Tumwater Community Collaborates to Advance Educational Equity

Submitted by TOGETHER!

Everyday students and families in our communities face barriers to safe and affordable housing. One Tumwater Community Schools’ client is an unaccompanied high school senior, living out of her car. This student is super kind, caring, and smart. She attends New Market Skills Center to obtain her Cosmetology license. This student is driven and had a clear desire to find a safe and stable place to live, but with very little income from her part-time retail job and a small monthly stipend, finding affordable housing seemed to be near impossible.

During her search for housing, Tumwater Community Schools, a program of TOGETHER! operated in partnership with Tumwater School District and City of Tumwater, helped with some of the more minor things such as gas cards, school supplies, clothing, and hygiene supplies/towels to use where she showered at a local gym. We also provided blankets/pillows to use since she slept in her car, but providing food was not as simple.

Because the student lived in her vehicle, items that required cooking or needed to be kept cold weren’t an option, so plenty of prepackaged snacks were provided. Tumwater Community Schools also helped the student apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which was approved! She uses these benefits to buy fresh food items daily at a local grocery store.

After about four months of working with TOGETHER!’s Community Schools Manager, the student told us her brother was moving to Olympia. He was willing to split rent if they found an affordable apartment. But having enough for the first month’s rent and move-in fees is another significant barrier to safe and affordable housing. Luckily, Community Schools was able to leverage funds from partners including City of Tumwater, Help Us Move In Foundation, and others to remove that barrier. As a result, this hardworking student is now living in a safe and stable apartment!

Upon moving into her new apartment, the Community Schools Manager compiled needed items into a “move-in” basket with food, cleaning supplies, and essential home items including a mattress of her own. Despite the unfortunate living situation she endured for almost a year, she continued to make school a priority. Now that she has a place to call home, this student expressed her gratitude to the Community Schools Manager, Mrs. Lopez, and for the entire Community Schools program. All in all, we are so grateful and proud of this student.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate you for everything,” the student wrote. “You actively take the time to talk to me & care enough to check on me,” she said. At first the students confided that she didn’t feel welcome, and felt like “an inconvenience,” but now she reports Community Schools staff are “always happy to see me.” “It makes me feel warm inside” knowing someone “actually wants to talk to me.” “With all the resources you’ve really helped me turn my life around & it means so much more to me than you’ll ever know. Thank you for caring.”

Stories like this are familiar in Community Schools, because so many barriers prevent youth and families from accessing stable, safe, and affordable housing. Community Schools removes barriers to education by cultivating strong partnerships with Tumwater School District and City of Tumwater, and others. Together, we are working as a community to close the opportunity gap by centering clients as the authors of their own stories, meeting basic needs, and working to change unjust and inequitable systems.

Tumwater School District is a major funder and key partner in Tumwater Community Schools. When asked how Community Schools aligned with the School District’s goals, Superintendent Dr. Sean Dotson said: “Our partnership with the TOGETHER! Community Schools Program enables us to help remove educational barriers for our most vulnerable students, which supports our mission to provide ‘Continuous Student Learning in a Caring, Engaging Environment’.  We are thankful for their collaboration in the support of Tumwater students!”

Another major funding partner integral to the success of Tumwater Community Schools is the City of Tumwater, which has invested resources in the initiative in several different ways over the years, including providing funds to prevent homelessness and rapidly rehouse families experiencing homelessness.

“Success in school is just as dependent on what happens outside the classroom as inside. Keeping families housed and preventing evictions supports healthy academic, social, emotional, and physical development of children and youth in our community. When we come together we can ensure all youth have access to community resources, support at school, and a clear pathway to success.” -Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet

The Community Schools initiative aligns with the City vision and mission and helps realize one of our strategic priorities—to build a community recognized for quality, compassion and humanity. Our expanded partnership with TOGETHER! and the Tumwater School District have improved and strengthened social service networks and contributed to a more inclusive community.

Based on a national model, Community Schools provide wraparound supports to K-12 students and families. Implemented by TOGETHER! in Tumwater, Olympia, and North Thurston schools district, Community Schools are both places (with school-based and mobile Community Resource Centers), and a set of partnerships between school and community resources. Using schools as hubs, Community Schools bring a range of community supports and opportunities, and remove barriers for students and families, resulting in improved student learning, and healthier communities.

This student was no longer a minor, so the solutions were more straightforward, but more than 1,000 minor students are unaccompanied and still attend school in our urban core school districts in Thurston County. That’s why TOGETHER! is starting a Host Homes pilot project in Thurston County. To learn more about Host Homes visit the TOGETHER! website or RSVP to attend an info session on September 23.

Since 1989, TOGETHER! has been on a mission to advance the health and wellbeing of all young people. Today, their three core programs are Community Schools wraparound supports and case management, Club House extended day and summer programming, and Host Homes, a pilot project to house unaccompanied minors. Their programs and operations are an extension of their values of equity, community, and systems change. TOGETHER!’s work is poised at the cutting edge of public health science and educational justice, strategically working to achieve a vision that all young people are supported, safe and valued. To learn more or support TOGETHER!, visit the TOGETHER! website.

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