How Balancing Self-Care and Sacrifice Enabled One Mom to Achieve Her Dreams

By: Tamara Braunstein

If you’d asked Araceli in high school about what she wanted to do with her life, she might have shrugged. She definitely wouldn’t have named any job requiring a four-year degree — she never thought she’d make it to college. For a while, she wasn’t sure she’d graduate from high school.

Today, she’s a proud graduate of the University of Washington (UW) Tacoma School of Social Work. And she’s an even prouder mother to her five-year-old son, Christian.

It’s Christian whom she credits with igniting her desire to push herself and achieve academic success. And it’s her 10th grade mentor who inspired her path forward.

“I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to graduate high school without that person to listen to me, help me with my academics, especially math and writing,” she says. “It was just a struggle.”

So from her perspective, Araceli’s degree is not only for herself and her son — it’s also for students who don’t speak English as their first language. For kids whose parents work long, hard days that leave them less available to support their children academically. For anyone who might be struggling with a learning disability and just need a little extra encouragement to thrive. For people like her.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in social work at the beginning; I just knew I wanted to help people,” Araceli says.

But if high school was a challenge, even the logistics of going to college presented an entirely new test. Balancing class schedules with childcare while working to pay for both was daunting. At least she was eligible for public funding.

Until she wasn’t.

After completing prerequisite courses at South Seattle College in 2017, Araceli transferred to UW’s social work program. But soon after starting classes there, she was notified that her financial aid from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) would not be renewed. DSHS had changed their terms and she was no longer eligible based on her academic program.

Even though she was living at home with her parents, she couldn’t rely on them to watch Christian. Her father worked all day and her mother was recovering from a kidney transplant while undergoing cancer treatment.

“I went looking for help and someone at the university told me about their emergency aid options, but it turned out I didn’t qualify,” she says. “Then they mentioned the Seattle Milk Fund.”

A self-described skeptic, Araceli was hesitant about what the Seattle Milk Fund was offering. She had never heard of the organization. She was sure there’d be some sort of small print that would disqualify her. It seemed too good to be true.

But Araceli was also a bit of an optimist — or as she says, maybe just desperate enough to take a chance.

“They just said, ‘If you’re a mom, if you’re in school…’ and I remember thinking, ‘OK, I’m fit for this,’” she says. “So I hurried to get my application together and I hoped for the best.”

Getting the call that she’d been accepted as a Seattle Milk Fund recipient was life-changing. Not only did it mean Araceli could continue her studies and work, it meant she could keep sending her son to the daycare she already knew and trusted.

“In the beginning, everything was hard emotionally,” Araceli says, recalling the impact of her mother’s chemo treatment and care needs. “Being in school and having to do everything I was doing, knowing Seattle Milk Fund was there to help relieved so much stress.”

Stressful is an understatement of Araceli’s first year at UW. Many days involved waking up early to drop off Christian at daycare, then driving 45 minutes to school to attend class for one hour, then driving another 25 minutes to an internship before finally completing the trek back to her neck of the woods to work. Once at home, her hours were spent studying, completing tasks for her internship, and caring for her son and her mother.

But through all of that, Araceli learned two lessons: 1) The importance of setting boundaries for her time and 2) The importance of self-care, including asking for assistance when she needed it.

“The shy part in me still comes up. I was always terrified to ask for help because I don’t like to make people mad,” Araceli says. “But when you open up about reality, people can be understanding.”

She learned that at home especially, where each lesson was pressure tested.

Trying to balance everything on her plate was almost impossible. So she finally asked her sister, her only sibling, to tag-team caring for their mother. And she learned to tune out any criticisms that she should be prioritizing work and Christian.

“My dad is the macho man, always working. So sometimes I feel like I have to defend myself,” Araceli says. “I’m not a bad mom. I’m doing this for my son.”

The Seattle Milk Fund also became part of her self-care plan.

“I think they understand the life of a college student. We’re single moms, we’re busy,” she says. “This organization is like another hand.”

Not only that, but it’s a community Araceli didn’t realize she needed until she had it. It’s camaraderie, emotional support and professional networking rolled into one — all with people who empathize with her story. Plus, thanks to their tickets to venues like zoos, aquariums and museums, Araceli and Christian get to make the most of their limited free time together in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

“It’s so expensive to do those things, and a lot of us don’t have the money,” Araceli says. “Those have been my getaways with my son.”

