Nonprofit offers ‘a safe place where you know you can come to’

Tanikka Watford once made a choice for the safety of her children, and for herself.

Watford escaped an abusive marriage and moved across the country to build a happy and peaceful life. She knows all too well the struggles of trying to build a new life.

“I fled to the state of Washington in 2013 sight (unseen),” she said. “I have a lifetime protective order, and my children have a lifetime protective order.”

Watford, executive director of 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, The Moore Wright Group (TMWG,) helps people with a variety of needs — such as getting out of domestic violence situations, overcoming drug addiction, workforce development for the homeless and for those who were incarcerated, and other people who need food, clothing and shelter.

“(It’s) a safe place where you know you can come to, and we want you to do better,” said Watford. “We understand that people make mistakes. We understand today might not be perfect.”

Watford now leads the organization into its next phase. Now, TMWG owns a 44,000-square-foot building in Aberdeen, plus 27 other parcels that include 17 houses. The sale closed on Thursday, April 14.

The whole purchase cost $3.85 million. Through a series of hurdles in the past year, in which Watford and her staff went to area banks, applied for grants, extensions, and so forth, they found success.

Brady Figueredo, executive coordinator for TMWG, said he and others at the nonprofit have a saying to describe the last year, from when they moved into the building in April 2021, to closing on the building.

“Last year, we were building a plane in the sky, because we were putting all the parts and the pieces and everything, together, to put together this organization,” he said. “While we (were) still trying to figure out where we (were) gonna stay, we (were) also helping almost 170,000 people in the state of Washington.”

Watford worked with the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing, the Department of Commerce, and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC,) in order to secure a loan.

The former Swanson’s Grocery store — 1401 Simpson Ave., — will help the organization in its end goal to help those thrive, not just survive.

Inside the building’s cavernous space, everything from clothing, hygiene products, school supplies, kitchen items, and even exercise equipment, are housed.

“We get donations from a little bit of everywhere,” said Watford. “From Walmart to Amazon (and) suits from Jos. A. Bank.”

The nonprofit organization works directly with about 480 other organizations, and corporate partners, throughout the state of Washington.

“We service those who need it, but we usually try to work directly with organizations,” she said.

Sarah Eliassen is someone who can speak first-hand about what The Moore Wright Group does.

Once an ex-con and addicted to drugs, Eliassen wanted to change her life for the better.

“I was having a hard time finding employment,” Eliassen said. “At the time, I had not worked in a while. I’m a recovering addict and had a couple of felonies.”

So, she got help.

“I got in contact with a resource lady from the treatment center (where I was in) outpatient,” Eliassen said. “She hooked me up with WorkSource, and then the WorkSource program I was working with got me in contact with Tanikka (Watford.)”

Eliassen said Watford let her come and work with her at TMWG. She did contract work until about August 2021, when she said she became a full-time employee.

Since those days, Eliassen has turned her life around.

“I’ve been clean for almost two years,” she said. “Thankfully, I got the opportunity to come work here. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten both my felonies removed from my record. (And) I’m able to support myself.”

Figueredo, who started working at the nonprofit the same day as Eliassen, said she has grown immensely. She’s not the only one.

“Everybody that’s here has had their struggles,” he said.

Figueredo explained part of the organization’s mission — which includes providing affordable housing to those who need it — was that it provides a bridge for those who are trying to better themselves.

“We don’t want to continue to have that revolving door, or the holes you fall into,” he said. “We want to fill those cracks.

Figuerdo said that means teaching people how to create a bank account, how to save money, how to create a shopping list, to live small, and then move from there.

“We don’t just want to take someone off of the street and throw them into a three-bedroom apartment,” he said.

Watford discussed how TMWG came to be. The organization formally started in Alabama in 2017.

“Before that, we were just a family helping people,” Watford said about their efforts in Alabama. “My father was disappointed. He grew up as a child in poverty. He went to school sometimes and didn’t have shoes. He was like, I’m going to get my education so my family one day will have shoes.’”

Watford said her father saw the children in his area had shoes with holes, or shoes without laces.

“He was like, ‘How is this still a thing?’” she said. “So, thus the birth of the Moore Wright Group.”

Watford, who described TMWG as her “calling in life,” was living on the East Coast before she moved her family to Washington.

Their first project, in Tumwater, was to help survivors of abuse.

“I could connect to that,” Watford said. “I know what it’s like to come to an entirely new place and have to start over with nothing, so that’s what we do.”

Figueredo reflected on the progress he, and others, in the organization have made since joining The Moore Wright Group.

“There’s been a lot of growth in all of us,” he said. “We all come from a past. We all have things we struggle with, if it’s domestic violence or trauma, or just a difficult, bumpy road in the past. But, as long as we’re moving forward and we’re looking to the future of bettering ourselves, that’s all we can ask for.”