Children’s Home Society/Akin Leaves KP After 30-Plus Years

The newly formed Akin cited problems with funding and labor for closing its Vaughn office while local providers figured out how to better serve the KP.


The Children’s Home Society of Washington-Key Peninsula Family Resource Center, now part of Seattle-based Akin, said it will vacate its office at the KP Civic Center April 30 after more than 30 years on the KP and already ending local programs.

“Akin has decided to end its operations on the Key Peninsula and transfer critical services to local organizations by the end of April 2024,” wrote Kristen Conte, Akin’s director of marketing and communication in an email to KP News. “The decision comes with immense consideration for the Key Peninsula community and its impact.”

The statewide nonprofits CHSW and Childhaven announced a merger in January, creating Akin.

“Challenges related to staffing and sustainable funding have prompted a decision for Akin to transition away from Key Peninsula and transfer the resources and services to other local organizations to best serve the residents of the peninsula,” Conte wrote.

The KP office has been closed for “about six months,” according to civic center volunteers.

“We had people banging on the door for weeks,” said one. “ ‘Where is everybody? Where did they go? Where’s the indoor playtime?’ ”

The CHSW/Family Resource Center provided anyone in need with rent and utility assistance, free child’s clothing and diapers, and served families with early learning, family support, and referral services for financial aid, health care and employment. It also ran social and emotional mentoring groups and public speaking classes for local students, classes for parents or others raising children, and hosted an indoor park for toddlers and preschoolers at the civic center, among other things.

A note on the office door said it was closed for maintenance and listed a phone number where callers could leave a message to make an appointment.

CHSW complained to the civic center in mid-2023 about possible black mold and rodent infestation in its office, according to Bruce Macdonald, president of the KP Civic Center Association.

“We jumped through hoops, and they jumped through hoops, and we got a clean bill of health for the office and no polluted air or anything, but those rumors never really dissipated,” he said. “They didn’t really tell us why they’re leaving, but said they were having labor problems.”

Pierce County Council Member Robyn Denson (D-7th), who represents the KP, Gig Harbor, Fox Island and part of Tacoma, told KP News she is committed to continued service on the KP.

“The money is still there,” she said, explaining that the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is determining how best to redeploy funds budgeted for CHSW to other local service providers.

Those services were funded, in part, by a grant from TPCHD, about $40,000 of which is left for 2024, according to Denson.

A full year is typically $60,000. TPCHD did not respond to inquiries from KP News before press time but will reportedly seek a single local provider as a new grantee. 

“We all want to be sure services to our families don’t fall through the cracks,” Denson said.

“I’m not sure there’s anybody on the KP that can do everything that Children’s Home Society did, but I think there’s a lot of people who can do parts of it,” said Susan Paganelli, co-executive director of the nonprofit Key Peninsula Partnership for a Healthy Community.

“It seemed that Children’s Home Society started pulling services back immediately after Gina (Cabiddu) left (she resigned as manager in September 2022),” Paganelli said. “So it’s been frustrating to watch because we saw the direction they were going and were not able to take action because they kept saying, ‘No, no, no, we’re going to keep doing these things.’ ”

The Partnership took over one CHSW program, a class for multi-generational families raising children that had been running since 2017, which now operates out of the KP Lutheran Church in Lakebay.

Cabiddu had been the manager since 2019. She declined to speak to KP News for this article. 

“We certainly are sad that they’re not functioning anymore,” said Colleen Speer, executive director of Communities in Schools of Peninsula. “It was a resource in our community for a very long time and we did partner with them on many things. Now that there’s no staff there, we have nobody to dialogue with, there’s nobody local.”

CISP works in 10 schools in the Peninsula School District and three in the South Kitsap School District.

“Serving kids with integrated student support is what we do,” Speer said. “We focus on attendance, behavior, course performance, and social-emotional learning. Those are the four buckets. Anything outside of that we just can’t do both financially and with our organization’s guidelines.”

“We’ve been asked by different agencies to think about what else we could do,” she said. “We’re trying to get a little bit of a plan together of some kind. Everybody’s scope of work is different but also the same in terms of just wanting to help the kids and their families.”

Zaida Woodworth, executive director of Food Backpacks 4 Kids, said “I have not directly heard from anyone from Akin or Children’s Home Society, but I have heard through community partners that they’re willing to share information to make sure things like our Back to School event can continue,” referring to the annual end of summer activity at the civic center where students and families can collect school supplies, clothing, and connections to local resources.

FB4K distributes free food to students at 14 PSD schools and runs a food pantry in Key Center that serves more than 100 families a week.

“Our existing nonprofits do a lot of work with families to become stronger and more sustainable and this could be a very amazing opportunity to get families who were previously being served by Children’s Home Society to interact with other organizations that can help them more thoroughly,” Woodworth said.

Home resident Sandy McFarlane started work at CHSW in its Key Center office in 1992 and helped move it to the civic center a year later when she became the manager.

“I was out in the field working with kids and their families with Norma Iverson from the health department,” she said.

“We got parenting classes. We put on what I considered to be an incredibly good summer program. We didn’t bring in people from the outside. We made use of talented people in the community to come in and teach kids things in the summertime. They were very, very proud of that program.”

One of those community members was Longbranch resident, and founder of The Mustard Seed Project, Edie Morgan, who worked for CHSW from 1997 to 2005, eventually becoming manager.

“I loved doing programs,” she said. “Some days I could hardly believe it was my job to hang out with these young people. We did a lot of good work for families.” Jud Morris became the program manager in 2006 until 2018.

“What I enjoyed about the job was the four Cs,” he said. “The first C is some sort of calling, spiritual or to a cause. Then there was commitment, and then a sense of caring. The last C was something that came to me when I was working there, and that was a sense of community. People had come to the KP from other places because they wanted to be here.”

Tami Miller-Bigelow brought her children to the indoor toddler program in 1996, began volunteering, and was put on the CHSW payroll part-time in 1999.

“I was pretty much a fixture there attending the indoor park, so I began running it,” she said. “I started out helping in the summer camp program for a lot of years until I started coordinating that.”

Miller-Bigelow was abruptly terminated by CHSW in February 2023, together with another part-time employee. She was told her position was being eliminated that day; the other position was made full-time, which her colleague could not commit to, she said.

She and other former employees had contact with former clients on occasion, she said, and tried to connect them with other local services for help.

“I feel like over the last several years there was a great collaboration of people getting together, coordinating to help,” Miller-Bigelow said. “We have all these clients that we’re helping, but they need more help than we can give them and who can we connect them to? Even though Children’s Home Society is leaving the KP, I feel like we have a good structure in place for continuing services in a lot of areas and a lot of ready partners. This seems like a positive.

“Maybe I’ll get involved. I don’t know yet,” she said.