425 Magazine Features David W. Downing
The List: David Downing
CEO of Youth Eastside Services
By: Madison Miller
For more than 50 years, Youth Eastside Services (YES) has served as a lifeline for youth and families coping with challenges such as emotional distress, substance abuse, and violence. Through intervention, outreach, and prevention, YES works to advocate for a safer community for youth throughout the Eastside.
David Downing, YES’s new CEO, has spent the past 30 years helping youth. He started in the King County youth sector, and then joined YES 15 years ago. Now CEO, Downing works to communicate YES’s vision and to inspire a wide array of others, both internal and external to YES, to be part of doing whatever it takes to execute its mission and move the organization forward.
Q & A
HOW HAVE YOU (ALONG WITH YES) PIVOTED DURING COVID-19 TO HELP LOCAL KIDS AND FAMILIES?
In my leadership role, I’ve intentionally become more systematic in big-picture communication both by email, and by holding agency-wide and subgroup meetings. I’ve also found myself connecting more with other community leaders to collectively figure out best practices for optimally supporting staff and clients.
YES had already planned to go deeper with technology in terms of service delivery in 2020 pre-COVID, then when it hit, we had to immediately pivot and did so in about a 36-hour period by putting all of our programs/services on telehealth platforms. We have never closed our services at any time during the pandemic. We also moved to offering safe in-person service options because we saw that not all youth were engaging in telehealth. As well, we launched additional technology communication options for clients with secure encrypted email and texting. We also have done a lot of community outreach and online community education events.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN THE WORK YOU HAVE DONE THROUGH YES SO FAR?
I’m really proud of our YES community including our board, staff, and volunteers, who have all worked to advance so many important initiatives during my tenure. One item at the top of the list is the migration of our clinical and program services to a grounding in compassionate, evidence-based team approaches.
Historically in our sector, supportive listening was a common approach, but we were not seeing the needed impact and change with youth using this method. We were also simultaneously seeing a dramatic increase in the number and acuteness of children and youth with mental health issues. This pivot to science-based approaches requires a huge investment of time and financial resources, but we see true impactful change, and often over shorter lengths of treatment now, with our young people.
WHAT HAS BROUGHT YOU JOY RECENTLY?
My kids are both young adults now with more separate lives. Recently, we were able to all be together for a number of days in a house at the ocean with no agenda and just have time to connect. That experience and those times with them bring me the most joy.