Playing the name game
PSKS and its former director tussle over the organization’s identity
It was a tale of two parties. On Christmas Eve, clients and alumni of Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) chose between the PSKS annual holiday party at its new location at 19th Avenue and Pine Street and one organized by ousted founding director Elaine Simons and some PSKS alumni. That party was not far away, at Melrose Avenue and Denny Way.
The two parties are a sign of strife between the 18-year-old organization and Simons, who was pushed out of PSKS in October 2012.
At that time, PSKS was almost out of money and Simons raised $200,000 from the community to keep the organization open. (“Street kids at a crossroads,” RC, Dec. 19, 2012)
The near-closure cost Simons her job. The board appointed Susan Fox as interim executive director in December 2012. (“Agency aimed at street youth finds hope in new leader, new location,” RC, Oct. 16, 2013)
About a year later, Simons gathered under the moniker “OUR” PSKS people she said were left behind when PSKS changed leadership.
That didn’t sit well with some. In an email to Simons, PSKS Executive Director Fox urged Simons to stop using the name PSKS.
An attorney for the organization, Alan Smith, sent a formal letter asking Simons to cease using the name, “OUR” PSKS as it misrepresented the organization.
“[Y]ou are no longer connected to the organization, and you have no right to us the name PSKS in any way, shape or form,” said Smith in a letter to Simons.
In the letter, Smith said people cannot add a word before a copyrighted name and claim it for their own. It wouldn’t work, he said, to start an organization called “OUR” Google or “OUR” Microsoft.
Fox declined to comment for this story.
Since leaving PSKS, Simons said she has wanted to keep up her involvement with homeless youth.
Simons decided to hold a Secret Santa program similar to one PSKS operates every year.
She collected names and wish lists for poor and homeless children and asked for donations to “OUR” PSKS, with the caveat that it was not a nonprofit organization, was operating separately from PSKS and could not offer receipts for tax refunds, she said.
The holiday party put Simons and PSKS at odds again.
Simons said she’s willing to change the name, and has since referred to the group simply as “OUR” in compliance with Smith’s letter. Simons said the event’s success encouraged her to continue working in homeless advocacy again after more than a year out of the field.
It provided gifts for 27 children and winter gear for more than 35 homeless adults.
Sara Herrera, a PSKS alumnus and Simons’ foster daughter, said working with homeless youth is Simons’ calling. Herrera wrapped presents and volunteered at Simons’ party.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen her happy in a whole year,” Herrera said.
Those who volunteered at the party Simons held will meet in the coming month to determine what work they might do next. Simons said she doesn’t want to organize gift and gear drives, which she said are Band-Aid solutions.
“I’m not going to be happy doing Band-Aid stuff,” Simons said. “My spirit is more in advocacy, policy work and systemic change.”
CommentsI'VE known Eilane since the early 90's. My wife , her sister and many others a would have ended up dead or worse if it hadn't been for the resources and concern that The name is our name not there's people tend to forget Elaine was the founder off the organization and where Elaine goes a lot of people will follow I cannot imagine why the Board of PSKS didn't just tell Elaine to find herself a new Board, and then go off and start the clearly very different organization they wanted under a different name.
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