Nonprofit warrior. Mother of three. Whether changing lives at work or out adventuring around Tacoma, Kelly Blucher is basically a superwoman. Yet, despite all she does, she remains quick with a smile, surprisingly calm and always down-to-earth.
If you haven’t already seen Kelly around town through her outreach at Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, you should make a point of meeting her.
So how does she do it all? How did she go from a struggling single mother, at one point homeless, to someone who helps others get their footing?
It’s been a long road for Blucher, filled with hard work and passion. She grew up in Federal Way, graduating from Decatur High School. She moved to Alaska, where she found herself single, pregnant and homeless. But she remembered the kindness others showed her – like a woman at the homeless shelter crocheting a baby blanket for her – and it always stuck with her. When she had her son, Justice, that moment cemented it: she made a promise to him that she would build a good life for them. And she wanted to do it through helping others.
She returned to Washington and started interning at Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity. While her son’s birth gave her the spark of change, her work with Habitat showed her the way. They built houses for veterans and people battling cancer – she saw how nonprofits could help people, literally and figuratively, build a new life. It was here she met her husband, Norman Brickhouse (the two would later work together at Goodwill, where Brickhouse serves as the coordinator for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program).
Blucher decided to go back to school and first wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps. Mary Netrick-DeGagne was a nurse at CHI Franciscan’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center for 39 years. Blucher enrolled at Tacoma Community College and excelled in her studies. But she realized nonprofits were her true calling. She transferred to the University of Washington Tacoma, where she earned her B.A. in ethnic, gender and labor studies with a minor in nonprofit management. Professor Ruth Bernstein (whom Blucher refers to affectionately as “Coach”) was a key mentor to her.
Says Bernstein, “Kelly was an amazing student. She had more ideas for how to help others than virtually all of my other students combined. She was always investigating how she could enact these ideas and drawing in others to create change…Kelly’s goal was simply making the world a better place with one small great idea at a time.”
Kelly then interned at the Milton nonprofit, Brightening 4 Children, where she saw the power of agencies like United Way to help families. It was all coming together in her mind: “I realized it was who I knew that made the connections happen.” This ability to connect has, no doubt, been a strong suit throughout Blucher’s career.
Kelly was making it on TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and a small AmeriCorps stipend as a student and single parent. With Bernstein’s encouragement, she applied at Goodwill. This is where her life really started to change. She started as a donation attendant at North Tacoma Goodwill. While there, she took the initiative to start a sock drive for St. Leo’s Food Connection and organized a school uniform section for families. This is another of Kelly’s strengths: she sees a need and quickly, and practically, finds a solution.
It wasn’t long before management recognized her drive and she moved into a position overseeing the career pathways program at Goodwill. She couldn’t believe it when she landed the job: after all she’d been through, she now had a real platform to help others. Through her work, she helped entry-level Goodwill employees move into higher-paying jobs in the community. Kelly blew past the initial goals of the program, placing more than 100 workers into jobs that had an average $20,000 per year wage increase. “Goodwill really gave me the tools with that job,” she says. “My passion has only grown from there.”
When the program wound down, Blucher took a hiatus to have her second and third kids. But she kept noticing the disparity in resources among different parts of Tacoma, and she vowed to do something about it.
Outreach comes naturally to her. In the fall of 2017, Kelly returned to work at Goodwill with Women 2 Work, a national pilot program that provides job training support to low-income single mothers. After exceeding enrollment goals, Kelly created the first-ever position as community engagement coordinator for Goodwill, where she has been able to bring this two-generation anti-poverty work to an even bigger stage. She is the brainchild, and the muscle, behind connecting Goodwill with resources and programs across the community in “outside the box” ways. For example, she helped launch the first Hire 253 event, a one-stop job resource fair to help homeless people find employment.
Everything Blucher does is on a big scale. Whether delivering Christmas presents to over 100 local kids (bedecked in a Santa hat and grinning the whole time), advocating at the Capitol or throwing a staff potluck, any event with Blucher involved is going to be an occasion.
In visiting her at home, Blucher is constantly in motion. As we chatted for the interview, she put dinner in the oven, changed diapers, played with the kids and tended to the needs of her two beloved cats Sammy and Dean, and German shepherd Jackson.
Belying her no-nonsense demeanor, watching Kelly’s kids play and interact with each other shows the magnitude of her heart: her kids are funny, smart, and effervescent, full of smiles and the kind of thrive that only comes with a deeply loving parent. Mason is a young engineer in the making; Justice is just as witty and observant as Kelly, and Kennedy, at eight months, is standing on her own, starting to talk, and already going after life just like her mom.
Blucher is at once funny, down to earth and 100% real. She pushes everyone, including herself, to do their best. She is passionate about many things: diversity, equal access to resources, ending homelessness. She also loves rap music, a good Facebook meme and reading local history.
Kelly’s long-term goal is to keep inspiring change. She is especially passionate about the homelessness issue since she personally faced it. “Did you know that there are 150 new families experiencing homelessness in Pierce County every month? And there doesn’t have to be,” Blucher says.
Talking with Kelly, she reminds you to be fearless. “Get involved…don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. Don’t stereotype people who are homeless. Be part of the solution. Join your neighborhood councils. Schools are also an excellent place to get involved. Start a clothing drive. I just think, ‘There’s a family out there just like us, who needs this.’”
Goodwill has been integral to changing Kelly’s life. And now she is passionate about helping Goodwill spread its mission even further. To support Goodwill’s mission, Kelly encourages you to shop their stores and website, donate, and volunteer.
As Tacoma grows and changes, Kelly Blucher is one to watch: she embodies activism. As Kelly says, “I am a no-excuses person. I just don’t believe in ‘I can’t.’ We can all be someone’s silent angel.”