a poster for Ukraine with photos of residents and the title "Sending our love"

Lessons in Empathy

Evergreen Vista I & II serves families in East Olympia, WA. Together, these two communities feature 155 units of affordable housing with set aside for families exiting homelessness or other special needs. At the heart of this community, sits the Evergreen Vista Community Center. This beautiful space serves as a gathering and after-school space for the children and families living in the community.

Glowing television screens, crowded social media feeds, and passing conversations with adults forced a change in the typical dialogue of the community center. As the children absorbed information about the war in Ukraine, they began talking with peers and staff at the center about the war.

Brooke McBride, who serves as the Resident Services Coordinator at Evergreen Vista, noticed the change almost immediately. “They were using the space to ask questions, express their fears, and inquire about the kids of Ukraine,” said Brooke.

“For the kids of the community, the pandemic made the world feel small. The war in Ukraine is making it feel big again.”

Over the next couple of weeks, Brooke and the children who use the community center began having conversations about empathy. “I asked our young residents to imagine being a kid in Ukraine, a refugee in a foreign country, and how it might feel to live in this sort of fear,” said Brooke. As a community with many families who have direct ties to Ukraine, this was not far-fetched.

After those initial thought exercises, the children changed the conversation toward action. Brooke said of this transition, “it became apparent to me we had to give kids some power to reduce their fear.” Several ideas were presented, but the group decided on a poster project expressing their love and support for the kids and families of Ukraine.

With fresh pieces of posterboard and paint, they created a simply designed poster dawned with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. As individual participants, they also added their own messages of support.

Thanks to this activity, a small collection of after school attendees has a better understanding of the world around them and the concept of empathy. They also have a deeper sense that even the smallest act can make a big difference. If one minor act of kindness can change the world, the kids of Evergreen Vista are a shining example of how to do the work.