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Rising Strong will heal families together in former Holy Names Convent

Valerie Shaymans, director of Rising Strong program from Catholic Charities of Spokane.

When Catholic Charities of Spokane purchased the property and Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Names at 2911 W. Ft. Wright Dr. last September, they envisioned Rising Strong, a program to heal and reconcile families.

“Rising Strong seeks to change narratives of Spokane families who are at risk for separation because of child abuse or neglect stemming from parents’ struggles with substance abuse, mental illness or other abuse,” said Valerie Shaymans, the program’s director.

Catholic Charities is launching the pilot project this summer, bringing 20 families to live in the convent building.

By sheltering families together while helping them heal, Rising Strong seeks to reduce the number of children Child Protective Services removes from their homes.

Valerie said the program continues the mission of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to serve the poor and vulnerable. With one in 12 Americans over the age of 12 addicted, and children moved to three or four foster homes, the need is clear.  She said children in foster care suffer PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) at twice the rate of Iraq veterans.

As the community hears about the program, people are helping. Volunteers painted walls and waxed floors. Groups are collecting funds, furniture, books, toys, hygiene items and kitchen equipment.

After earning a degree in broadcast journalism in 2008 at the University of Florida, Valerie’s plans were turned upside down during her studies for a master’s degree in higher education administration at Virginia Tech.  She began the year after the 2007 campus shooting killed 32 people.

She spent her first semester advising people on recovery, helping families who lost students and students who survived. 

“It changed my direction to work in crisis management and recovery,” she said.

A photo on her office wall shows Virginia Tech the day after the shooting.  It reminds her why she is doing crisis management.

After graduating in 2010, Valerie went to Birmingham Southern College to oversee university housing and crisis management.  Then she worked with a suicide hotline there.

“Many people are struggling with their world crumbling around them. Through crisis management, we help people overcome obstacles and improve their lives,” said Valerie, who came to Gonzaga in January 2014 to work part-time with students in crisis, using the intervention team model developed at Virginia Tech.

In December, she started working with Rising Strong, while continuing studies for a doctoral degree in leadership studies.

Rising Strong appealed to her because it is family-centered treatment, sheltering children with their own families rather than moving them to foster care. 

“It’s about supporting individuals in crisis,” said Valerie. “The families come to live here and receive treatment together that includes mental health services, substance abuse, parenting classes, life skills classes—such as nutrition and budgeting—GED studies and job training.”

The goal is for a family to “graduate” from the program after 18 months with everyone healthy, and parents having housing, jobs and GEDs.  Children from birth to five have play, recreation and art therapy on site.  School-aged children attend school.

Children in Rising Strong are considered homeless, so they can receive financial assistance to participate in sports and field trips through the HEART (Homeless Education And Resource Team) program, and District #81 will bus them to their schools.

As Rising Strong expands, it will house more families on site in 75 units, which will open by July 2018.  Catholic Charities is funding the units through tax-credit housing under the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, she said.  The new building will include a club house, treatment space and offices.

Representatives from Spokane agencies—Children’s Administration, Child Protective Services, the Office of Public Defense, Commissioners and the Attorney General—are on the Advisory Council to offer feedback as the program is developed.

Valerie is hiring staff with funding from Empire Health Foundation in collaboration with Catholic Charities, which will secure other grants from federal and private sources. In the current political climate, they will keep attuned to different funding options.

When they open in the former convent, families will live in two rooms and have kitchens in shared living space.  They will cook and serve their own breakfasts and dinners to practice cooking skills.

The families will be there day and night with access to treatment, caseworkers, social workers and assistance with court processes.  Staff will be on site 24 hours.

“Our program is based on two models in California and Oregon, which have 80 to 90 percent success rates.  The Exodus program in Los Angeles has operated for 25 years,” said Valerie.

“I feel grateful to walk alongside families and give them hope so they can fight obstacles and change their family stories, reversing effects of traumatic childhoods and writing new chapters for their families,” she said. “The goal is to empower families to break out of multi-generational cycles of homelessness, poverty and foster care.”

Rising Strong will use a comprehensive approach to address addiction, working with families to develop treatment goals and incorporating what Catholic Charities has learned in other programs.

“The best way to serve families is to balance challenge and support,” Valerie said.

Families will be referred through shelter care hearings of the court that might otherwise remove the children.

An intake and referral process will decide who is eligible.  Single men or women parents, and families with both parents will be included. They must be open to participate and must not have medical or safety concerns. Caseworkers evaluate a family’s strengths to determine if they are ready for change, Valerie said.

Rising Strong now shares use of the convent with Holy Names sisters who use offices for fund raising and administration.

In the east wing, the Excelsior drug and alcohol treatment program for youth will oversee the mental health and substance abuse programs, and the Volunteers of America program for supervised visits will address dynamics needed to reconcile the families.

Catholic Charities counselors will move there in the early summer, Valerie said.

For information, call 328-7470, email or visit

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