While the surrounding landscape has changed greatly—a winery, paved trail system, busy roads and multiple housing developments—there are 319 acres in the Spokane Valley that have remained relatively unchanged for 100 years. Exiting Upriver Drive and down a long tree-lined driveway, you’ll come face to face with what at first appears to be a wealthy estate. The beautiful brick buildings look as if they would house a family of great wealth when, in fact, they are home to unbelievably selfless adults and some of the area’s most vulnerable children. Now entering its 101st year in operation, The Hutton Settlement continues its mission to nurture, educate and prepare children who are in need of a safe and healthy home.
“About half of our children come from private referrals and the other half from state agencies,” explained Community Relations and Communications Manager Jessica Laughery. The settlement is unique in that it is not run like a traditional orphanage nor does it receive any government funding for its services. This is due to its founder, Levi Hutton, whom after becoming wealthy in the early 1900s built the original orphanage proclaiming, “No orphan in the Inland Empire will be turned away from this home no matter what his sect or color may be. It will be a real home for boys and girls who have no home.”
Children brought to the Hutton Settlement are between the ages of 5 and 18. They come for many reasons and often from the foster care system. “We hear from school counselors, churches, it might be a failed adoption or a relative that can no longer care for the child,” said Laughery. A lengthy interview process is conducted before a child or group of siblings is admitted to Hutton, as many will spend the rest of their childhood on campus.
“Each case is very different, but we hope to get the children out of their situation before the state gets involved. A stay could be as little as two years so the biological parents can get back on their feet, but all parents are absolutely going to be part of their children’s lives—even when they are living here,” said Laughery.
Many children who end up at the Settlement come from families where there has been exposure to addiction, abuse and neglect. They have not felt love from their parents, and getting to that point is a goal for all those caring for the child. “What kids want more than anything is a relationship with their biological family, and we work to provide that in a safe manner,” said Laughery.
Once a child is admitted, they are placed in one of several cottages on campus. Each cottage has a set of house parents who live on-site and take care of roughly eight to 10 children at any given time. They are on for eight days and off for three when relief house parents enter the picture. “It’s an in-depth recruiting process because turnover of the house parents doesn’t work,” said Executive Director Chud Wendle. “Each has a deep call to serve, they look at our children and see worth, and they do so very eloquently.”
House parents run each cottage as if it were their own household, assigning rules, chores and responsibilities to each child. Over 100 years of experience working with children has allowed Hutton’s leadership team to adapt. Their model has moved away from behavior based and into attachment based. “It’s how we help kids find joy in their life, by building trust and loving relationships,” said Wendle.
While the kids spend much of their time on campus, there is no school on-site. Instead they are funneled into the West Valley School District. This has been the case since the doors first opened in 1919. This allows them all the same experiences their peers enjoy, like after-school clubs, sports, youth groups, having a job and just being a normal kid. While many children who end up at the Hutton Settlement initially display behavioral problems due to prior abuse or neglect, the numbers show that care and education can really improve their well-being. In the past 10 years, 100 percent of Hutton kids attending high school have graduated, and 95 percent have gone on to different forms of post-graduate programs or service. “We have a young man who recently left Hutton who is on a full ride at the University of Washington and another at Eastern Washington,” said Wendle.
Hutton Settlement children not only get their education in the classroom but in many areas across the 319-acre campus. They learn sustainable farming by tending the on-site gardens and crops, which are utilized in their daily meals. They put on performances in the auditorium and hone their wood-working and art skills. Kids have sold 8,000 Christmas trees in the past 12 years during their annual sale. Here kids learn customer service and sales skills. SALUTE (Service and Leadership United Through Education) is a weekly 4-H and service-learning program, and Odyssey is an adventure-based Scouting program that strives to develop self-confidence, personal resilience and leadership through outdoor challenges.
One Hutton student, Trevor McArthur, was recently given the U.S. Congressional Award, one of only six given out to youth across the state of Washington. To achieve this honor, Trevor completed 400 hours of community service, 200 hours of physical fitness, 200 hours of personal development and four nights on an expedition.
While much of Wendle’s job is maintaining the commercial properties and investments that are the primary funding for the settlement, hearing stories of success and being able to step onto the grounds remain the best part of his job. “Being able to step out of the real estate world and come out here and hear how the kids are doing is so rewarding.”
Wendle has been coming here since childhood. His mother was one of 21 women who serve lifetime positions on the board. It was Levi Hutton’s strong belief that having a long-term committed board with maternal instincts and a mother’s point of view would be very beneficial to the children. “They (the kids) start to feel like your own,” said Wendle. “My son comes out here and has developed relationships as well.”
During the 100-year anniversary celebrations, dozens of previous Hutton Settlement kids came back to campus, and others reached out to share their stories. Babe Ruth visited the Settlement in 1920, and his granddaughter came out to see it in person this past summer. Previous residents have set up outreach programs and scholarship funds to help kids transition away from Hutton once they reach adulthood. “We have a 93-year-old man who was raised here and became quite wealthy. His scholarship endowment has allowed a lot of dreams to come true,” said Wendle.
While children come to the Hutton Settlement at different ages and in different states of mind, they will all be exposed to a safe home and family, experience relationships with compassion and respect, and be put on a path to lead an independent and fulfilled life of value and contribution. For many, the emotional scars of childhood trauma will never fully go away, and that is recognized even after kids become adults and go out on their own. “Our family doesn’t end at 18,” said Laughery. “If an alum has a life-altering event, we will continue to help.”
When building the Hutton Settlement, Levi Hutton wanted it to last for 250 years. It is now 40 percent of the way to that goal. More than 1,500 children have been served and 6,000 family members impacted over the first 100 years, with many more to come. Days can be challenging, times can be tough, but victories big and small, and seeing kids just be kids, are what keep both Wendle and Laughery committed to the Huttons’ mission.
“The lane at 3pm is so amazing,” said Wendle. And Laughery adds: “Seeing the kids come home from school and walk down the lane, it’s remarkable when you see them because they are living such a normal childhood.”