Plenty of heart and ‘sole’ on the Island

MIYFS Foundation honors walking and social group and others at event.

“It takes the whole Island.”

These were the words of Laura Oberto as she stood at the podium and passionately spoke to the crowd about the importance of supporting the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) Department and taking care of residents’ mental health.

Oberto serves as the executive director of the MIYFS Foundation, which generously supports the critical department year-round through various community initiatives and majorly stepped up again with its biggest event on the morning of Feb. 7. About 600 attendees packed into the community and event center gym for the foundation’s 22nd annual fundraising breakfast. At press time, the foundation had reached $415,000 of its $450,000 fundraising goal.

“This breakfast is the most important day of the year for us, and wow did the community turn out. Every year, I walk away from the breakfast feeling so lucky to live in a community that has these services available to all Islanders, a city and city council that prioritizes this department and a population that shows they care so much about each other. Thank you, Mercer Island,” Oberto told the Reporter following the event.

Island resident and KUOW host Bill Radke led the way as master of ceremonies at the “Community, Connection and Compassion” event and noted that the fundraiser helps and gives hope to locals in need. YFS offers family-, and school-based counseling services, food security programs, youth-focused outreach and more.

Added YFS Administrator Derek Franklin during the breakfast: “Our fundamental approach to providing support is to help kids, families and seniors with a solid foundation of hope and resilience in their lives.”

On the student front, Mercer Island High School junior Ren Evans stepped into the spotlight during the YFS portion of the event and discussed her school’s SAFE (Super Awesome Fun Events) Club, which is involved with the MI Healthy Youth Initiative, fentanyl prevention month events and more.

“Our mission is to ensure that every student in our community has information and tools they need to make healthy lifestyle choices,” she said.

Mercer Island’s Solemates walking and social group strolled into one corner of the gym when it came time for Friendship Circle Executive Officer Sari Weiss to present the foundation’s Philanthropy Award. Weiss exclaimed that the group of men and women age 55 and up exude camaraderie, encouragement, motivation, heart, community and soul (or “sole”).

The dedicated community volunteers spend time at the food pantry and holiday tree lot, and members organize drives and donations for the emergency assistance programs, thrift shop and school supplies. They also raised funds for three tiny village homes off Island, and helped construct, paint and make curtains for the abodes for the homeless.

Solemates founder Fran Call told the crowd that she was honored and grateful to receive the prestigious award on behalf of the walkers.

On their volunteering efforts, Call rolled out some baseball terminology to knock her message home: “We tend to not be the heavy hitters — we play small ball. What we realize is every little bit counts. You folks are the heavy hitters. You are the backbone of Youth and Family Services. You make services possible, and we salute you for that. Understand that we love to set your tables, so that you can hit the home runs. Batter up.”

Speaking of the Mercer Island Thrift Shop, whose shoppers support YFS through their purchases, Megan Schoephoerster (community engagement and volunteer supervisor) said that its 284 volunteers powered the shop this past year by logging 14,000 hours.

Early in the event, Oberto and Weiss spoke from the heart about Karlene Johnson and James Cassan, two immense YFS and foundation supporters who recently passed away. Johnson worked as a MIYFS individual and family therapist and youth court diversion coordinator, and Cassan was a prominent Island developer.

On Johnson, Oberto said: “Her colleagues will continue to share Karlene’s passion through their work.”

Weiss said it was a privilege and joy to work alongside James and his wife Doris, who attended the breakfast.

“Their deep commitment to Mercer Island is seen through their unwavering support of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services for over 20 years,” said Weiss, who turned to Doris and added, “May our community be a source of strength and love to you always.”

All $500 breakfast donations were matched by a group of community members. To donate to the foundation, visit

For more information on YFS and how to connect with counselors, visit:

Attendees get in some visiting time following the 22nd annual Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation fundraising breakfast on Feb. 7 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. Andy Nystrom/ staff photos

Attendees get in some visiting time following the 22nd annual Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation fundraising breakfast on Feb. 7 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. Andy Nystrom/ staff photos