Twenty years ago, a chance encounter with a former neighbor led David Milliken to Hutton Settlement. He’s been there ever since.
The Central Valley High School graduate had completed a stint in the military and was working in the coffee industry. When he heard of a job opening at the children’s home, he decided to check it out.
“I just wanted a tour,” he said. “But I spent three hours listening to one story after another of serving kids and what brought the kids here, and I sort of fell in love with the place right off the bat.”
Before he left that afternoon, he’d applied for the job.
This week, Milliken, 47, is in Washington, D.C., to receive the Excellence in Mentoring Award from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
He’s one of only four individuals in the nation this year to be awarded this honor, which recognizes individuals who’ve demonstrated a commitment to expanding quality mentoring relationships for young people.
Milliken was nominated for the award by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who wrote, “Too many youth in our community face unimaginable hardships and often have no one to look to for advice, for an example, or for mentorship. But when they have no one to look to, people like David step up to serve as a positive and often life-changing force to help guide them along their journey.”
From case manager to director of education to his current role as campus director, Milliken has invested in the lives of the children who call Hutton Settlement home. So has his wife, Tamara, who serves as a family educator. They both live on site.
There are 32 children, ages 5-18, living in four cottages on the sprawling 319-acre campus. The Hutton Settlement is a home for children in need of long-term care. The children are placed in a family setting with live-in house parents and attend West Valley schools.
When asked if he has children, Milliken, who has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Arts in organizational leadership, grins.
“I have 32,” he said.
During his time as director of education, Milliken created three key programs; creative arts, outdoor adventure and service leadership. The programs are aimed at promoting resiliency in children who have all endured trauma.
He said the creative arts program helps children express themselves, whether through painting, dance or other creative means.
The outdoor adventure program stems from his own passion for spending time outside. Whether it’s white water rafting, backpacking through the woods or snowshoeing on Mount Spokane, Milliken said he believes activities develop physical and mental resilience.
“I love getting the kids out in nature and exposing them to the wonders of the world,” he said. “I want to inspire curiosity, and have them understand the interconnectedness of our world and the great joy and beauty in it.”
Milliken created the service and leadership club to empower kids to make a difference in the world. They work together to identify needs in the community and then find ways to help.
“I want them to have a sense of value and that they matter in the world,” Milliken said.
For example, a 15-year-old girl volunteered at the food bank and was inspired to create a community garden at Hutton. After a difficult start, the garden began to flourish and now provides produce for area food banks as well as Hutton.
Hutton alumni are welcome to stop in and visit their former home, and Milliken stays in touch with many of them.
He doesn’t have to travel far to chat with alumnus Emanuel Pacheco.
Pacheco came to Hutton Settlement at 12, having lived with a mother who suffered from addiction; his life to that point had been one of trauma and abuse.
Now, Pacheco and his wife serve as house parents at Hutton.
In his nomination letter for the mentoring award, he wrote, “I have been able to model my life by the example that David set forth in my life, and I aim to have the same impact on the young men that I care for as David did with me. I attribute my success today to the mentorship I received from David as a youth.”
As Milliken reflected on what it means to mentor, he said, “It’s not just an adviser or guide. It’s someone who is deeply engaged in building relationship.”
He grew up in a close-knit family and counts his two older brothers and his younger brother as mentors.
Milliken is frank with the children who come to Hutton, many of whom have experienced homelessness, violence, poverty, neglect or abuse.
“I don’t know what that’s like,” he tells them. “But I know what love looks like and what a good family looks like.”
And that’s what he hopes they’ll find at Hutton Settlement.
“At the core of their being, every kid out here is good,” he said. “This is a place of love.”
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