Now, as Christian prepares to enter Kindergarten, Araceli is looking to the next chapter of their life: A pay increase (as soon as she earned her degree, her employer of eight years bumped up her pay) and graduate school. The toughest decision she’s facing now is whether to pursue a specialty in education or medicine.

After completing her internship at a local high school, she’s convinced she has what it takes to work with students to turn their academic careers around.

“I’m glad I was put at a high school, because I felt like that was the hardest part of my education,” she says. “I feel like I have a story they can relate to — I helped students who spoke Spanish, I helped the ones at risk of dropping out, I helped the seniors apply for college.”

But going through her mother’s medical crisis exposed Araceli to the world of medical social work. She was so inspired by and thankful for how her mother’s case workers supported the family, especially when it felt like the doctors were only focused on the medical treatment and not a holistic experience.

“I feel like I could close the gaps between the doctor and the patient,” she says. “People need more attention paid to the emotional part of care.”

Whatever she decides, Araceli knows her success will come down to having a plan, then remembering her two lessons along the way.

As she tells her high school students, “It’s hard and you have to sacrifice, but if you make goals — and ask for help — you can meet them.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Diana

Last year, Diana, a student at North Seattle College who is studying pediatric trauma nursing, reached out to us because she wanted to volunteer for our brand-new Storytime volunteer opportunity. We paired her up with a class of 3 and 4-year-olds at the UCUCC Child Care Program for a twice-a-

month volunteer placement.

“The most rewarding part of being a Storytime volunteer is seeing the kids learn to love reading. At every session, their faces light up when I come in with new books,” said Diana. “They’ll run up to me, look at the title and I’ll talk with them about the parts of the book (the spine, the pages, the front/back cover,) and they’re intrigued! The kids have also begun to relate the books to their own lives–recalling times they have felt happy or sad as a main character may feel, or identifying that they’ve eaten the same food or done the same activities as a character.”

Thank you, Diana for inspiring these young soon-to-be readers. We are setting up new Storytime volunteer partnerships this summer to start in the fall. Interested in learning more? Send us an email at or call 206-526-7944. Thank you to Third Place Books for curating our Storytime book list with inspired read-aloud books with diverse characters. 

2019 Fueling Futures Luncheon Registration

Please register for yourself and your guests using the form below. Feel free to connect with us at 260-526-7944 or with any questions. Additional event information can be found here. Everyone who registers will receive an email with event details a week prior to the event.

There’s no cost to attend. All gifts are meaningful and bring us closer to helping even more families break the cycle of poverty through educational opportunities. We are amazed by the generosity of last year’s luncheon donors, who averaged $207 per gift.

Unable to attend? Please consider a gift in lieu of attendance. Your gift will be pooled with others to create a matching fund for luncheon attendees when they donate. Thanks to our sponsors your luncheon donation will go directly toward supporting Seattle Milk Fund families.

Thank you to Spilt Milk Nannies for providing complementary childcare for our guests again this year. Child care is available from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. during the luncheon. Sign up through this link.

Guests will be able to choose from a Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad or a Warm Quinoa Lentil Salad. If you or any of your guests have a food allergy, dairy?, nut? gluten? other?, please let us know below.

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, September 18! For specifics about the luncheon, return to the event page.

Congrats to our new graduates!

This spring and summer, we will celebrate 27 students graduating with their degrees from colleges in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. This is the largest cohort of graduates that our Family Connections Program has experienced since its inception. We are so proud of our hardworking and dedicated scholars and all they have accomplished. We wish them the best as they begin their careers. Thank you to our supporters for making graduation day a reality for our students.

