Janis Avery K '78

When Janis Avery K ’78 explains why she does what she does, she’s succinct and convincing, ever the effective advocate for youth in foster care. Strategic support helps them get what they need to have a better life, she says, whether it’s clothes that fit, a chance to play a team sport, or individual guidance toward high school graduation. Especially the latter.

“Given half a chance, kids stick with us,” Avery says, who recently retired as CEO of the Seattle-based nonprofit Treehouse. The data bear her out.

Treehouse provides direct services to youth in foster care and, for the last decade, has focused on increasing their high school graduation rate; low rates are chronic for students in foster care. 

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Treehouse’s graduation push began with Seattle/King County’s class of 2017 and then expanded countywide. The goal was for students in the program to graduate at the same rate as students overall. With strong community partnerships and support, Treehouse provided each student with, among other help, an “education specialist” to work with them. The effort paid off. The five-year graduation rate for students in the program exceeded that of students countywide.

“What that represents to me,” says Avery, “is people’s real desire to be successful. And persistent.”

Treehouse  is scaling up to work with foster-care youth statewide, and Avery is deciding what to take on next. She’s interested in the root causes that push children into foster care, in particular racial equity, which Treehouse has studied. “I think that analysis is missing in figuring out how to help people have good lives,” Avery says. “So I think I might be able to do something that slows the trend of youth going into foster care.”

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