Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Giving Tree: Giving Hope for the Holidays

We've all seen the signs of homelessness in our community. The rising cost of living and limited availability of low income housing has pushed more and more people out onto the streets. Among those that find themselves homeless are teens. Teen homelessness has more than doubled in the last ten years. Even worse? Many of these teens are also unaccompanied, meaning they don't have a parent or legal guardian to look out for them.

There are 84 unaccompanied homeless teens in the Everett Public School District alone. While most teenagers are excited about a two-week winter break from school, these teens are especially vulnerable during this time. They don't know what or if they will eat each day, and they don't know where they will be sleeping from night to night. Some will sleep in tents, vehicles, or motels, while others may be staying with a friend or family member and sleeping on the floor or a couch. As part of its annual employee-sponsored Giving Tree program, we partnered with Everett employees of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and Everett Public Schools KIT (Kids in Transition) to give the gift of hope: brand new backpacks stuffed to the brim with gifts, hygiene products, and $25 gift cards.

Giving Trees were set up at four Community Transit offices and the Everett DSHS complex, decorated with tags that listed gifts and hygiene items needed for both male and female students, from 9th grade to 12th grade. As the gifts rolled in, Community Transit volunteers wrapped and sorted gifts so that each backpack was filled to the brim with things these kids need to get through the winter break and to give them a little holiday cheer. Gifts included coats, outerwear, Kindle Fires, makeup kits, and jewelry. The backpacks were then labeled with their contents so that counselors at Jackson High School, Cascade High School, Everett High School, and Sequoia High School could distribute them with care.

Sequoia High School Principal, Kelly Shepherd, called these backpacks a "game changer" and a key piece to help a student transition from being a drop-out to a graduate. She shared the story of one teen who was feeling especially overwhelmed and struggling, light up and say, "This is for me? I have presents this year?"

These stories warm our heart, as does the generosity of our employees and our partners. "This partnership has changed what the big blue buses mean to me when I see them driving around. They are not just a city bus to me anymore; when I see them, I now think of all the hearts of the people who work there and how you are all in the background, creating miracles for some of our most vulnerable kids," Amy Perusse, Everett Public Schools.

A big thank you to our business partners IBI Group for their generous donation of beautiful new backpacks, the Everett Silvertips for their donation of 22 Silvertips branded sweatshirts for gifts, and to all Community Transit and DSHS employees who participated in the Giving Tree program. Your kindness gives hope to these resilient young adults who will grow up to be the future of our community.

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