Edmonds Community College
, Science

Lake Washington Institute of Technology
, Accounting

North Seattle College
Jennifer, Pre-nursing

Pierce College
Briana, Pre-nursing

Seattle Central College
Fadumo, Respiratory Therapy
Rebecca, Social Human Services

Seattle Pacific University
, Nursing

Seattle University
, Electrical Engineering
Angelica, Law
Martha, Nursing
Hodan, Nursing
TyKera, Social Work

Shoreline Community College
, Chemistry

University of Washington Bothell
, Accounting
Weikang, Math

University of Washington Seattle

Danya, Education Policy
Hirut, Nursing
Robyn, Business
Joshua, Mechanical Engineering
Myles, Community, Environment, and Planning
Katie, Psychology
Kristen, Business
Sydney, Nursing
Ruby, Social Work

University of Washington Tacoma
, Social Welfare

Washington State University (Everett)
Karina, Hospitality
Masooma, Pharmacy



Survivor of Somali Civil War establishes love, work, and home in Seattle

Author: Maggie Wilson
Photographer: Renee Banks

Please be aware: This article includes the recounting of experiences during the Somali Civil War that are upsetting. They are also real experiences. Read compassionately. A version, that was edited for length, appeared in our Winter/Spring 2019 Newsletter.

Fadumo Daud heard a bomb coming, but she could not escape it.

She was a child then, with her younger sister beside her. Those who heard the bomb coming either ran or laid themselves down.

“(When bombs near) people go somewhere they think is safe,” Fadumo said.

Today, Fadumo lives in Seattle’s Columbia City, with her loving husband, Ahmed, and her three sons. With help from Seattle Milk Fund, her youngest son attends preschool, and her two older sons attend after-school programs while Fadumo works toward a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care at Seattle Central College.

Her middle son is 8 years old – the same age this year as she was in Somalia during the Civil War in 1991.

Fadumo juices carrots in bright mornings for her boys. Over winter, she took them to the Pacific Science Center.

“It’s so beautiful there,” she said. In the Center’s tropical butterfly room, royal blue and red calico butterflies land on cinnamon and cocoa trees, nervous shoulders.

Fadumo said the science center is one of her favorite places in Seattle. She was given tickets from the Seattle Milk Fund, an organization she’s a student with. Through Seattle Milk Fund’s program, her children are cared for while she finishes her education.

She’s earning a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care at Seattle Central College.

When we talk about why she studies respiratory therapy, Fadumo says her path to medicine began in 1991 – and she takes us to the day.

Civil war in Somalia

Today, Fadumo is somewhere safe. But her journey to Seattle was treacherous. She believes she arrived because of her faith in God, her family, help from people on her path – and her strength.

When Fadumo was 8 years old, she lived happily with her mother and five younger siblings in Somalia.

Then war came. It seemed inconceivable that a small militia would permanently wipe out the government. But the war worsened; the president of Somalia fled. And suddenly, there was no running water, no regulation, no electricity.

Fadumo’s family could not flee. Around their house, bullets screamed.

Her young mother Sadiyo said, “If I take all these kids, I don’t know how to survive on this road.”

The youngest baby was only months old.

One day, Sadiyo had to search for food.

Fadumo and her 7-year-old sister Faiza left their siblings at home and went out to search for clean water.

Hands full, jugs full of water

Fadumo and Faiza carried plastic jugs.

They embarked to their auntie’s house. Fadumo knew of a well there. Three other girls joined.

They couldn’t walk the streets, where gunfire whined without break. Instead, they walked along a wall. When the girls arrived at their auntie’s, the house was crowded, and they could see only strangers. They left to find water elsewhere.

They passed a mansion under construction. A man was in the doorway, watching.

The watchman called to the girls. He saw the jugs and offered water from a well there.

The girls were full of joy. They lined up and the man filled their jugs with fresh water.

Then, in the air – there was the distinct sound of an incoming bomb.

“We heard the noise. But it was coming to us directly,” Fadumo said. “There was nothing we could have done differently.”

The house was unfinished. They were standing on rugs. When the bomb hit, everything became shrapnel. The rugs crawled up legs, burning them.

The explosion hit the watchman and Faiza.

“They became pieces,” Fadumo said. “My sister and him – their bodies became unknown.”

Fadumo’s leg split in two. She was the first to wake from unconsciousness.

“I opened my eyes,” she said. “All I see is white ash. … I don’t hear anybody screaming, anybody talking. I just hear, ‘eh, eh.’ Somebody is making little noise. I think my sister was dying.”

