Statewide poverty reduction team gathers to celebrate, keep the work moving forward

When you’ve been working toward something, whether it’s for a few months, a few years or your entire life, you celebrate your successes. That’s just what dozens of dedicated Washingtonians working to reduce poverty did the first week of June in Seatac — “came home” to each other to mark the milestones in their vital work and affirm their commitments to forward momentum.

For this homecoming event, attendees hailed from all across Washington and from three different statewide efforts, including the Poverty Reduction Work Group, its Steering Commitee, the Subcabinet on Intergenerational Poverty Reduction, the Legislative-Executive WorkFirst Poverty Reduction Oversight Task Force and other community partners.

“This is something I’ve wanted for so long,” said Juanita Maestas, co-chair of the Poverty Reduction Work Group Steering Committee, which began its formal work of dismantling poverty in 2018.

Maestas spoke to her decades-long effort to ensure that the systems designed to help people living in poverty actually include those same people at the policy and planning tables in order to help eliminate barriers to accessing systems so that everyone can thrive.

“It’s so good to see the people who have always been in your corner in person,” added Maestas. “I want my grandkids to know we made these changes for them, so they don’t have to go through what we went through.”

The homecoming was an opportunity for the people who developed and are implementing the Blueprint for a Just and Equitable Future: the 10-Year Plan to Dismantle Poverty in Washington to celebrate the progress made and strengthen bonds, foster collaboration and pave the way for more change throughout the stateTo date, out of the plan’s 60 recommendations to dismantle poverty, six are completed, 36 are in progress and 18 will begin soon– not bad for having launched the plan in January 2021, in the middle of a global pandemic that only amplified the need to eliminate poverty and disparities in access to assistance.

Along with sharing a meal, guests had an opportunity to recognize each other’s deep commitment to the work of reducing poverty, honor those innovators in the work who have moved on, and collaborate on new ways to support innovation in reducing poverty. Paired with the celebration was a commitment and rededication to seeing the 10-Year Plan through.

“The day you stop working on this together is the day the plan will begin to collect dust,” cautioned Jilma Meneses, DSHS Secretary, chair of the Governor’s Subcabinet on Intergenerational Poverty Reduction and co-chair of the Legislative-Executive WorkFirst Poverty Reduction Oversight Task Force.

“We are going to leave out of here as one voice,” Drayton Jackson, co-chair of the Poverty Reduction Steering Committee, told attendees. “This work is hard but it is beautiful work.”

As the homecoming event ended, participants were invited to reflect on the collective power in the room and commit to continuing this beautiful work together.

Check out all the photos and read details of the event in their captions below.

