Ryan’s House for Youth opens new Oak Harbor center
— Created August 26, 2020 by Kacie Jo Voeller
By Kacie Jo Voeller
Ryan’s House for Youth has served the Whidbey Island community for over a decade, with services including mentorship, meals and more for homeless or at-risk youth. With its housing campus and drop-in center now located in Coupeville, the organization is again expanding, recently opening a new drop-in center location in Oak Harbor.
The addition is a new direction for the organization, said Amber Truex, executive director of Ryan’s House for Youth.
“This is actually a super big deal for Ryan’s House,” she said. “Since Ryan’s House’s inception, communities, the school (and) a lot of even our young people have said they really wanted us to separate the age groups out a little bit because currently we serve (ages) 12-24 in the same space.”
Krystal Lindsey, program manager for Ryan’s House for Youth, said the new drop-in center will serve school-eligible or enrolled youth from ages 12-21. For those who are not currently attending a school, Lindsey said the hope is to provide resources to help youth return to school.
“What we mean by eligible is somebody (who) may be experiencing a loss of either a living situation that has forced them to drop out of school or maybe they just were not comfortable at school and they had chosen to leave,” she said. “We are giving them the ability to return back to school and giving them an outlet to be able to complete their schooling, whether it is using our computers or it is using that as a safe space.”
Truex, who became the executive director in January after serving as an interim director in late 2019 following the retirement of founder Lori Cavender, said the youth asked for a space with a more limited age range for participants.
“The youth have a big voice in this project,” she said.
Lindsey said the center will have a number of different offerings, including a computer lab, an art space and case management options. Unlike the Coupeville location, Oak Harbor’s center will be drop-in only and will not include housing facilities.
“It is really just making sure that they (the youth) still have all of the resources Ryan’s House in Coupeville would be providing, other than the housing,” she said. “And also making sure they have access to somebody local, in town, that is able to help provide the same resources other than housing.”
Like many other organizations, Truex said Ryan’s House for Youth has been profoundly impacted by the effects of COVID-19, and the Coupeville campus has seen many changes. Truex said many of the participants who had been working at the start of the pandemic were unable to work for a period of time, but the majority have been able to return to work since then.
“As young people, their world as they know it has been turned upside down and they have adapted extremely well given the circumstances of the traumas they have already experienced in their lives,” she said. “I have to say kudos to them even more for adapting to the things they have to go through because we have made some pretty strict policies.”
Lindsey said safety measures at the center have been prioritized, and residents and visitors have had to incorporate stricter cleaning policies and mask-wearing, among other things.
“Moving forward, we are still in the unknown phase,” she said. “What we are having to really do is focus on what we are capable of doing right now using the resources that are still available. As far as cleaning, obviously our cleaning has ramped up tremendously. We provide masks for participants to use as well as staff. If you are inside the facility, you are always masked and have hands washed.”
Truex said the center saw a rise in more youth who needed a place to live during the pandemic, as well as more youth and young adults coming to the Coupeville center for a meal or a shower.
“We definitely have seen a lot more young adults needing housing,” she said.
Lindsey said the organization has continued to work to serve young people in the community, whether it be through providing housing, or helping youth obtain necessary identification, such as Social Security cards or Washington state identification.
“COVID does not stop us from having to do our jobs and it does not stop anybody from still needing housing and any of the other resources that we provide,” she said.
Truex said the pandemic has also impacted the organization by having volunteers stay home for safety reasons and financially through the cancellation of fundraisers. Truex said many of the volunteers are in the high-risk category and only recently has the center opened up some opportunities to volunteer outdoors. Truex said the center has worked to replace some funding through applying for grants and other programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding.
“There has been a lot of funding released that is COVID related, not just federal or state but different foundation grants, and so we have been able to receive some funding to help along the way,” she said. “But it definitely has not been enough to all the way offset what we have lost and what we would have been able to raise in fundraising.”
Lindsey said having a place like Ryan’s House for Youth is an important community asset.
“Resources like this are extremely important,” she said. “Our goal is diversion and prevention of youth homelessness and if they are already experiencing that homelessness, it is getting them to a place where they can successfully exit our program by utilizing the resources that we are providing and giving them a hand up instead of a hand out.”
For more information, please visit ryanshouseforyouth.org.