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Despite funding cutbacks Sunnyside's Promise officials vow to keep their promise to local youngsters

Depending on who is asked, Sunnyside's Promise may be the organization that kept the community center open to local children this past year, those guys who helped children build bicycles or perhaps the folks who received a grant to study sex trafficking.

But every one of those views is incomplete. Sunnyside's Promise incorporates all of those activities into its main goal, but none of them are the reason for the group.

The problem, according to Executive Director Mark Baysinger, is that sometimes people focus on only one part instead of seeing the organization as a whole.

"We take a holistic approach, and that's how we've been successful," said Baysinger.

The group's main goal is to provide all of Sunnyside's children with caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, effective education and opportunities to help others. Children with access to the five promises are more likely to become responsible adults, he said.

With a variety of programs that each provided at least one of the promises, Sunnyside's Promise made significant inroads into problems plaguing the local community.

The success has been noticed, particularly outside the city. Baysinger said the FBI has taken note of and assisted with the organization's work in uncovering the relationship between sex trafficking and gangs.

The co-founder and executive director of Washington Engage, Rose Gundersen, praised Sunnyside's Promise prevention and outreach programs and considers the group a model for future efforts.

DeAnn Yamamoto of the Children's Justice Task Force wrote, "Sunnyside should be proud of the work that Sunnyside's Promise is producing. This agency has garnered attention from other agencies and communities across the state and has drawn attention from the city of Seattle as a program making inroads with a very difficult to serve population."

A Yakima County Courts consultant, Harold F. Delia, praised Sunnyside's Promise for have a positive relationship with the court system.

In September, a vice-chair of the Latino Civic Alliance drove from Seattle to testify on behalf of Sunnyside's Promise to the Sunnyside City Council.

"We have considered the program that is here in Sunnyside as a model throughout the state," she told the council. "And it's been very rewarding for us to know a program is working."

The praise is mostly due to the work Sunnyside's Promise has done in the past three years after the organization was asked by a coalition of the city, school district and hospital to address the gang and substance abuse issues in the area.

Starting late in 2009, Sunnyside's Promise researched existing models of anti-gang efforts and started to apply for grants to bring those efforts to Sunnyside. In addition, the group reached out to gang members to find out why and how children joined gangs.

Sunnyside's Promise applied for and received a grant for a VISTA volunteer in early 2010. The group also began to work on prevention and intervention programs tailored to the needs of Sunnyside.

For prevention, Sunnyside's Promise worked to reopen the community center, giving children a place to go when school isn't in session. New recreation programs were started with a grant from the University of Washington fitness program.

Sunnyside's Promise learned that children whose parents do not speak English are at higher risk of being recruited into gangs, and started a tutoring program for those parents. The group also organized after-school tutoring programs to help the school district reduce the dropout rate.

The Lucky 7 Bike program functioned to give children skills they could use later in life and also provided mentors for the youth in the program.

On the intervention side, Sunnyside's Promise looked for grants that would provide help to middle school students at risk of joining gangs and was awarded an 18-month grant to place two case managers in the schools to work with students identified as displaying gang-related behaviors.

The organization also learned from local health centers about the problem of sex trafficking and started to research the problem as it related to gangs. With new knowledge, Sunnyside's Promise applied for and received a Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Grant that allowed them to further understand and expose the problem.

In 2011 the organization gained more momentum with the middle school case managers working on 91 cases. Sunnyside's Promise was recognized by the State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration for its holistic approach that works to help at-risk youth in all areas of their lives, including family engagement, educational assistance, judicial intervention, tattoo removal and health treatments.

Sunnyside's Promise was able to form partnerships, like the one with Golozo, the soccer-focused soft drink company, to help build and maintain soccer fields.

In an ambitious step forward, the organization proposed overseeing community center operations in 2012, including 13 youth recreational programs to be held throughout the year.

The organization ran nine of the 13 programs by the end of April. Although it stopped providing new programs due to financial issues, the community center remained open with ongoing programs continuing.

Monetarily, Sunnyside's Promise brought grants to the city to provide many of services. In three years, the organization brought in more than 15 grants ranging from $1,100 up to $200,000. Baysinger calculates the total amount at more than $870,000 in three years.

Because of those grants, the organization was able to provide case managers to the middle schools, help for sex trafficking victims, held various sporting events and tournaments, hosted the bicycle repair program and engaged a VISTA volunteer to provide tutoring at the community center.

Sunnyside's Promise is not going away, say supporters. Without a stable source of funding, its activities have been cut back severely. Baysinger said the organization will struggle through the next two years to fulfill the obligations of the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Grant extension.

But for anyone who wants to help keep the organization alive, the group's website (sunnysidespromise.org) has a donation button.

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