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KITH celebrates 25th anniversary, Autumn Event Oct. 4

The 7 Hills of Kirkland bike event is one of KITH
The 7 Hills of Kirkland bike event is one of KITH's main fundraisers during the year.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

The upcoming gala for Kirkland Interfaith Transitions in Housing (KITH) during October marks not just its 25th anniversary, but how it has grown from serving Kirkland residents to struggling families all over the Eastside.

First founded in 1989 by several Kirkland churches, it has gone from one apartment above an auto store to 32 apartments and a condo, as well as providing assistance for rent.

The gala is also seen as a celebration for KITH making it through several rough years during the economic downturn starting in 2009.

Jennifer Barron, the executive director at KITH, said although they have grown, it is also an indication that there is still a strong need in the community.

“I think our goals remain the same, to empower families and provide affordable housing for them,” she said. “I think what we’ve seen is the number of the families has not decreased, but has increased. KITH has been able to grow and we see that need growing and we’re trying to continue to have apartments available.”

Barron, who has been with KITH since October 2012, said their ability to come up with creative fundraising options has allowed them to remain open when money has been hard to come by. In addition to their luncheon in March and fall auction, they also partner with EvergreenHealth to host the 7 Hills of Kirkland bicycle ride. Started in 1996, all the proceeds have gone to KITH.

“The donations and financial flush of availability wasn’t there,” she said of the bad economy. “The agency said ‘How are we going to go forward?’ The mission was considered very honorable, so what we did we needed to do?”

Alina Aaron, the event coordinator for KITH, said the organization also keeps their funds diversified, receiving money from grants and private donors. So far this year, they’ve met their fundraising goals and are looking to expand further.

“Just understanding the dynamics that you do need to diversify has really helped KITH operate in the last 25 years,” she said. “A lot of them (nonprofits) depend on grants. You can see the impact at the state and federal level when they cut certain funding. It has a direct impact.”

Beyond funding, Barron added that their success has been in focusing on not just giving homeless families a place to stay, but help for when they walk out the door, a concept that has been with the organization since it was first formed by Kirkland Congregational Church, Rose Hill Presbyterian Church, St John’s Episcopal Church, Lake Washington United Methodist and Holy Family Catholic Church. It was run for several years by Ron Hutchinson, who served as chaplain, and Karen Frankenburger, who acted as executive director.

“It wasn’t just about putting a roof over their heads but working with them on what caused the situation to happen in the first place, so when they moved out there was the feeling they had better skills to be sustainable,” Barron said. “That’s one of the reasons KITH is still here today. We don’t just put a roof over their heads, we want to make sure they’re gaining that availability. We have them work on how they can set themselves up so they can get a job to pay the bills and pay the rent.”

In 2013, they provided 25,832 bed nights for homeless people, and saw a 100 percent success rate for families transitioning out of homelessness, according to statistics on their website.

At the beginning of the year, KITH merged with Bellevue-based Housing at a Crossroads. With the two boards also merging, Aaron said they are planning on a name change to reflect it.

Another element to KITH’s continued existence, Barron said, are the 100 volunteers and supporters in the community.

“We are a very lucky organization in that this community steps up to the plate and volunteers some time,” she said. “KITH has been very lucky in the community seeing our need. Without volunteers KITH would not be where it is today.”

The gala will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Red Lion Hotel in Bellevue.

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