It does take a Village by League Chair Paige Kilborn-Otero

It has been my real pleasure to serve as Chair of such an incredible group of people doing incredible things for the children at Ryther and I am happy to be able to serve again this next year.  A big thanks to the Mardi Unit on Whidbey Island, who raised close to $30,000 at their event last October, to the Blue Ridge Unit that raised $38,000 at their Oktoberfest event, with the welcome help of Moonlighting, to Sou’Wester for their incredible sales of Poinsettias during the holidays, to the Noel Unit for raising close to $40,000 at their Holiday Luncheon, to the Forest Drive Unit for their hard work in the Receiving Room putting together Holiday items (from left overs) for the thrift store, Thank you! To all of you that contributed to the Kids Holiday Store, put together Easter Baskets, baked cookies, brought in birthday cakes, provided haircuts to the kids, to those of you who work in the Receiving Room and the thrift store, thank you!

 For the generosity of members at our luncheons for filling the need for shoes, clothing and kitchen supplies, you are helping children feel valued and cared for.  It takes a Village for sure! We are actually doing more with less League members, which means that we are all stepping up.

Paige, along with Newman, also a Ryther volunteer as a canine companion to kids in the Cottage Program

Paige, along with Newman, who is also a volunteer as a canine companion to kids in the Cottage Program

The mission of the League is to support Ryther in its endeavors on behalf of children, youth and their families through fundraising and direct service activities. League members find meaningful community within their Unit, while raising awareness and educating the public about Ryther’s role in creating healthy children and stronger families. The League welcomes new members and new thrift store volunteers. Please contact the Liaison at 206.517.0215.


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“Everyone Should Have a Special Person in Their Life”

146For 12-year-old Sharalyn, her Best Buddy Colleen was that special person. Colleen began as a Best Buddy in 2006 and has had three buddies at Ryther since first meeting Sharalyn in Cottage A. Plus, she is a dedicated League member. Colleen has been the source of consistency, advice and encouragement for Sharalyn over the past 9 years. In fact, the two made a pact to always be in each other’s lives. Now, at age 21, Sharalyn invited Colleen to attend her GED graduation in the mid west, where Sharalyn now calls home. Colleen remarked, “She was in and out of school and in several foster placements before and after Ryther. She is now talking about going to college – I am so proud of her!”

When asked about Colleen, Sharalyn said, “She has helped me more than I could ever thank her for. When she said she was coming to my graduation in Michigan I cried because I never ever thought I would have a best friend like her. Thank you Ryther for bringing Colleen into my life!!!”

If you want to learn about Best Buddy opportunities at Ryther visit our volunteer page.

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UW’s Beta Theta Pi Fraternity Visits Ryther’s Cottage B

Beta Theta Pi, UW, University of Washington, Ryther, Ryther League, volunteerAn interview with Beta Theta Pi Philanthropy Chair Danny Chandler and fraternity members James Coatsworth and Kyle Ahrens after a few of the fraternity brothers spent some time with the teen boys in Cottage B who are receiving inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Beta Theta Pi is a unit of the Ryther League and visits frequently to help the boys expand their sense of what is possible if they work hard towards a goal…as well as play some basketball!


What did you find most interesting about your discussion with the teens?

Danny: At first, the boys were a little skeptical of us, acting as though we were completely different people than them, and as if we wouldn’t understand them. After a few questions about fraternity life and college life in general, they started to realize that we were not so different from them, and that we might have some good advice.

James: The entire group’s demeanor changed as the discussion went on. In the beginning, they were joking around, talking with each other and not paying much attention. But as the conversation continued, more and more in-depth questions arose, such as when we talked about addressing conflict in a house full of male adolescents. The boys were also very interested in college and had several good questions about higher education.


Did you feel like you could relate to them? Why or why not?

 Danny: Obviously there are differences, but at the end of the day we are all teenage guys who more or less think alike and act alike in certain situations.

James: It’s honestly difficult for me to relate to guys with a tough upbringing and understand what these boys have gone through, but I still enjoyed trying to relate, and it helps me grow by learning of their experiences. At the same time, we’re all guys. We all enjoyed playing basketball. We probably eat the same food, laugh at the same stuff and idolize the same celebrities.

