In the early 1990’s, Washington State allotted funds to enable individuals with developmental disabilities to move out of state-run institutions and nursing homes. This process was described rather impersonally as deinstitutionalization. What happened in actuality was that individuals with disabilities were given the chance to move from institutional environments that were created and managed by others to homes of their own. They would have the freedom to create meaningful lives based upon their personal preferences and dreams. By any human standard, this was a big deal.
Kokua, the agency, was born September 2, 1990 when two men moved in together in Tumwater and Kokua began providing Supported Living services. At that point Kokua consisted of the agency’s founders, Jim and Ana Sibbett, and six friends who became the first employees. Taking the name Kokua, which means selfless giving, kindness and support for your neighbors, was a significant choice and has been a lasting legacy.This ethic of loving service has characterized the agency from the very beginning. From this core of eight committed people, the agency grew. In February 1991, a group of ladies formed a household in Olympia, a household Kokua still supports 24 years later. A third household formed in June 1991. Kokua was off and running, a fledgling organization full of enthusiasm and filled with devotion to the individuals being served. Today, Kokua Services currently supports 48 individuals and employs a staff of about 150 caring and trained individuals who are committed to providing kokua.
Since our founding, the intervening almost 30 years have been important ones for the cause of disability rights. There has been a shift in public opinion about the way individuals with disabilities should be supported, a shift away from creating specialized environments like state institutions, large group homes and sheltered workshops. Some states have done away with large institutions all together. Many states, like Washington, have a few remaining institutions but also a small menu of community-based options. Slowly, the push has been toward supporting people in the community and working toward the worthy goal of full social inclusion. Kokua Services is proud of our record of providing creative, respectful Supported Living Services. We have grown as an organization by listening carefully to the individuals we support. They lead; we follow.
We are also proud of our outreach into the community, especially our LEAD (Literacy and Education for Adults with Disabilities) program, which has grown from our strong and long-standing partnership with The Evergreen State College and has branched out at Saint Martin’s University. Our 2015 class matched 13 learner and tutor pairs and in 2018, we grew to 28 learning pairs at three campuses! In addition to LEAD, we are proud to offer hummingbird studio, a free and inclusive community artspace where art belongs to everyone, regardless of experience or ability. We believe that creating art together is vital to a healthy, vibrant, and inclusive community.