Focus on the People

No one understands the obstacles that need to be overcome more than those we serve. So while Vulcan and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation (PGAFF) rely heavily on experts, we also lean on the insights of people most affected. Then, as projects evolve and progress, we depend on their input to help measure effectiveness and improve our collaboration.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the incredible need for affordable housing in our city, particularly among families who are most vulnerable. I’m proud of our team and our partners who adapted very quickly in light of COVID-19 and were able to offer housing and resources at the most critical time. They made it possible for families who were coming from homelessness to shelter in place.
Joe Thompson, President, Mercy Housing Northwest

Gardner House and Allen Family Center

  • Active: 2017-2020 
  • Funder: PGAFF 
  • Program Area: Communities 

For years, when it comes to homelessness, both Seattle and King County have been in a state of emergency. It’s a crisis that touches every part of our community, but families experiencing homelessness face specific challenges including a lack of larger, family-sized, housing options and long waits for affordable housing. 

Accessing services can be challenging, too. Families are often required to navigate different providers in various locations to obtain needed services. And, unfortunately, homelessness often has lasting effects on children.  
To help address all these urgent needs, we partnered with the city of Seattle to build an innovative, permanent, supportive housing and on-site services community: Gardner House and Allen Family Center.

The facility opened its doors in 2020 and includes 95 family apartments — half are permanent and supportive housing, and the other half are affordable housing. On the ground floor is the Allen Family Center, a space co-designed by nonprofit service providers based on input from families experiencing homelessness. 

It’s the first of its kind in Seattle and was created to make it easier for families to access numerous critical services all in one place such as childcare resources, housing searches, employment assistance, and more. Current on-site partners include Mercy Housing Northwest, Child Care Resources, Mary’s Place, and Refugee Women’s Alliance. 

The building also houses other important resources like a technology center, a food pantry, a resource room, and spaces for community events and social gatherings.

Partners: Child Care Resources, City of Seattle, Mary’s Place, Mercy Housing Northwest, Refugee Women's Alliance, Seattle Seahawks 


  • Active: 2008-2014  
  • Funder: PGAFF  
  • Program Area: Legacy Libraries 

Recognition of the important role libraries play in our communities runs deep within our organization. Faye Allen, the mother of Paul G. Allen and sister, Jody Allen, was a teacher passionate about education. Their father Ken was a college librarian at University of Washington. Both parents believed deeply in the power of books and literature to transform minds, unlock knowledge, and spur creativity.

Given that, it’s not surprising that PGAFF supported two noteworthy projects in Washington and Oregon:

The first was Encouraging Children to Read in 2013. Faye Allen imparted her love of books to children by reading aloud whenever possible — both because of its entertainment and educational value. This initiative focused on motivating young children to become lifelong readers and encouraging libraries to use books to help children meet their personal and academic goals. 

Similarly, in 2014, our Making Connections program strengthened the role libraries play in connecting people to books, information, and ideas. PGAFF funding enabled libraries to experiment with new models of service and unique ways to build relationships among members of their community. This included projects that balance technology and traditional services while also encouraging business strategies that position libraries in community leadership roles. 

In total, the Foundation’s library program has contributed more than $6M in grants across 12 counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Select Partners: Humanities Washington, King County Library System, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, Seattle Public Library, University of Washington Foundation



Allen Distinguished Educators

  • Active: 2014-2016 
  • Funder: PGAFF  
  • Program Area: Tech + Education 

In 2012, the Global Education League ranked the U.S. #36 in combined math, reading, and science scores. The country also slipped from #1 in college graduation rates to #13. As a nation we can do better. We created the Allen Distinguished Educators (ADE) program, because the quality of our education system depends on the quality of our teachers and their ability to creatively engage students in the learning process. 
The program focused on rewarding the integration of computer science, engineering, and entrepreneurship into engaging, student-led learning — the kind of curriculum that helps students build skills, habits, and tools which can transform the rest of their lives. 
The inaugural 2014 class included seven educators. These ADE recipients continue to support the program today by serving as ambassadors and sharing their experiences to inspire experiential learning in classrooms across the country. 
By 2016, the program generated 81 applications from people in 31 different states. From there, 16 finalists were chosen and, finally, the seven winning projects were chosen to receive a $25,000 award each for their pioneering work in the field of education. Following this second cohort of award winners, seven micro-documentaries and 11 do-it-yourself guides were produced — all of which are shared by a growing community of teachers to inspire similar creativity in classrooms everywhere.
Focus on the People

Girl Rising

  • Active: 2013-2015
  • Funder: Vulcan  

In the struggle to reduce poverty, one fact is undeniably clear: educating girls has a direct and powerful impact. For example, educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. And girls with just one extra year of education can earn up to 20% more as an adult. Investing in women and girls helps entire communities thrive. 
Policy leaders also need to remove the barriers girls face — like early and forced marriage, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, lack of access to healthcare, and gender violence and discrimination. Shining a light on these injustices is an effective way to enact change, and few things are as compelling as films like “Girl Rising,” a documentary Vulcan Productions created with CNN Films. 

Directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins, Girl Rising illuminates the story of how nine unforgettable girls around the world are transforming their lives by receiving an education. Their stories are told with the help of celebrated writers and renowned actresses like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Selena Gomez.

In the end, viewers are left with one irrefutable conclusion: leveraging the power of education doesn’t just mean a better life for girls, it means a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for all of us. 

Girl Rising uses the power of storytelling to change the way the world values girls and their education. Courtesy Girl Rising

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