Julie Grevstad was an incognito hero. If you’re a taxpayer in Pierce County, she saved you money and made your dollars work smarter.
If you provided social services here, she demanded effective work from you and showed you how to achieve it.
If you were a kid in trouble at school or with the law, she taught new ways to understand and deal with the behavior that got you there.
Grevstad was all about accountability, which is not the best way to win friends and accolades.
But after she died of cancer Oct. 6 at age 46, those who knew her called her irreplaceable. They said her combination of intellect, pragmatism, passion and experience was unique in this community.
Grevstad, who grew up in Pierce County, was executive director of the Tacoma Urban Network, a low-profile organization with a high calling. In 1998, when she hired on, social services outfits used politics, need and preconceptions to lobby for funding. Her job was to shift that to a model in which a program got funding because it worked.
“She developed ways to measure how well nonprofits were meeting those needs,” said Greg Tanbara, president of the TUN board.
It went deeper than the number of people who slept in a shelter in a year. A successful program would go beyond the bed and help its clients into stable housing.
“It’s not just X number of people came through the door or went to the workshops,” Tanbara said. “It’s what changes.”
Grevstad looked at agencies individually and as part of a network. She pushed providers out of their own turf and onto common ground.
She made the point that if a kid was absent a lot, school officials weren’t doing him any good by sending a letter home to a drug-abusing mom. Nor were the mom’s drug counselors helping if they weren’t dealing with her parenting problems.
Work together. Fix bad practices and learn from errors. Save money.
Local funding began to follow effectiveness. Agencies began to collaborate more than they competed. Innovative partnerships began to win national grants.
The process worked the other way, too. Evaluations identified programs that were not giving good value. Tacoma Urban Network data factored into decisions to stop funding the shelter run by the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association. It helped identify Catholic Community Services as competent to take over the program and add rehabilitative services.
That framework of accountability, Tanbara said, is Grevstad’s legacy.
Over the past five years, Grevstad added an element to her mission.
She brought Tacoma the science on how adverse childhood experiences determine the hard-wiring in a child’s developing brain.
When a child is under stress, his or her brain develops the areas needed to stay safe. As Grevstad told hundreds of people in training sessions, if you grow up with saber-tooth tigers, your brain will develop the parts that keep you edgy and ready to run or fight. You might survive danger, but you’ll be the problem kid in a classroom.
This does not excuse inappropriate behavior, she said. It explains it. And it helps teachers find ways to reach and teach these children.
In Tacoma, Manitou Elementary School tested the theory, using the tools to become a “compassionate school,” said Tacoma Public Schools secondary education director Miguel Villahermosa.
“Discipline rates plummeted,” Villahermosa said. “Immediately we jumped into another six elementary schools. Now we are in 12, and piloting it at Jason Lee” Middle School.
The state, he said, now has a guidebook on the practices. He considers that Grevstad’s legacy.
Grevstad had an office at Remann Hall, a mile from her home, and she worked with probation officers trying to cut kids’ risk of reoffending.
“She helped us embrace data,” said Shelly Maluo, juvenile court administrator. “It brought a whole new dimension.”
Numbers, not gut reactions, guide the officers now, she said. And reoffense rates for traumatized kids have fallen.
At Remann Hall, she said, the strength of numbers is Grevstad’s legacy.
One woman. So many legacies.
In a letter to Grevstad’s family, Sally Perkins summed them up: “She used her superpowers for good.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/street