Amara Honors Local Education and Civil Rights Advocate

Amara is proud to honor the late Louise Jones McKinney this month by naming the Beacon Hill location of the Amara Emergency Sanctuary program “Grandese’s Place.” Currently located in a home in the historic Seattle neighborhood, the Sanctuary provides a safe, nurturing place for children during their first several days in foster care. Specially trained Amara staff and volunteers welcome children 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, providing each child individualized attention and care; opportunities for rest, play and learning; and a visit to a healthcare provider for an initial health care screening. During this time, the child’s State social worker can focus on finding the best placement option for the child moving forward.

Louise Jones McKinney

Louise Jones McKinney was an extraordinary community leader. She was a very successful entrepreneur who owned several concession businesses at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. She was also a noted philanthropist and patron of the arts. Above all, though, McKinney was an educator. As a teacher, principal, and later Director of Academic Achievement for Seattle Public Schools, McKinney’s life’s work proved her dedication to education, and overall advocacy for youth—especially African-American youth. McKinney spearheaded the establishment of the Mount Zion Baptist Church Scholarship ministry and co-chaired the Mount Zion Scholarship Endowment Fund, creating more opportunities for disadvantaged youth to access quality education. She also served as an advisor to the board at the Mount Zion Pre-School and Kindergarten and Ethnic School, later named the Louise Jones McKinney Learning Center.

Louise Jones McKinney worked alongside her husband, national Civil Rights and social justice leader, the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney of Mount Zion Baptist Church. Together they advocated for the advancement of the African-American community and equality in education, housing, employment, and voting rights.

“We are honored to celebrate Louise McKinney’s powerful and positive influence in our community. Louise was a charter member of Amara’s Advisory Council, and she inspired us to keep children at the center of our work and our world,” said Amara Executive Director, John Morse.

Grandese’s Place

McKinney loved family above all else: her husband, Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney; her daughters, Lora-Ellen McKinney and Rhoda McKinney-Jones; her son-in-law Sam H. Jones, Jr.; and her grandson, Kent McKinney Jones. Kent coined the name “Grandese” for his Grandmother Louise, and the name stuck. Rhoda said of her mother, “There was nothing she would not do for Kent and she was the center of his joy.”

Louise was known for her commitment to children and did her best to help them thrive in school and in their community. When she was the principal of the Martin Luther King Jr. School, she announced, “No child will fail here,” and established an environment of safety, learning, and excellence.

About the Amara Emergency Sanctuary Program

Each year, more than 700 King County children are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. Launched in December of 2014, the Amara Emergency Sanctuary program has already welcomed more than 100 of our community’s children entering foster care. According to Amara’s Executive Director, John Morse, “Louise was always pushing us to do more for the children we serve. Grandese’s Place is a sanctuary for children to feel safe, to be cared for, and to just be kids for a time. Those first few days can be so pivotal. Through this program we believe we can contribute to more positive outcomes for the kids and families impacted by foster care.”

About Amara

Founded in 1921, Amara is a community based nonprofit dedicated to serving children in foster care. Amara works to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive families, and provides compassionate direct care to kids entering foster care for the first time through the Amara Emergency Sanctuary program.

Celebrating Dads



This week we celebrate dads of all kinds – birth fathers, adoptive fathers, step-fathers and father figures. All fathers are an integral part of a child’s identity – from giving them the genes that determine how high they grow, to giving them the esteem to determine how high they reach. Amara would like to encourage all foster and adoptive families to honor dads on behalf of children everywhere.

Including birth fathers in your celebration can come in many ways and can be as unique as your family. While there are some resources about including birth mothers in celebrations, there is an overall lack of them in terms of recognizing birth fathers. Many of the same ideas used to incorporate birth moms who are not currently involved in a child’s life can be used for birth fathers or other relatives:

  • Be curious – ask your child how their parents celebrated this day and how they would like to incorporate their birth parents this year. Your child’s desire to include birth parents may change over months or years, so keep asking.
  • Make suggestions for remembering and honoring birth parents during celebrations – making cards or pictures, baking something special, creating a ceremony. Don’t forget that in honoring your child’s birth parents, you are honoring your child’s uniqueness too. Bringing them into regular conversations and mentioning them on special days lets children know they do not have to be forgotten and that they are welcome to talk about all of the people who have played an important role or had an impact on their lives.
  • If your child is too young or you struggle with how to celebrate birth fathers, we encourage you to read Out of the Shadows: Birthfather’s Stories, by Mary Martin Mason. This book highlights why birth fathers are important and how their inclusion in adoptions and openness is a different journey than for birth moms. It challenges us all to consider how we may honor birth dads in a deeper way.

If your child’s parents are active in your family life, think about ways to celebrate together or how to give each parent separate time to be recognized and honored. It can be hard to “share” these special days, but we encourage our foster and adoptive families to remember that it can be equally hard on birth parents to not be recognized as an important part of your child’s existence.

In adoption, it is important that both birth parents and adoptive parents are compassionate towards each other, especially on these celebration days. Staying open, adjusting your expectations, and trying to honor the emotions of all parents as well as those of your child, will help everyone to feel valued and respected.

