This quarter we’re partnering with Westside Baby, a local nonprofit that provides basic needs for children. We recently chatted with the organization’s Executive Director, Nancy Woodland, who’s been at the helm for nearly thirteen years. A former lawyer who worked for the Attorney General’s Office’s Department of Social & Health Services, Nancy stumbled into her dream job by following her passion for child advocacy through volunteer opportunities and board leadership positions.
Clarissa Marzán: You have made a career out of advocating for children, having previously worked at the Attorney General’s Office-DSHS and University of Washington School of Law’s Child Advocacy Clinic. What inspired you to leave the law sector and move into the nonprofit sector? Why Westside Baby?
Nancy Woodland: My aunt and uncle were foster parents and I watched some of the injustice that happened to children moving through their home; they fostered 120 babies over about 20 years. So I was inspired to work with children’s issues, looking to change lives in a big way through the legal process and making sure children have a voice.
I was in a program at Loyola University Chicago that was one of the first of its kind to focus on child advocacy issues. One of my biggest learnings while practicing law was the prevalence of neglect cases that are poverty-based. It seemed systemically unjust that so many children were without their parents because of poverty and mental health issues.
After having my first child, I dedicated myself to doing child advocacy work in a volunteer capacity by joining the Board of Directors at the UW School of Law, which eventually led to an unintentional stumbling upon Westside Baby as a long-term career. I joined its Board of Directors, and it just happened that the founder of this organization was stepping away and they were looking for someone to step in. I had mounds of passion for the issue of providing for children with simple solutions like diapers and car seats. We had 1 and a half employees, 1 shared computer, and worked on card tables at the time. We now have over 21 employees over 2 locations.
CM: What is the mission and vision of Westside Baby?
NW: The mission of Westside Baby is to partner with our community to collect and distribute essential items for children, including diapers, clothing, cribs, and car seats. This is the physical stuff a child needs in order to be safe, warm, and dry. There is a child who is cold and isn’t going to develop as well in school; a child who has a soiled diapers, all of their body’s energy in that very critical 0-3 age range is going to fighting off diseases that come when you don’t have a proper dry diaper, instead of going to discovery, learning, and bonding.
But their caregiving adult needs support too. The families we are helping are working through agencies. These items have physical importance for children but also set up connection, trust, and access between the case managers trying to help families. The items that we’re giving are the Click and the Tear: when you’re at the door and nobody’s opening, they’re still looking through the peephole, if you hold up a package of diapers and you’re a public health nurse, the door unlocks–the click happens–and the adult on the other side will almost always start crying because they’ve been waiting for those diapers to come.
CM: Can you share insight on the need for your services in King County and your current impact?
NW: We will serve between 20-30,000 babies in western King County this year. Food stamps don’t cover diapers; there’s no government program that covers diapers, which are very expensive. It falls through the cracks of basic needs, which are food and shelter. For a struggling family, $75-100 a month per child for diapers is a huge chunk of your monthly income. In King County alone, 23% of all the families report experiencing “diaper-need,” which means they can’t afford the diapers they need for their kids, almost a quarter in this extremely affluent area.
If we diapered all the babies in King County living below poverty line ($24,000 a year for a family of four), we would be giving out 22 million diapers a year in the most conservative sense (e.g. excluding babies who weren’t born sick, didn’t have diarrhea, never lost a diaper). We currently give out 1.7 million. To volunteers who come, what they see looks like there’s a huge amount of diapers–and there are–but it’s just 5% of the need. So we need to do a lot more in the long run in terms of volunteer support, awareness building and advocacy and obtaining more government and donor support to scale that impact.
CM: What are some donation items that Westside Baby needs more of and are often overlooked?
NW: We’re currently in the midst of our Stuff the Bus diaper drive but we actually serve children and youth all the way to size 12. Our program for clothing shoes, toys, books is actually our largest impact area. We always need pajamas, socks, and underwear (new items are fantastic).
Interestingly, we have a need for larger sized kids’ clothes (for ages 4-6). The kids work through them faster and they don’t last as long, so we don’t get as many community donations of those and we don’t purchase a lot for the clothing program.
The second area is our safety program. Most nonprofits are afraid of handing out child safety equipment because of liability concerns. We give out car seats, cribs and Strollers, and highchair, and every one of them is impacting the safety and health of a child. We have an extensive car seat program, and we’re really looking for additional support in inspecting the car seats. We have certified car seat technicians that look at every single car seat that comes through, and assess them for recalls, dirt, and safety; they spend about 30 minutes on every seat. Very few agencies will do that. That is a big need for volunteers to help us clean and prep car seats before passing them along to the technicians. That is the fastest, quickest way to save a child’s life.
CM: What are your goals for Westside Baby in the coming year?
NW: The biggest focus of this year is to grow our social justice and equity learnings and lens. The children we’re serving are often black and brown children more of than not, living in areas of King County with less of a voice for many reasons. We want to make sure we’re equitably serving, and we want to increase the voices at our table that are coming from the communities that we serve. It’s a massive focus this year.
Secondly, we are committed to increasing the diversity of our staff and board to get people with different lived experiences.
Third, we are also launching a new data system that will allow us to track children’s needs over time, and getting the results is a long-term component.
Lastly, we would also like to identify an area to add a branch this year through a geo-assessment of need and support to eventually expand from our current locations in White Center and South Lake Union.
CM: How can members of YP Impact contribute to the mission and vision of Westside Baby?
We have several ways members of YP Impact can get involved. The two most critical because they keep our doors open are in-kind and monetary donations. People can hold an in-kind drive for diapers, or kids’ clothes for 4-6-year olds, or car seats, cribs, strollers, and other safety equipment. You can also donate individual items. A list of the items we need can be found here. Members can also host a fundraiser or donate directly. Some people’s employers even having a matching gift program, so people can make double the impact with their donation.
We also have opportunities for people to volunteer individually or as a group. If people are interested in developing their leadership skills there are opportunities to join our Youth Board and Board of Directors. If there are interested in getting more involved with Westside Baby full-time, there are open positions available.
Join YP Impact July 13th at Seafair Milk Carton Derby where we will have a team(s) race across Green Lake in the boat(s) we build out of milk cartons! Any prizes we win will benefit Westside Baby. Keep an eye out for more events with Westside Baby including a dinner, volunteer project, and fundraiser.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
YP Impact is a budding community of young professionals with an interest in giving back to the community we live, work and play in. If you’re interested in joining the community or just hearing more, visit this page and sign up to follow along.