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Q&A: David Milliken

Campus Director of the Hutton Settlement By Colin Anderson

Photo by Kiersten Patterson

Despite growing up in the Spokane Valley, David Milliken had never heard of the Hutton Settlement. A chance encounter with a neighbor from his childhood lead David to visit the now 100-year-old children’s home, and he’s been there ever since. We recently caught up with the campus director on his time at Hutton, the unique living situation, and what it means to be a part of such a special place.

Q. You are in a unique place in which you live alongside the children you are guiding through trauma and other difficulties. What is daily life like being so close together? A. It is like living in a family of 50 members with all the ups and downs of family life. However, things are a bit magnified due to the insecurities that many of the children carry with them to Hutton. With views that the world is threatening, that they are individually bad and that they are alone, they bring understandable behaviors that many see as problematic. We see them as normal responses to their past experiences. I’m certain it may seem a bit unusual, however, for your therapist to be joining you for dinner or your boss joining you for an evening movie in your home. It’s certainly unique!

Q. Can you recall a particularly challenging situation and how the situation was resolved? A. One that comes to mind recently involved a child that has lived with us for many years. Her family placed her at Hutton but has not been very involved, leaving deep feelings of hurt and abandonment lingering for years. Hutton provides a safe and nurturing environment, but we never replace the bond a child may have with a parent. This child seemed to embrace Hutton as her family through her years of placement but eventually started to have strong emotional outbursts that included self-harm and destroying her property. Instead of taking a punitive approach to these concerns, we gathered as a team to listen and help her uncover what may be under the surface of the deep emotions. She claimed to want to leave Hutton. Instead of getting defensive or shutting down her feelings, we supported her desire to seek out alternative living options. Nothing emerged as a viable living option during our search, but the act of advocating for her desires and concerns strengthened the relationship.

Q. Your Christmas Tree Sale is run by kids living on campus. How is this organized? A. The three-week event is more than just selling trees; it is an engagement with the community in a holiday experience. We offer hot chocolate and music by the campfire with lots of space and help to search for the right tree. The farm is managed by Hutton alumni, and all of the kids on campus can participate in the operation to learn skills of product development, customer service and accounting.

Q. What is your favorite occasion, activity or pastime spent with the kids? A. As an adventurer, my favorite Hutton tradition is Team Trek. Team Trek is a weeklong adventure throughout the Pacific Northwest that exposes our kids to the wonders and beauty of the natural spaces we call home while supporting them in the development of resiliency and leadership. Each day on the trip, one of the youth is assigned as the “Leader of the Day,” and we give the team their outdoor challenge. Challenges in the past have ranged from surfing the Oregon Coast, deep-sea fishing the Puget Sound, whitewater rafting the Salmon River and backpacking the Olympic Coast. What makes the week so special is to see the awe, wonder and joy the youth experience on the trip, all in the context of supportive relationship.

Q. What should people know about the Hutton Settlement? A. Hutton is unique. With a blend of attachment-based care, sustainable living practices and transformative learning opportunities, we patiently take the long journey with children and families on a path of healing. We believe that children from trauma, regardless of their complicated and challenging behaviors, are not broken and problems to be fixed. I believe I speak for all of us who serve at Hutton that it is a privilege to be a part of the lives of these children and their families. They are my favorite people on the planet!

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