Kyle: I am not too much older than these guys so I can relate to them in that we all like to play sports, laugh at the same things, and can have a good time together playing basketball (which was a great time, even though we lost the game).


How did basketball go?

 James:  It was fun! They were competitive, and Danny told me it was the most intense Ryther game he’d ever seen. The guys wanted to beat us, and they did just that. They worked as a team better than we did.


Was there a moment that you’ll remember?

 Danny: At the end of the game, I could really tell that the boys had a good time. They looked like they were happy with each other, joking around and having fun. Going into each of the small group meetings at the cottage, I really hope that the kids will have a good time and that we can make a positive impact. After the basketball game, I could see that we achieved this goal.

James: Shaking hands after the game. It showed me that the guys weren’t as tough as they tried to look. We played hard basketball for about a half hour, maybe longer, and everyone was happy for that whole time. The tension that hung in the air at the beginning was gone by the end of the game.

Kyle: Every time someone got knocked down, there was another guy there to help him up.

Contributed by Danny Chandler, James Coatsworth and Kyle Ahrens, UW Beta Theta Pi fraternity members and League members. To learn more about the Ryther League or to join, visit this page.


“First of its Kind”: How Lillian Johnson Molded Ryther

Lillian Johnson, Ryther, Seattle, Ryther Child Center, Mother Ryther, LeagueLillian Johnson, MSW was hired as Ryther’s Executive Director in 1935 after the Ryther Home closed for a year following Mother Ryther’s passing. Over the next 40 years, she would turn Ryther Child Center into a world-renowned treatment facility with a focus on serving children with emotional or behavioral disturbance. Lillian became the technical and philosophical leader behind Ryther – the first behavioral health center of its kind. All who knew Lillian remembered her unfailing compassion for the children at Ryther.

Ryther’s Board of Directors first hired Ms. Lillian Johnson as Executive Secretary, but soon brought her on as Executive Director. The first five years of Lillian Johnson’s Directorship were tumultuous as Ryther’s staff and Board adjusted to her new and somewhat revolutionary ideas. One of her interesting techniques was to summarize anonymous case histories at Board meetings, Four & Twenty League meetings and public talks. Lillian had a unique ability to make these seem almost too real, and her retellings often had a profound impact on the audience.

Lillian Johnson, Ryther Child Center, Seattle, Ryther, Mother Ryther, LeagueUnder the oversight of its new director, Ryther Child Center operated as both orphanage and center for emotionally disturbed children until about 1945. At this time Ryther had an active caseload of 277 for their seven employees. Lillian also instituted a new bookkeeping system, an indexing and statistical system that conformed to the state’s requirements, and a new system to record information regarding casework. Lillian brought on five graduate students from the University of Washington to assist with managing the casework.

In addition to deliberately hiring workers of both sexes, Lillian encouraged the child care staff to become more involved in the treatment and therapy of the children. In years past, the child care staff was uninvolved in the therapeutic treatment of the children. Ms. Johnson argued for the inclusion of the child care workers in therapy sessions, with the goal of the child care staff being able to reinforce the treatment strategies of the therapists. Lillian’s approach helped create Ryther’s integrated treatment model—a move that laid the groundwork for today’s Ryther.

Public awareness of Ryther’s success and mission started to grow. Lillian Johnson produced several papers detailing her thoughts and methods regarding treatment of emotionally disturbed children. She wrote that Ryther “has demonstrated that extremely disturbed children not only can be carried successfully within an informal, non-restraint unit, but can be readjusted…. Many people would find this hard to believe unless they saw it in function.”

Ryther Child Center, Lillian Johnson, Ryther, Seattle, LIFE MagazineIn 1947, LIFE Magazine featured Ryther prominently with “Bad Boy’s Story,” a pictorial article and success story that chronicled a Ryther boy’s journey from home to Ryther and back again. In response to the LIFE article, Ryther began to receive letters of praise, support, and requests for help with their own children. Even a Hollywood studio approached Lillian with a movie proposal—after careful consideration, Ms. Johnson decided it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the children.

