Treehouse was launched in 1988 by social workers seeking to improve the lives of youth in foster care. Seven year later, when Janis Avery became Treehouse’s chief executive officer, the modest nonprofit had 10 employees, a budget of $400,000 and served 900 youth in the greater Seattle area.
Today, Treehouse serves some 7,500 youth, employs 130 people, has a budget of $14.5 million and is recognized as a national leader in tackling the academic challenges faced by youth in foster care.
Under Avery’s leadership, the nonprofit has grown to touch youth in foster care through multiple programs, including the Treehouse Wearhouse, which offers free clothing, school supplies, books and tickets to events; the Little Wishes program, which helps pay for extracurricular activities like sports and music lessons; and the Drivers Assistance program, which helps youth in foster care get a driver’s license.
One of Treehouse’s most impactful programs, however, was launched on the heels of a report that underscored the abysmal figures on high school graduation rates for youth in foster care.
“A 2010 report on high school graduation outcomes for youth in foster care shook me to the core,” Avery recalls. “Despite our best work, youth in King County had the lowest on-time high school graduation rate in the state, about 36%. … So, we announced our goal for King County youth in foster care to graduate at the same rate as their peers, and in September 2012 we launched Graduation Success to turn vision into reality.”
By 2017, Treehouse’s Graduation Success program had achieved an overall 82% graduation rate by successfully focusing on providing academic and other essential support to the youth it serves.
“Once again, we have set a wildly ambitious goal.” Avery says. “This time it’s to provide Graduation Success universally across the state of Washington by 2022. I am working my heart out to get as many commitments as possible to fuel our goal.”
Avery, however, also remains equally focused on Treehouse’s primary mission, which she says is to “remain fully committed to whole child development.”
“Just like children from well-resourced families, youth [in foster care] need to be able to explore interests, developing passions and relationships that steward their growth as individuals,” she says.
As for her legacy, Avery says she would like to be remembered for the following:
“Setting bold, audacious goals and doing what it takes to achieve them. Establishing racial equity as a key business objective [and] building our collective will to empower some of the most vulnerable children who live in our community to thrive.”