Wide angle photo of event. People seated.
PRWG Steering Committee Co-chairs, Juanita Maestas and Drayton Jackson, address the room at the Homecoming event.
People gather around table at event.
Steering Committee, family and Poverty Reduction Work Group members working their way through the Homecoming “Yearbook.” This Yearbook served as a resource and activity guide, prompting elected officials, lived experience Steering Committee members and their family, state employees, and community work group members to connect across differences and make plans for collective action.
Photo of event agenda
The Homecoming “Yearbooks” were designed to facilitate engagement at the event, provide clarity on attendees’ role in the collective work, shape our identity for the future, and ensure effective follow-through. The Yearbook also serves as a reference and commemoration.
View of Yearbook with page open to eight strategies.
A look inside the Yearbook.
Screenshot of the inside of the youth Yearbook. Wordsearch on the left and space to get signatures on the right.
Poverty impacts entire families. It was important for our Steering Committee to bring their family and support people to this event. We wanted the young folks in attendance to feel valued and have the opportunity to engage as well. With that in mind, we created a youth version of the Yearbook. Here is a look inside.
Person seated, writing.
Yearbook activities in action.
Person seated, reading.
This activity prompted us to use the copy of the Blueprint for a Just and Equitable Future: The 10-Year Plan to Dismantle Poverty in Washington, and the eight strategies listed in the yearbook to reflect on our personal role in the implementation of the plan. They used the provided sticky note to write how achieving one of the strategies would change a person’s life/ community/ society for the better.
People standing, putting sticky notes on the wall.
After responding to the prompt from the Yearbook, we gathered responses on a wall. Later, we visited these visions, hopes and dreams. We will keep these alive.
Photo of colorful sticky notes on a wall.
Here are a few of the visions of success. If we undo structural racism, we will have “economic justice, dignity & opportunity for all.” Completing the recommendations means “better opportunity and happy Washingtonians.” All 8 strategies could “change the stress level in people’s lives so people could breathe and become a community again.” Strategy 5 means wellbeing for those among us now and “the younger generation.”
Two people seated, giving each other a high five.
One of our goals for this event was to build & strengthen relationships across work groups & community partners.
Two people standing, speaking and looking at a document.
One of the activities in the Yearbook prompted folks to converse with two people who they had never met before, find something they share in common and get their signature in their Yearbook.
Photo of the inside of a Yearbook with responses.
An example of a response to the final two activities in the Yearbook are pictured here. On the left, attendees were asked to use blanks to complete the elevator pitch that they would use to share about our collective poverty reduction efforts. On the right, attendees were asked to describe in words or drawing what we as a collective should be called and what a logo might look like.
One person places a crown on another person. A second person is wearing a crown. A person is seated in the foreground clapping.
The first two people to complete all the tasks in the Yearbook were crowned as Homecoming royalty. Congrats to Cindil Redick-Ponte of the Department of Health and Maria Siguenza of the Commission on Hispanic Affairs!
Person speaking into a mic.
The evening also featured powerful calls to action from Steering Commitee members. Pictured here are Steering Commitee Co-chairs, Juanita Maestas and Drayton Jackson.
People seated at table.
Steering Committee members spoke their truth as state employees, agency leadership, elected officials and fellow community members listened intently.
Person speaking into mic.
Steering Committee members grounded the group in the purpose of our collective work.
Adult embracing a child.
The brave work the Steering Committe does is for those suffering now and a brighter future for the next generation.
Person Speaking into Mic
The Steering Committee also had a surprise for the group: they honored the work of agency staff and community organizers who built the framework necessary for the development of the 10 Year Plan.
Two people embracing.
Steering Committee Co-chair, Drayton Jackson, and DSHS Economic Justice Director, Lori Pfingst, embrace after a heartfelt thank you for her efforts supporting the development of the 10 Year Plan.
Two people talking
The Steering Committee also honored Marcy Bowers (right) of Poverty Action Network for her tireless work supporting the Steering Committee.
Person standing while others are steated.
Diane Klontz of the Department of Commerce (pictured above), Tim Probst of the Employment Security Department, Lindsay Morgan Tracy of the DSHS Economic Justice Team, and David Stillman who retired from the Economic Services Administration were also honored. In memorial, Amina Ahmed and Tony Lee were remember for all they did to inspire so many to advocate for a just and equitable world.
Person standing, speaking into mic.
In addition to the celebration, connecting and calls to action, we heard commitments made by state leadership. Here Ross Hunter, Secretary of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, shares his support for the work and honors the success thus far.
Person speaking into mic.
Secretary of Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Jilma Meneses, shared her admiration for the Steering Committee and applauded the successes of the collaborative workgroups. She underscored the importance of continuing to follow the 10 Year Plan. Secretary Meneses also delivered a message on behalf of Representative Mia Gregerson. Representative Gregerson, who attended but had to leave early, is a co-lead of the LEWPRO and a Washington House of Representatives from the 33rd Legislative District. Also in attendance to show support and connect with work group members, was Representative Strom Peterson, Washington House of Representatives from the 33rd Legislative District and Senator Manka Dhingra of the Washington State Senate representing the 45th legislative district.
Two photos side by side of young people.
We couldn’t have gotten all this done in such a short amount of time without our devoted ushers. More than that, these are among the young people who witnessed the power of community that night. This is the next generation, and we owe it to them to end poverty.
Screenshot of handwritten text from yearbook.
There were many commitments made that night. We heard from community, agency staff, elected officials and state leaders. The message was clear: this work must continue, and we are all in. Pictured here is a sampling of the written commitments made that night.

Person speaking into mic while others look on.

This unique occasion brought together an exceptional and diverse group of individuals. Each playing a pivotal role in addressing the pressing issue of poverty reduction and its far-reaching impacts on our society. The event was more than just a dinner; it was a platform where understanding was nurtured, alliances were forged, and aspirations were shared. It was an opportunity for us to come together as a united front, combining our expertise, experiences, and perspectives to carry out the Blueprint for a Just & Equitable Future.

The work doesn’t end here. Commitments were made and will be kept. Stay tuned for more great things from this amazing group of people.

To learn more about the work or get involved, contact Alex Panagotacos, DSHS Director of Strategic Partnerships 360-763-2900

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