It had been almost 30 years since the construction of the Ryther Child Home on Stone Way, and the organization had outgrown its space. Lillian envisioned a new facility aiming to emphasize a family-style setting. The Four & Twenty clubs, later becoming the Ryther League, raised funds to purchase a ten acre plot of land in North Seattle in 1954 and to build residential, school and administrative buildings by 1957. The new facility was well received, as Lillian wrote shortly after completion:

Lillian Johnson, Seattle, Ryther, Ryther Child Center, Washington, Mother RytherWe are in our new building and are delighted with it. Everything fell into place: the children slept better, there is less need for … supervision, and everyone is apparently happy as a lark about it.”

Lillian Johnson oversaw quite a unique operation. Ryther’s doors were always unlocked, and Lillian felt that “emotionally disturbed children would thrive in an intimate family-like setting, in which ages and sexes were integrated.” This design was an attempt to create a familial setting which it was thought would aid the children in recovery.

In 1970, Ms. Johnson retired as Director but would continue to work at Ryther as head of Special Projects until her death in December 1977. She would be remembered not only for her ability to inspire others to Ryther’s cause, but for her dedication to improving every aspect of Ryther Child Center, now known as Ryther. She was instrumental in developing Ryther into a leader in behavioral health services, and her efforts to educate other professionals had an impact on a national scale.


A Woman of Historic Proportions: Mother Olive Ryther

Mother Ryther, Olive Ryther, Ryther history, legacy, Olive SporeThis month for Women’s History Month, Ryther is celebrating the legacy of founder “Mother” Olive Ryther, who in 1885 took in her dying neighbor’s four children and raised them as her own. By the time she passed in 1934, she had “mothered” over 3,000 Seattle-area children in three different orphanages as well as her own home, which she opened up to “urchins,” female drug addicts, and prostitutes and their children.

Olive Ryther’s first charity work in the frontier town of Seattle included the downtown City Mission for men, where her husband Noble was a frequent volunteer, as well as working with “fallen women,” or prostitutes. Ignoring social expectations for respectable women such as herself, Ollie and her supporters visited the “red light” district often, meeting women for tea in the brothels.

Mother Ryther, Olive Ryther, Seattle, history, Ryther history, Ryther, Alder street, orphanage
Mother Ryther’s Alder Street home in Seattle

The Rythers soon established (in their own home) the City Mission Foundling Home for unwed mothers and their children. It was during this time that Ollie became known as “Mother Ryther.” Many accounts tell of Ollie’s tenacity when soliciting donations for the children in her home. As reported in The Seattle Times, when the children were in need of new shoes, Ollie brought over 20 kids to a downtown shoe store and firmly informed the proprietor that they would not leave without new shoes for every child. Another account tells when the Home had come up short on its finances for the month. Olive spent the afternoon soliciting donations and reportedly sat on the stoop of a business for hours until its owner relented and wrote her a check.

All children in Ollie’s care attended the Seattle Public Schools at a young age and continued to vocational school as they entered their teens. Ollie’s relationships with local businesses provided her with a network through which many of her charges could find work. Olive Ryther provided by herself services to children that today require many trained workers.

Mother Ryther, Seattle history, history, Seattle, Ryther history, Ryther, orphanage, Olive Ryther, Stone WayMother Ryther toiled in the care of children through three moves from their family home in what is now Kirkland to a home on Alder Street in Seattle, and then into an old mansion on Denny Way. Olive’s last move in 1920 was spearheaded by prominent Seattle businessman Laurence Colman who helped Mother Ryther get funding from other community leaders. Olive published this appeal in The Orphan, a periodical she produced:

We have burdened mothers…with one, two, three, four and seven (children)- we want to make this home a haven of rest and comfort, and are planning to start a building fund so as to be ready soon to have a better place.”

The unique fundraising approach of small donations by many private citizens had proved successful. It was publicized in Seattle papers with headlines like, “Have You Bought a Brick for the Ryther Child’s Home?” On Thanksgiving Day, 1919, the cornerstone of the new Ryther Home was set, inscribed: “Dedicated to the life work of Mrs. Ollie H. Ryther.” In May of the following year, Mother Ryther and seventy-five children were moved by a parade of volunteers to their new home on Stone Way. The new building would comfortably and safely house the multitude of children under her care.

Mother Ryther, Seattle history, Seattle, Ryther, orphanage, Seattle orphanage, Ryther history, history
Ollie and her Mother Ryther Dahlias named in her honor in Seattle, 1933

In her later years, an account tells of her unflagging dedication to daily life at the Ryther Child Home. “Mother Ryther is seventy-one years old.

