Ryan’s House celebrates with groundbreaking

Ryan’s House volunteer Chelsey Schultz, 17, models clothes from Oak Harbor maurices’ fall collection, followed by Nicole Patterson, Laura Hernandez and Emma Lungren. The models included a mix of maurices associates and young women involved with Ryan’s House.  - Rebecca Leisher / The Record
Ryan’s House volunteer Chelsey Schultz, 17, models clothes from Oak Harbor maurices’ fall collection, followed by Nicole Patterson, Laura Hernandez and Emma Lungren. The models included a mix of maurices associates and young women involved with Ryan’s House.
— image credit: Rebecca Leisher / The Record

SCATCHET HEAD — There was singing and dancing, modeling and filming, dining and mingling.

And there was a giant check for $7,500.

Members of the island community and beyond gathered in the woods west of Clinton Thursday evening on the land that will someday be a place of refuge and support for the island’s homeless youths.

Lori Cavender plans to build a youth shelter on the five acres off Mortland Drive that were donated to her nonprofit organization, Ryan’s House, earlier this year.

The groundbreaking event celebrated the advances the project has seen in the last year.

“We’re ecstatic about how the community has rallied around this project and this event,” Cavender said as the Bahia band’s Caribbean-infused jazz riffs cooled the mood after a night chock-full of festivities.

“The community actually has a lot to be proud of because this is so not my project,” she added. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

The lively event included a barbecue and coffee, a blessing of the ground by Pastor Dan Erlander, a parade of classic Model A cars as part of a fashion show put on by maurices clothing store, a performance from Island Dance and a song by Karla Gilbert, who was recently named a winner in the maurices Main Street Model Search and was awarded a charitable donation she gave to Ryan’s House.

It would be hard to choose the most exciting activity of the night, but perhaps the most monumental was when Cavender and Marianne Busche, Ryan’s House vice president and mother of the organization’s namesake, sank their golden shovels into the dirt as the audience clapped and cheered.

“He would have been tickled,” Busche said of her son, who was killed in a plane crash several years ago. “This was his heart.”

“It’s great to see everyone donating their talents,” she added.

Throughout the night, guests looked through the shelter building plans set on an easel, where Busche chatted with visitors about the project.

Some guests were inspired to sign up as volunteers.

Brother and sister David and Ann Hefflinger of Freeland signed on to help after learning about the project this summer at community events, where Cavender and others slept on a couch to raise awareness of the unstable situations many island teens face.

“I think about not having a bed,” 17-year-old David said. “I feel really humbled and I just want to help out somehow.”

“I love that there’s a place where these kids can get support. It gives them self-respect, dignity. They deserve that,” said Ann, 19, who has volunteered at a Seattle mission for the homeless, where she noticed how often people without homes are ignored or disrespected.

“Everyone needs someone to love them,” she added.

People seem to be recognizing that, and the project now has more than just community support.

Ryan’s House has gained national attention — and financial backing — through Gilbert.

Gilbert’s award package included a modeling contract with maurices, $1,500 in maurices clothing, a Flip video camera to document her journey as a new maurices model and a $7,500 donation to the charity of her choice.

Gilbert, along with maurices marketing manager Monica Hendrickson and designer Christopher Straub, presented Cavender and Bushce with the giant check, made out to Ryan’s House.

The exuberant 27-year-old Clinton native, who now lives in Coupeville, was one of 12 competition winners. She’s been busy immersing herself in the life of a model the last few days, something she hadn’t imagined for herself before entering the competition.

“I’m like 5-foot-4 — I never thought I could model,” she said, laughing.

The modeling contract was only a secondary thought to Gilbert, who said winning the donation for Ryan’s House was the whole reason she entered the competition.

“It actually hits really close to home,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s aunt was killed on the same flight as Busche’s son.

Cavender, Busche’s god-daughter, set up Ryan’s house in her god-brother’s memory. Meanwhile, Cavender was volunteering in Gilbert’s mother’s classroom, and eventually Gilbert’s mother began helping with Ryan’s House.

It wasn’t until after the two women had been working together for several years that they discovered their connection.

“It was all meant to be,” Gilbert said.

“She had a great story,” said Christopher Straub, a competition judge and maurices designer who is known for his appearances on Lifetime’s Project Runway.

Straub said maurices is dedicated to being involved in the small towns the store serves, which is why a charitable donation was included in the models’ award packages.

“We really felt connected to her right off the bat,” he said of Gilbert. “She was very personally affected by this and felt empowered to do something.”

The good that can emerge out of tragedy seemed to be a theme of the high-spirited evening.

Cavender said after the Alaska Airlines Flight 216 crash in early 2000, many of the victims’ families and loved ones came together to support each other and their projects. Several of the families were at the groundbreaking event.

“It’s been nice to see that some good can come out of something that was so tragic as losing all those lives,” Cavender said.

The $7,500 donation will most likely go to county fees because almost everything else has been donated.

“Really the only money we’ve spent out of our budget has been for publicity and for county fees,” Cavender said. “So we have a lot to be thankful for.”

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