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Ryan's House continues outreach as groundbreaking nears

Lori Cavender wants to speak with you.

As plans move forward to build Ryan’s House, a shelter for young island students without a stable home, Cavender is continuing her summer outreach to raise community awareness and understanding of the project.

The Ryan’s House team drew attention to the nonprofit organization earlier this summer by occupying a couch at community events like Choochokam. The image symbolizes the instability many homeless teen students on Whidbey experience, often related to family problems beyond their control.

The project has a strong emphasis on keeping the displaced kids in school, something that becomes difficult for teens without a dependable place to live.

Informing and involving community members is a crucial part of the program for Cavender, who founded Ryan’s House and serves as executive director.

“We want the community to be educated on where we are in the process and what our plans are,” she said.

Now Cavender and the Ryan’s House team are gearing up for their groundbreaking celebration Aug. 25 at the donated land in Scatchet Head where plans to build the youth shelter are already under way.

The gathering will also celebrate the $7,500 that Karla Gilbert of Clinton was able to donate to the project by winning a maurices clothing store modeling contract.

“The executives of maurices are going to be coming to give us the large check,” Cavender said. “We decided that at the same time, it would be a perfect opportunity to do our groundbreaking celebration.”

Beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 at 7800 Mortland Drive, the festivities will include a barbecue with food donated by island grocery stores; entertainment by Jim Freeman and the Bahia band; and performances by Whidbey Island Dance. Gilbert, who sings and acts, will also perform, and maurices will host a fashion show at the event.

“The community is coming together to put the celebration on because they feel that this is an important project,” Cavender said. “It should be a fun evening. We’re looking forward to it.”

Cavender also plans to have a consistent presence at the Island County Fair next week.

“We’re hoping to bring more community involvement, engagement and education through our being at the fair for all four days,” she said.

But one of the most important things for Cavender is connecting with the neighborhoods surrounding the planned 3,800-square-foot house, which will house 12 homeless students.

She’s been putting up informational door hangers on nearby houses and will host a neighborhood meeting at the Scatchet Head clubhouse at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14.

Although the house is not located in the boundaries of the Scatchet Head community association — it will be on its own water system and residents won’t have rights to the pool or clubhouse — Cavender believes an open relationship with all surrounding neighbors is essential.

“I want there to be conversation. I want them to be able to voice their concerns,” she said. “I want to be able to have this good relationship with the community.”

Potential areas of concern include supervision of the teens, transportation and the availability of services for those who live in the rural location. Cavender said worries like these have already been considered.

“Once the house is actually built, there will be staffing 24/7 to monitor the building and the students that will be staying there,” she said.

The land is located along public and school bus lines that currently run weekdays, she added.

Cavender is hoping the transit system will consider extending service when the time comes, but Ryan’s House also has a van donated by Island Transit that can be used when public transportation isn’t an option.

Cavender said she’ll be looking into grants through private companies, state and federal funding and private donations to fund the house operations.

Together with the Readiness to Learn Foundation, Ryan’s House was recently approved for a grant through Island County for community education, casework and identifying students who aren’t enrolled in school because of home issues — all of which make up the organization’s current focus.

As she continues efforts to spread awareness and raise funds throughout the summer, Cavender hopes anyone with concerns, questions or comments won’t hesitate to contact her.

“If people want to come over and look at the building plans and sit down over a cup of coffee and find out what’s going on, I am all for that.”

People interested in connecting with Cavender and Ryan’s House can visit ryanshouse.org, email ryanshouse@juno.com or call 206-356-2405.

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