Fadumo stood and fell. She thought of her family. As the oldest child, she felt responsible for helping them.

On her injured leg, she crawled through small rocks to an outdoor gate. At the gate, she screamed for help. But everyone was running for their lives. Running, passing.

A man eventually helped her.

He put her inside of a wheelbarrow and ran. Everything went blank. Fadumo woke up on a table at the hospital.

Finding Fadumo

The sun was setting when Sadiyo, Fadumo’s mother, returned with food.

She saw neighbors in the yard and asked God, “Help me. Whatever happened to my children. If they all died, give me the strength to bury them. If there are some left for me, please help me through this. I will never cry. Please leave me some.”

Sadiyo learned Faiza died and Fadumo was at a hospital, but no one knew which.

Sadiyo and strong men took the bathroom door off its hinges and stripped the bedsheet off her bed.

She and neighbors walked to the mansion, carrying the bedsheet and door. There, they found Faiza, the watchman and another young girl dead.

Two other girls had survived and lost their hands.

Sadiyo and neighbors buried Faiza and the little girl who died together in the ground.

After the burials, Sadiyo found Fadumo.

“My mom came, and she kissed me from the top,” Fadumo said. “And she said, ‘You’re going to be fine. I’m here. I found you.’”

They had to amputate Fadumo’s left leg.

She remembers braiding her hands together in prayer and promising, “God, if you save my life today, I will help your needy ones.”

Taking refuge in Kenya, then Seattle

Sadiyo soon decided the family needed to flee Somalia. Fadumo was still recovering.

The family had to walk, and they took turns helping Fadumo.

They reached a refugee camp in Kenya and lived there until they were processed as refugees to Seattle.

It was 1996.

“God saved me,” Fadumo said. “Everything comes from God. I think my purpose was to come here (to Seattle) and have a life.”

In Seattle, Fadumo visited a doctor for the first time since her leg was amputated. Doctors at Harborview inspected the wound and found an infection.

They said her leg would have to be re-amputated.

A nurse at Harborview, who lost her leg in a boating accident, came to Fadumo to show her a prosthetic.

“She walked in,” Fadumo remembered. “And she showed me her leg, and she was wearing a sandal. And I was so excited. I said, ‘I could wear that sandal, and I could get that leg, and I could walk again with sandals. Yes, I will do the surgery.’”

In 1997, they re-amputated her leg and gave her a prosthetic.

She has walked ever since.

To this day, she still visits the practitioner who fitted her with her new leg at his home in Gig Harbor.

A desire to help others the way she was helped

“I’ve seen people, coming from left and right helping me through, helping me walk again,” Fadumo said.

It’s why she studies medicine.

After graduating high school in Seattle, she worked for years as a caregiver.

She remembers one night sleeping with her second baby, when he was very little, and musing, “I need to fulfill my promise to God that I will help serve humanity.”

She went back to school. She studied through pregnancy, the birth of a child and her mother-in-law’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“She was having a hard time breathing at the end,” Fadumo said of her mother-in-law. “I see breath – and I see that we take it for granted.”

She reflected both on her mother-in-law’s struggle breathing and her struggle breathing when she was a child in the hospital in Somalia. She was moved to study respiration.

Needing childcare in Seattle to study, reach dreams

While searching for affordable childcare, Fadumo found the Seattle Milk Fund, and quickly saw how their Family Connections Program would make finishing college possible. Her boys would have their own educational opportunities, while she attended classes and did additional clinical work.

She applied to the Seattle Milk Fund and was accepted in 2017.

“I was so happy,” said Fadumo. “It gave me safety and security to continue my education. … I have to work hard and the life I left behind is still imprinted in my mind.”

As Fadumo nears graduation day this spring, she reflects on what receiving her degree will mean to her sons.

“I want my children to look back and see what I did in my life, and look how far I came,” Fadumo said. “From the war, my education. And take notice of that and say, ‘If my mom did it, I can do it, too.’”

In January, she worked with two of her sons, now 8 and 9 years old, on a Heritage Day poster. She is beginning to introduce them to her childhood.

Her son was asked by his teacher, ‘If you go to Somalia, what do you most want to see?’

And he said, “the monuments” and where his Aunt Faiza is buried.