This Sunday, Amara recognizes the strength and courage it takes to be a dad in the adoption triad, and we wish all dads a Happy Father’s Day!

Tiny Ferocious Boy

Tiny Ferocious Boy


During my last sleepover shift at the Sanctuary, we welcomed a sibling set. After getting everyone settled and into their beds, we anticipated the coming of a busy morning. I found myself caring for the youngest boy of the group. Barely a toddler, he seemed so small to me. He wrapped his thin little arms around me, and pressed his cold hands to my chest. He burrowed his head into me, intent on soaking up all of the warmth and comfort I could offer.

I walked around the Sanctuary with this tiny bundle that refused to be put down. I considered how fragile he seemed, how at odds that was with his ferocious need for attention and affection. I have to admit, it felt really wonderful to be needed so much, to be able to be the person who could supply comfort and a little breakfast for this special boy. As we roamed between the kitchen and couch, my heart also broke a little at the thought of what he must be going through, and what his journey might look like in the future. I told him how wonderful he was, what a strong, smart boy he was. It felt good to spend time with him, reassuring him, encouraging him to keep being brave and to trust that there are grownups who want him to be warm, safe, and happy. He responded by clinging to me even tighter, as if he was trying to absorb every ounce of affection and strength I could give.

Watching fellow volunteers and Amara Emergency Sanctuary staff members care for his siblings, I felt a growing sense of gratitude for everyone in the room working to meet these kids where they were, in such a vulnerable moment. What a great reminder of how important this work is.

It’s important that these kids come to a place where they can receive the attention and care they need. In this moment of uncertainty, it’s important that they know that there are people who care about them and want the best for them, and will do the hard work to look out for them amid the chaos experienced by a family in crisis. It’s important that the right people are here to greet these kids, to be a happy face in the middle of what might be their scariest day.

It may sound silly to say, but the time I spend at the Sanctuary isn’t just “a shift”. It’s the most important thing I do, it’s a crucial moment to connect and care for kids who desperately need someone to be available to them during this pivotal experience.

As I neared the end of my shift at the Sanctuary that morning, I knew that it would be hard for me to let him go, even if it meant handing him to another person who would take really good care of him. When I said goodbye and headed for the door, I felt the hardest tug in my chest, but I left feeling grateful that I was able to offer him a few hours of safety and love to fuel his journey.

Find out more about how you can make an impact as a volunteer at the Amara Emergency Sanctuary by visiting

Reese and Jared: 2015 Stella Mae Carmichael Award Winners

Jared and Reese at the Sheraton Seattle.

The Stella Mae Carmichael award honors families who open their hearts and homes in exceptionally kind and selfless ways to our community’s children in foster care.

This year, Amara was proud to have Daniel Bryson-Beane and his adoptive mom and Amara board member, Anne Bryson Doyle, present the award to Jared Mills and Reese Umbaugh at Amara’s annual luncheon From Hope to Home.

Jared Mills and Reese Umbaugh received their foster license in 2012. Since that time, they have parented three groups of siblings, including the two boys currently in their care.

Each time Reese and Jared welcomed a new child to their home, they did so with 24 hours or less to prepare. In her nomination of the family, Amara Adoption and Foster Care Specialist Kate Rocke said, “despite the short notice Jared and Reese had with each placement, they created an environment of acceptance, surrounding each child with loving kindness and support. They never wavered in their dedication to a child in their home – no matter how high the child’s needs or how brief the child’s stay.”

During their acceptance remarks, Reese commented, “Jared and I are honored to be the recipients of the Stella Mae Carmichael Award. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost four years since we became licensed foster parents through Amara. To be honest, we don’t feel like what we’re doing is anything extraordinary — we have always loved children, and have so much love to give. And there are a lot of children who need loving, supportive, safe homes. To us, becoming foster parents seemed like a no-brainer. We had the extra space in our home, why not take advantage of that and let some of these kids be kids again?”


Shortly after the Luncheon, we received some exciting news from Reese and Jared:

“We just met a really special kiddo who needs a home and it sounds like he’ll be joining our family tomorrow. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.”

Today, they are preparing to welcome that very child into their home!

My journey as Damien’s birth mother

To answer the question What Makes a Family, we invited one family to share their story. Judy wrote about becoming a mom through an open adoption. Damien wrote about meeting Judy and joining her family. This is part three, from the perspective of the birth mother, Diane, as told to Judy.

Can you tell me about your pregnancy and Damien’s birth?

When I had Damien, I had no intention of giving him up. The worker from CCS made sure that I knew I could change my mind; the remark felt almost insulting. It was hard to come to the realization that this was not about me, but about Damien, that he needed to be in a stable place and that’s what would be in his best interest.

Coming to that realization (and I think I started thinking about it long before I actually took action) took a while. It sat in the back of my mind, and I turned it over and over. Then a time came when I said to myself I “can’t go back on this”. Focusing on Damien meant to stay focused on his well-being, and waffling about his care would have been about me.