Although she now has assistance with the cooking and housework, she oversees everything. She maintains an excellent discipline, and punishment is almost unknown, so effective is her influence. She says, ‘The essential thing is to love the children and understand them.’”

Mother Ryther carried on her duties without interruption until she fell ill in 1934. After a short period of illness, she passed on October 4th, 1934 at the age of 85. Seattle newspapers printed the news of her death the next day with headlines: “Mother Ryther’s Loving Work Ended by Death,” “Mother Ryther Goes to Rest as City Mourns,” and “Her Task is Ended.”

Olive Ryther’s steadfast love and understanding for children over her 50 year’s life work set the foundation and guiding principles that governed Ryther through the 20th century and today. Ryther continues to follow the spirit of Mother Ryther and her successor Lillian Johnson (stay tuned for her story) and have since refocused our mission to treat children, teens and families facing complex challenges using innovative and proven therapeutic techniques.


A Great Lady

We were informed this week of the passing of Barbara Kilborn, a long time and faithful member of the Ryther League. Barbara was a special friend to the children of Ryther and all who had the pleasure of knowing her. She had that rare combination of qualities like dignity with warmth, humor and kindness.
She was quiet and unassuming yet clearly a competently determined hard worker who could encourage and support others. Our sympathies go out to Barbara’s family. We will all miss her dearly.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Jody Ericson Dorow

Jody Ericson Dorow, Ryther, cottage, campus, baking, cookie

Jody & her mom baking cookies with the children

Jody Ericson Dorow, one of Ryther’s valued volunteers, has been volunteering with the children at Ryther for two years. She started with her friends, Nancy Gellos and Marlen Boivin, a select custom publishing company, ShinShinChez. They recently published TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters with Chef Tamara Murphy and are just finishing up Passion & Palate: Recipes for a Generous Table with Chef John Howie. She is a regular contributor to the blog


What do you do when you come to Ryther?

I help in the gardens with Fritz, who is the master gardener and a retired teacher at Ryther, and sometimes with the kids. I also have done baking and cooking projects in the cottages. My mom, who’s 86, comes with me quite often too. She’s done a lot of cooking and gardening here.


Ryther, children, baking, cottage, campus

Ryther kids baking brownies

Tell us about gardening here at Ryther:

Fritz is the master gardener, and I help upkeep the gardens. Fritz understands the power of involvement with the kids, and he will frequently invite them to participate in germinating and planting seeds or watering plants. They listen very carefully to Fritz explain how to plant and water a plant to protect it, and then they plant it themselves. When I am in the gardens later, the kids will come over to make sure that the plants are being watered correctly. So they have listened well and they feel connected to the gardens, which is very empowering.

ryther, campus, gardens, Charlie Ainslie Photography

Each cottage at Ryther has a garden with flowers and vegetables.

When things grow, the kids have the opportunity of selecting a cucumber or a squash and being able to eat it. The hope is eventually to be able to grow meals for the cottages from food they’ve actually grown. This fall we’re hoping to take a trip to the farmers’ market to do a little shopping and a little cooking and show the kids some food grown by actual farmers.


What is your favorite part about coming to Ryther?

Everything at Ryther has been exciting, and it’s different every time I come. I always learn something from the staff or the kids, about what our priorities in life should really be. It keeps us grounded and connected to the community. Also, there’s such good energy here because people are truly contributing, and that’s a positive feeling.


What plans do you have for the future at Ryther?

We’re trying to incorporate both of our books into fund raising efforts with the Ryther League. For example, we’re looking at using TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters with Chef Tamara Murphy as an item at the upcoming Hearts for Hope Auction, and possibly Passion & Palate with Chef John Howie. I would like to do more to share what I’ve learned here, as well as help other people contribute to keep Ryther vibrant and with the resources it needs.


You’ve recently published a cookbook with local chef Tamara Murphy. What is the message of the book?

TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters is a book about our connection with food. As we become more aware, we see how each of us plays an important role in what we eat, how it is cooked and how it is grown.  You are either a farmer, a cook or an eater…or a combination of these roles, so how can we take simple steps to enjoy good food in our lives.




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