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Program aims to help St. Helens students with 'greatest needs'

The Teen Support Program will provide direct assistance to students facing homelessness

The St. Helens Kiwanis Day Breakers and Columbia County Retired Senior Volunteer Program will be partnering up to develop a Teen Support Program aimed at helping teenage students in the community who may be facing homelessness.

For kids living on their own, being able to pay for new clothes, school supplies and personal care items can be difficult. Community volunteers are trying to find ways to help ease the burden on teens who are trying to get an education while facing adverse living circumstances.

Monica Cade, the Columbia County RSVP director, helped develop the idea for the program after seeing students who weren't getting help otherwise. Cade said she personally saw students who were in need being underserved because they didn't have a parent or adult around to help them apply for assistance.

And programs designed to help families in need during the holiday season simply don't help some teens, she said.

In Columbia County, 176 students were listed as homeless in the 2014-15 school year, according to the Oregon Department of Education. In the St. Helens School District approximately 41 students were considered homeless in the 2015-16 school year.

Cade said the group hopes to help at least six students for the time being, but knows of at least eight others who would also benefit from the program.

“Were really excited about this,” Cade said. “It's kind a little niche of kids that kind of fell through the cracks in the past.”

With the help of Kristi Ward, the St. Helens School District's Federal Programs secretary, volunteers will be able to determine what students' needs are, and determine the best way to meet them.

By working with the school district, the confidentiality of students' identities can be maintained, while community members are able to provide assistance, Cade said.

Kiwanis Day Breakers president Joe Corsiglia said the project Cade proposed fit perfectly with the organization's mission of helping students in the community.

“Everyone I've talked to, their jaw drops when they hear there's kids who are homeless, but are still trying to get an education,” Corsiglia said. “When you boil it down, it's teens who are homeless who are trying to get an education, which is not an easy task.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF MONICA CADE - Monica Cade, the Columbia County RSVP director, and Kristi Ward, the St. Helens School District Federal Programs secretary, worked together to identify students who would benefit from the Teen Support Program. Cade hopes to be a useful resource for teens in the community.Columbia County RSVP and the Kiwanis Day Breakers will be working together to create packages with items that students have requested, such as clothing and backpacks, as well as food items, before the Christmas holiday.

“[At] the holidays, we wanted to make sure that these kids have a special holiday – and thats really going to work well,” Corsiglia said, adding that many Kiwanis and community members have already donated beyond what he initially expected.

However, Cade said her hope is to develop a program that will help students meet their basic needs in the St. Helens School District year round. Cade said the groups plan to make FAB-PAKS, or baggies filled with personal care items, that the district will be able to discreetly distribute to students in need throughout the year.

“My hope would be that we will be become a permanent resource to the school district to provide ongoing services for these students,” Cade said.

For more information about the program or to donate, contact Monica Cade at 503-397-5655 or Joe Corsiglia at 503-397-4275.