the same time, hormones and other environmental and physical processes lead young adults to feel invulnerable and wiser than they really are.

Ever find yourself wanting to yell, “What were you thinking!” to children at this age? In fact, without a completely myelinated brain, they might not be developmentally ready to think in the way we would expect.

So parents must not stop parenting when a child leaves for college, but shift how they parent. Some parent coaches refer to as the “cheerleader” stage:

  • Stay connected through regular check-ins that are unobtrusive. Listen to your child to determine frequency, but aim for at least monthly. Care packages are great even if you hear nothing back.
  • Be a sounding board and offer advice when asked. Allow them to express both learning and struggles. Instead of lecturing or teaching, facilitate their thought process and ask questions so they can develop confidence in their own choices.
  • Learn about the resources available to them and help them to identify what they need and where to seek this information.
  • Let them know you are open to having conversations about issues relevant to their new stage in life. Maintain clear expectations for age appropriate topics. Discuss alcohol and drug use, sexual and physical safety, and other risk behaviors on campus. Explore these topics when appropriate, with facts, and speak from a place of concern for their well-being.

Parents who convey confidence and facilitate problem solving from a distance will help young adults face the trials and challenges of college successfully. Consistent parenting through the college years will allow students to borrow a little of your wisdom until their brains are ready to develop some of their own.

By Cynthia Goodwin, Director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services. 
To learn more, volunteer or request services, please contact the main office at (206) 275-7611. 

Dear YFS…Tackling Cyberbullying

Originally published in Mercer Island Reporter August 2017


Dear YFS,

My husband and I were saddened to hear that our freshman high school daughter is being bullied on social media. She showed us some really disturbing comments. She has a great head on her shoulders and we have good communication, but I know this can lead to real problems. What do we do?



Dear SP –

I am sorry to hear your daughter is experiencing bullying through social media. This type of bullying is somewhat common (more so in middle than high school) and causes a lot of distress to the victim. The great news is that your daughter is speaking with you. Over half of young girls who experience this do not tell their parents.

There are many things parents can do to address and stop bullying. Consider normalizing the experience for her by putting it in perspective – about half of all high school girls will experience some kind of cyber (or media) bullying. However, still stress the real hurt it can cause. Clarify bullying is not about her or anything she did, but about a bully’s behavior and their need to feel power (albeit illegitimately) at the expense of others. She needs to hear loud and clear it is not her fault.

Do not dismiss the behavior as just “catty girl behavior” or “just how some girls are.” Bullies act emotionally abusive as a way to boost their esteem or social standing. Cyber bulling attempts to exclude, demean, threaten or embarrass an individual to cause emotional pain in a way that will be seen by many people. The result is legitimately painful, so listen to your daughter with empathy.

To help your daughter, avoid inadvertently punishing her by taking her phone or internet privileges away. Instead, focus on efforts to end the bully’s influence:

  • Ask that she not respond to comments – this only empowers the bully;
  • Help her develop a plan so the bullying is reported to other parents, school personnel (when appropriate) and other adults – save posts, photos, and write down disappearing remarks;
  • Ask the school to attend to communications generated at, from, or around school activities; and
  • Block bullies from posting on any of your daughters media outlets.

Reporting bullying is also crucial. Reporting and calling this out will expose the bully’s actions and sends the message to the bully and bystanders that this behavior is not tolerated. If there is a direct physical threat or sharing of sexual material, be sure to report this to the police as these actions are actual crimes.

As painful as bullying is for young women, the situation can serve as a catalyst for discussions on civil media behavior. On-line communications are now a part of youth culture. It is a platform where remarks are devoid of usual in-person filtering. As parents, continue to discuss and model appropriate on-line communications with your children both for prevention and to help process a bullying event. Together, we can shape norms for appropriate social media communications.


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 miyfs@mercergov.org.

3rd Annual Open House – Sunday, October 1st

The City of Mercer Island and the MIYFS Foundation are pleased to announced our 3rd annual Open House – Sunday, October 1st from 1 to 4 p.m. Please plan to bring your family on a tour of the Red Brick Building in Luther Burbank Park. You will have an opportunity to learn about services and programs here at Mercer Island Youth & Family Services. You will be the first to purchase from this season’s glass pumpkin collection! And, we will have lots of kids activities too. The pumpkin carver will return again to show off his artistry!

Also, this year, we are asking the Mercer Island community to “Fill the Wagon.” One of our Programs, the Mercer Island Food Pantry, serves approximately 150 Island families who are experiencing food scarcity – we see about 1,500 visits to the Pantry each year. Please help us re-stock our shelves for the fall, and consider bringing a donation of non-perishables with you to the Open House. The Food Pantry is currently in need of boxed cereal, canned fruit, chili, tuna, hearty soups, baking supplies, peanut butter & jelly and rice products.

If you have questions about our Open House event, please connect with Sari Weiss, (206) 275-7756, sari.weiss@mercergov.org

“Fill the Wagon” Please bring a non-perishable donation to the Open House

Lots of kids activities and the pumpkin carver

We will feature a new fall collection of glass pumpkins too!