Perching on unlimited possibilities

Suzie Cruchon, a South Whidbey High School volunteer through the Americorps’ Education Award Program, displays one of the bird houses that Teens Unlimited is asking area business owners to place on their countertops as a fundraiser for an Emergency Housing Fund. All monies raised will directly benefit Helping Hand in Langley and the Family Resource Center. - Cynthia Woolbright
Suzie Cruchon, a South Whidbey High School volunteer through the Americorps’ Education Award Program, displays one of the bird houses that Teens Unlimited is asking area business owners to place on their countertops as a fundraiser for an Emergency Housing Fund. All monies raised will directly benefit Helping Hand in Langley and the Family Resource Center.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

There are some tiny houses being erected on South Whidbey and everyone should take notice because they are about to change some lives. The houses are constructed by teens, painted by teens and now teens are acting as leasing agents, looking for properties for the tiny homes.

Teens Unlimited — the Langley-based nonprofit teen clothing boutique that benefits teens and families in transition — has made one serious New Year’s resolution and is launching a fundraising drive for its newly established Emergency Housing Fund and tiny bird houses will be the symbol for their drive.

The tiny wood bird houses are now located at a few local spots — The Edgecliff in Langley, Ace Leather Goods in Clinton and Helping Hand in Langley — and Teens Unlimited is looking for more businesses to step up and place a bird house at their counter.

Teens Unlimited opened its shop doors May 1, 2004. Initially, the Teens Unlimited board directed its sights by starting a shelter on South Whidbey for teens and families in transition.

Their focus has changed — they’ve turned into a funding source themselves.

“We want to make more money to help more people,” said Linda DeFouw, director of Teens Unlimited. “We want to help people avoid eviction, help teens living with families so they can stay in homes longer and help families in transition.”

The shop began after DeFouw had an idea that wouldn’t go away. She stands by the quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt that, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in if it is not a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”

Teens Unlimited will continue its mission to empower, engage and inspire teens through its non-profit business and to raise awareness for the existence of homelessness in the community. The Teens Unlimited shop made its transition from business to bonafide nonprofit organization when it received its 5013c status Dec. 8. The staff continues to provide a local source for stylish, affordable and often popular name brand clothing for teens, young adults and the young at heart they can help raise funds to provide clothing and housing assistance to youth and families in transition.

“I’m not into fund-raising but I believe in a business that can turn a profit for the benefit of the community,” DeFouw said. “I’ve seen the good that Good Cheer has done for South Whidbey and looked at that as an example.”

Teens Unlimited has also become an opportunity for youth in the community to fulfill community service requirements and kids who volunteer gain work experience.

Suzie Cruchon, a volunteer at Teens Unlimited through the Americorps Education Award Program, said she shopped at the store before deciding to devote her time in creating the shop’s brochure.

“Since Teens Unlimited started I knew I wanted to be a part of the shop and have donated a number of clothing items as well as shopped there a number of times,” Cruchon said. “There isn’t really help directly for teens and this does that and addresses the need for a teen shopping market on South Whidbey.”

Cruchon said she’s found shopping at the store to be cost effective.

“It’s cheaper and you know the money goes directly to helping teens,” she said.

Volunteers Sarah Kelso and Chant’ee Campbell, both of Langley, just can’t get away from the store. Even though both have been too busy lately to volunteer at the store, there they were combing through the racks Monday afternoon.

“I had no idea this store existed until Chant’ee introduced me to it,” Kelso said. “I’d been looking for a place to work, where I could volunteer and I just got so excited at the possiblity of working here.”

Kelso values the endless conversations she’s had with customers and visitors to the shop.

“Your word and opinion is valued here,” she said. “I feel this is also a place where people can get together if they need to work things out.”

The Emergency Housing Fund will go directly to two organizations Teens Unlimited already partners with to provide services to teens and families in transition — Helping Hand of Langley and the Family Resource Center.

Since opening, Teens Unlimited has turned into a self-supporting business according to DeFouw, and anything over business expenses automatically goes towards the Emergency housing Fund. But, business has slowed the last three months for Teens Unlimited and even before that if the shop has a $100 sales day DeFouw and staff are ecstatic.

The Emergency Housing Fund was given a nest egg thanks to the soccer teams at South Whidbey High School. In the fall the program held a benefit game between the boys squad and the girls squad in a battle of the sexes that netted $1,000 for Teens Unlimited.

Another boost was given thanks to the Edgecliff Bar and Grill. The restaurant recently hosted an open house where the bar tips were donated to Operation Sack Lunch and Teens Unlimited, which received $450 from the benefit night.

“This comes gladly,” said Peggy Norton with Helping Hand. “We’re always looking for help. Sadly the more the merrier when it comes to helping people in transition.”

When Teens Unlimited opened last spring they joined the ranks of a number of agencies working to assists families and youth on South Whidbey.

Families in Transition Program helps uphold the McKinney-Vento Act, a law that entitles children and youth in homeless or temporary living situations the right to go to school, no matter where they live or how long they’ve lived there.

“The definition of someone being homeless has become broader than them sleeping in a car,” said Marilyn Norby of the Family Resource Center.

Helping Hand of South Whidbey provides immediate financial assistance when a person or family’s basic services of life and well-being are in danger or being discontinued. Helping Hand has assisted 400 people this year.

“People need money to renew their license or registration fees so they can drive to their job,” Norton said. “We started listing out all the ‘other’ we were assisting with and were amazed.”

The organizations and groups working to help South Whidbey’s homeless and families in transition are often strapped on budget and stretched in demand. That is why Teens Unlimited wants to help boost the Family Resource Center and Helping Hand.

“We do our best to coordinate services,” Norby said. “We want people to know the resources to help them are out there and one call to someone like the Family Resource Center can help.”

Teens are also a population that often fall through the cracks when it comes to being homeless or in transition, Norby said.

“Their identity is where they are and they are where they fit in,” she said. “It’s difficult for anyone to admit their homeless, let alone that they need help — especially teens.”

Annapoorne Collangelo has a background in social work and has helped house teens in the past. She said teens are a vulnerable population when it comes to homelessness.

“They lack the coping skills adults have,” she said. “They also take more personally the stigma that homelessness brings and they feel a different emotional strain.”

Norby said the first and foremost goal when dealing with teens in transition is finding them stable housing and ensuring they can stay in school.

Homelessness can be prevented, according to DeFouw.

“We need to reach out to people before they become homeless,” Norby said.

DeFouw said intervention and the support of the community can stop social services from being left picking up the pieces.

The holiday season was actually pretty calm for the agencies, Norby said. The help was coming in the form holiday generosity from the community, but this is the calm before the storm when February and March comes and the propane begins to run out.

“It’s hard for young people because it’s so cold and the holiday cheer is gone by then,” DeFouw said.

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