When I was pregnant, I waited until it was too late to have an abortion to tell my family. I didn’t know what they would say, and part of me wanted to own the decision.  I felt like I was an adult, and in my twenties thought I knew everything (ha, ha). I didn’t want anyone to try to influence me. Later, my decision to keep my child or allow him to be adopted was the same way.

I wondered, what would my family think about letting someone adopt Damien? I had to get to a point of knowing that it didn’t matter what they thought or felt. It was truly my decision. I still didn’t tell them right away. I didn’t tell them because… actually I don’t know why. I do know that I didn’t want to hear negative things about my decision. I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

What happened next?

When Damien was about nine months old, I was sexually assaulted. The man threatened to kill Damien if I didn’t do what he wanted. That was the beginning of a downward spiral. How could I protect my son?

The event triggered flashbacks and brought PTSD to the surface. I’d never realized the intensity of the abuse of my early childhood, because I’d never even acknowledged that my early experiences had been abuse. I began to go back and forth into the hospital, and during this time Damien was in foster care.

My doctor suggested that I consider long term foster care. I responded that my son was my responsibility; he said that sometimes the responsible thing to do is to let other people help take care of the child’s well-being. That was the best thing he ever told me.

When Damien was about two and a half, he came to Judy and John’s. I remember telling my friend that if I could, I’d ask them to adopt him. During a conversation with a mutual friend, Judy mentioned that she would never keep Damien from me. That was reassuring.

I resumed care of Damien for a time, and he told me he missed Judy. I could only hold him; I wanted to take action but I was too shy. But then out of the blue, Judy called asking for “Damien time”. I was glad to see simple, caring gestures between Judy and Damien. They demonstrated a bond. This was a step along the way.

Shortly after, Damien was going back and forth between my home and Judy’s. I was suicidal, and told my sister that if anything ever happened to me, I’d want Judy and John to adopt. I knew my sister had a big mouth and would spread this around, and that’s what I wanted.

What happened then?

I took a deep breath, and asked Judy to have both of them to come to talk to me. The rest is history.

What has it been like for your son to have two moms?

When Judy first adopted Damien, I was told that I would be seeing my son less often…every 4 months, as I remember. It was really hard, but also a relief. There weren’t so many hard hello and goodbye times. It was also comforting that Judy was willing to have my mother and uncle stay in touch.

One Easter, I purchased a bunch of things for Damien. Judy asked that I not give the gifts to him because there was not enough for all of the kids. That made sense to me, the value was shared.

I was grateful for Judy. I didn’t always agree with her values, but it was okay because I respected her and the focus was Damien’s best interests. This was an area of personal growth for me.

Years later, Judy and I connected in West Seattle and she asked me to help make a plan for Damien. I was excited, but nervous. I also thought it was great that he got two mothers.

Judy and John eventually divorced and John remarried. I saw that Damien would get one more mom. Sometime later Judy married again, and it meant that there would be one more caring man in Damien’s life. They took to each other like two peas in a pod.

What a great thing for Damien to get so many worlds. He got to see me and the way I lived, and was exposed to lots of other ideas, values and opportunities.

Diane holds her diploma after graduating from Everest College

Damien, 2000

Damien, 2000

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary

Amara serves children who have been removed from their homes due to suspected abuse or neglect. Each year, more than 700 King County children, most under the age of 12, are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services or local law enforcement. Amara is working to meet an urgent need created by these unplanned removals by establishing the Amara Emergency Sanctuary.

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary, located in a residential neighborhood in Seattle, will serve as an entry point for children coming under the State’s care. Each child will be warmly welcomed and provided with clean clothing, homemade meals and loving attention from staff and volunteers trained in the effects of trauma during their stay. While a child is in our care, the State will be able to focus on finding the care option that is in the best interest of the child at that time.

By offering a comfortable environment full of attentive caregivers and interesting activities, Amara hopes to absorb the chaos created by an abrupt removal.

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary is only possible through the generous engagement of our community. You can support this effort by volunteering, making an in-kind donation or by offering a financial contribution. For more information, please see below.

Adoption: A Grandmother’s Perspective

Dorothy has 16 grandkids, 5 of which were adopted by her daughter, Julie and son-in-law, Matt.

My daughter and her husband have adopted five children over the years, and we haven’t always been sure how to best support them on their journey. Being involved with Amara has enabled me to better understand the challenges adoptive parents and grandparents face.

Julie and Matt Hellstrom and kiddos

Julie, Matt, and their five adopted children.

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Our courts: through the eyes of a child

When I was removed from my birth family at age 15 and placed into foster care, I felt conflicted, isolated, and that my feelings didn’t matter. I had no idea what was happening to me. I just knew that I would be living with strangers, away from my sister, my family, and my pets. It was terrifying.

Forever family

These feelings heightened when my first foster family required me to attend all of my court hearings. The insensitivity in the courtroom alienated me. I heard docket numbers, court lingo, and attorneys speaking, but I didn’t know what they were negotiating. I often wondered when I would get to go home. I missed my sister. I didn’t even know that I could ask the judge for visits with my sister. These adults were making all the decisions for me, without me.

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