Celebrating 20 years of MIYFS fundraising breakfasts on Feb. 9

Attendees can ‘Rise Up!’ virtually to support the heart of the community.

Special to the Reporter

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) Foundation will hold its 20th annual fundraising breakfast on Feb. 9, which co-chairs Robin Moore and Laura Oberto say is an incredible milestone thanks to the generosity of the Mercer Island community.

This year’s virtual breakfast will take place at 7:30 a.m. To register, visit breakfast.miyfs.org.

The breakfasts once held at the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church (MIPC) now exceed capacity at the Island’s largest venue and funds raised for MIYFS’ vital mental health services have grown from $25,000 in year one to more than $500,000 at last year’s virtual event.

Reflecting on all 19 breakfasts attended to date, foundation board member Terry Moreman says, “To witness the growth from the 150 people gathered in the MIPC gym back in 2003 to the 1,000 plus who attended virtually last year is an impressive testament to the value our community places on Youth & Family Services.”

As the city emerges from a very isolating time for many, planners felt it appropriate that this year’s theme focus on connection — on creating community and building resilience through both giving to and receiving from MIYFS. Believed by many to be the heart of Mercer Island, MIYFS provides residents countless opportunities to connect with one another, improving the well-being of Islanders far beyond the direct recipients of its core services.

To support MIYFS, Steve Bunin will be the master of ceremonies. Bunin is a news anchor for KING-TV, winner of the 2021 Emmy Award for Best News Anchor in the Pacific Northwest and former sports anchor for ESPN. An “Islander” himself as a member of the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Class of 1992, Bunin will regale attendees with stories of growing up on “the rock” and give a brief tour of his favorite haunts.

The two keynote speakers will be Risley Lesko, MIHS football standout from 2013, and Walter Bailey, former football player for the Washington Huskies. Each will share his personal story of the mental health support received during a time of great need and the connections made along the way that fostered a desire to give back. Committee member Amy Posner-Wolff says, “though the two are from different generations and backgrounds, they share similar determination, strength and commitment to overcome,” adding that “each is a great example of redefining success and creating connection, both crucial to the path of building resilience.”

Foundation board members never imagined that gathering remotely for last year’s breakfast was more than a one-time anomaly. Similarly, MIYFS staff did not expect the pandemic to continue wreaking havoc to this date.

Tambi Cork, MIYFS administrator, reports, “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health remain worrisome, particularly with regard to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The staff continues to see an elevated need for mental health services, particularly within our school age population.”

Clinical Programs manager Derek Franklin adds, “Parents also continue to face challenges: disruptive behaviors in children, marriage/relationship stressors, and an increased tendency to cope using substances.” Regionally and nationally, the shortage of mental health care is acute, according to the foundation, adding the community is extremely fortunate that the entire MIYFS staff continues to work tirelessly on behalf of Island families.

The financial impact of the pandemic on the Island’s most vulnerable neighbors also remains severe. Cork confirms that visits to the MIYFS food pantry are still almost double pre-pandemic levels, and the need there is as great as ever. In addition, emergency assistance staff now is prioritizing eviction prevention. Both the food pantry and rental assistance programs are vital to Island families struggling to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and utilities.

As the foundation looks forward to the breakfast, its mission this year is two-fold. As always, goal No. 1: Raise the funds essential for support of the MIYFS mental health programs vital to the entire community — from the Incredible Years program for the Island’s 2-6-year-olds and community-based mental health counselors to the programs assisting Island seniors. Donations have been even more integral to funding since the thrift shop was closed for about six months in 2020 due to the pandemic. Goal No. 2: Impress on all the need for everyone to “Rise Up!” and supplement the efforts of local professionals. Beyond the dollars, people can help by watching out for their neighbors, learning more about peer counseling in the schools, volunteering at the thrift shop and slinging trees at the MIYFS tree lot –– just a few examples of the ways to connect with one another through giving to and receiving from MIYFS.