Fadumo’s future

What’s important to Fadumo is that she makes a positive difference.

Of her friends who survived the bomb and lost their hands, she said in Somalia people with scars of war or similar losses aren’t socially accepted. Disabilities, missing limbs and mental illness cause people to treat you differently, she said.

The two unmarried sisters now live together.

“One is missing the right hand and one is missing the left hand,” Fadumo said. “They wash clothes, cook, and support each other, one hand to another.”

She hopes to work with survivors of war and survivors of trauma, and also to find ways to give back to those in Somalia.

Today, she studies and works hard, raises her sons and thanks God for her blessings.

She, her husband and three sons sit and eat Somali Anjero in their South Seattle home. They pass the sweet bread, one hand to another, around the table.

Fadumo will soon be studying for her final exams and will begin applying for respiratory therapist positions just as soon as she graduates. We wish her and her beautiful family all the best as she begins her career helping others.


A Life-Changing Decision

by: April

I can still remember the exact moment I decided to change my life.

On a crisp fall day in 2013, a few months after I became a single mom, I decided to take a shortcut through the University of Washington campus with my then 3-year-old daughter in the backseat. We marveled at the trees and buildings as we drove. Glancing back in the rearview mirror I told my daughter, “You can go to school here one day you know.” She kept looking out the window, too young to grasp what I was telling her.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I had an epiphany—the best way to ensure that my daughter went to college, was not to tell her, but to show her. Graduating from college was something I had always wanted to accomplish and driving through campus that day I knew what I had to do. That night, at 31-years-old, I enrolled at North Seattle College and I never looked back. I began shaping mine and my daughter’s future from that moment on—the power to raise the bar was in my hands.

One of the most difficult aspects of returning to school with a young child is paying for childcare. When I found out about Seattle Milk Fund, I was so grateful that such a resource existed. Without your support, I would never have been able to obtain my degree. My daughter received an incredible preschool education and I was able to attend class with the peace of mind in knowing that she was in good hands.

As I worked my way through school I met incredible, lifelong friends and mentors.
In 2018, I graduated from the University of Washington, the first in my family on either side. There were many days I rode the bus up that same road, on my way to class, where I made that life-changing decision, never forgetting how far I had come and the incredible people who had made it possible.

April recently began her career in Human Resources at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, a professional position that would not have been possible without obtaining her bachelor’s degree.

Thanks to you, Seattle Milk Fund’s program is stronger than ever. This fall, 51 students were accepted into our program–an increase of 70% from the year before.  If you are moved by April’s story, help keep the positive momentum going for students like April by making a gift this season.

Thank you for believing in our students as their success is your success as you have shown kindness time and again to our families.







The Power of Perseverance

Yelena was featured in our Summer | Fall Newsletter

If there’s one way to describe Yelena, it’s determined. She taught herself English and homeschooled her kids for a few years, while teaching them Ukrainian simultaneously. Despite the hardships she faced moving to Seattle from Ukraine, she never gave up in her path to providing her three children, Daniel, Darina, and David, with the best possible life.

It was never an option to give up or stop trying, so she kept going, and pushed through the long days and nights of studying, working, and taking care of a full household. While taking a prerequisite course in communication, she began to learn about relationships and how to better them through communication, which was her goal with her husband of 12 years. It wasn’t until she began to learn about domestic violence in this class that she realized that her husband was abusive and she shouldn’t be treated the way she was. Yelena ended her relationship with her husband after being told for so long that she wasn’t good enough, and feeling stuck and unable to do anything.

She was then on her own to take care of her three young children. Having been a stay at home mother until now, Yelena was determined to finish her education and get a degree at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.

“Failing wasn’t an option,” she said. This past winter quarter, she completed her associate’s degree and was recently hired by Infinity Rehab at Bethany at Silverlake, where she has begun her career as a Physical Therapy Assistant. Yelena describes the last four years as life-changing. She explains that she doesn’t know what she would have done without Seattle Milk Fund’s support.

“I knew that my kids would be in child care and safe, and that was the most important thing for me. I was going to school for them, but I couldn’t just abandon them at home if they weren’t being taken care of.”

The additional support from Seattle Milk Fund was as meaningful to Yelena as the Child Care Grants. Receiving tickets to the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Children’s Museum was a cost she otherwise couldn’t afford and it meant the world to her.

She also thanks her Family Support Advocate, Linda. “To have someone call for even five minutes to check in on how school was going and ask about the kids was so meaningful,” she said.

The most memorable moment for her was around Christmas time when Linda and her husband showed up with gifts for their family. Her kids couldn’t believe that it was all for them and it made that holiday season so special for them, especially because they were so far from the rest of their family, who live in Ukraine.

Yelena is now hopeful and excited about starting work. She recognizes the growth that has happened for her over the past few years and is so appreciative of her education and the instructors who went beyond basic education and helped her get to where she is now.

They provided her with life skills, such as interview advice and how to be professional, which led her to her recent job. She has always pushed forward to be the best role model for her kids, despite how hard it was to find enough time in the day to study after going to school and working.

When talking about this, she said, “It wasn’t always easy, but the kids helped out with cooking and cleaning and it became something we could do together.” If there is one thing she wants others to take away from her story, it’s that if she can do it, they can do it:

“I really want women to step forward and make the right choice in their life. We are all smart and the only thing in your way is your will.”

Yelena doesn’t want people to feel sorry for themselves, or be afraid of failure, because doing something is better than not trying. She is so thankful for Seattle Milk Fund and looks forward to giving back to help others who are in situations similar to hers. Once Yelena was accepted into Seattle Milk Fund’s program, Linda became her Family Support Advocate until she graduated. Every student at Seattle Milk Fund is connected with a Family Support Advocate to provide additional help and resources to ensure they are going to be successful.

Thank you to Amy Rickel, our indispensable intern, for authoring Yelena’s success story. Amy graduated in June with a B.S. in Communication from UW.

Thank you to Renee Banks for volunteering as our family photographer. 


Graduation Gratitude

“I would like to thank everyone for helping and supporting me with Kiana. Going to school and work full time is a challenge, but with the help from you at Seattle Milk Fund, it was possible. Having Seattle Milk Fund assist with child care has been a huge blessing for my family. Everyone at Seattle Milk Fund has made it possible for me to graduate from my program with an Associate Degree in Nursing. I will be able to provide a better life for my family, as well as pursue my dreams to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. I am pleased to inform you that I have passed my NCLEX-RN and will be starting my job at the end of July as a Registered Nurse! I cannot thank you enough for helping provide child care for my daughter. I appreciate all that everyone at the Seattle Milk Fund has done and would love to be a part of Seattle Milk Fund in the future!”

Forever grateful, Kristine, North Seattle College Graduate and Registered Nurse

Spin for a Cause

Thank you Seattle Athletic Club Northgate!

Seattle Athletic Club Northgate has been holding their Spin for a Cause event in support of the Seattle Milk Fund for six years now. Their goal is to keep the wheels of a spin bike going from open to close, that’s 17.5 hours of riding! They station two bikes in their lobby so members can join in at any time which helps with transition when there is a participant change because the wheels really don’t stop.

“Having done the event for so long our staff and members really look forward to it,” says Dana Lauren, SAC Fitness Director, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate. “The energy it brings to all involved throughout the day is so much fun and we get to support a great cause in the process. It’s a win-win for all!”

Fruit & Flower Appreciation

On Saturday, May 12, 2018, we celebrated all of our volunteers for their dedication to supporting our student parents as they build brighter futures for their families. The Fruit & Flower Award was given to the Heritage Circles for building and sustaining a charity that would support families through times of hardship for decades. The organization exists today, 111 years later!, because of the love and compassion our volunteers have shown local families in times of need.

The Fruit & Flower Award is a nod to Seattle Milk Fund’s original name, The Fruit & Flower Mission. Women from all over Seattle would gather in social fundraising circles to collect donations of fruit and flowers to deliver wishes of wellness to those who were recovering in hospitals.

Great thanks and appreciation to Joy Goodenough of the Katherine B. Friele Circle and Terry Dessert from the Terese Smith Howard Circle for speaking so eloquently on behalf of the heritage circle members.

And, thank you to our photographer, Amelia Vaughn, for capturing our event! Photos from the morning are available on Flickr.