By Chris Winters Herald Writer
EVERETT — Hundreds of volunteers set up shop July 10 in Evergreen Middle School to provide the area’s homeless and transient population with a variety of services, ranging from free school materials for kids to pedicures for seniors.
Project Homeless Connect is an annual event that helped 1,301 people and marshaled an army of 258 staff of social service and government agencies alongside 268 volunteers to help them.
Among that volunteer corps was a small group of Darrington High School students who carpooled into town to help out.
The teens from the Darrington Youth Council have spent the summer juggling “normal” activities, such as summer jobs and camps, with a series of volunteer and educational projects.
As an after-school program for young people, the council is a source of alternative activities that can help steer teens away from alcohol and drug abuse.
And the teens taking part in it can function as role models for their peers.
“If they need people to talk to, they can turn to the DYC,” said Reyna Emerson, 15, a junior.
Some of the events the group organizes are just for fun, such as a recent bonding day trip to Wild Waves with middle school students. The council also organized an educational hike and tour from Diablo Lake to Ross Dam.
But many of the events also serve their community, especially this year. And the teens haven’t slowed down.
“They’ve been doing a lot of slide-related stuff,” such as packing food and supplies for the rescue workers, said Marree Perrault, the program manager for the coalition.
Emerson got involved with the youth council because her brother was involved in it previously. Other teens were also recruited by family or friends into the council.
Emily Young, 15, a sophomore at the high school, last year moved to Darrington from Napavine in Lewis County.
“Right away, Marree came up and asked me if I liked helping people and the community,” she said.
Young didn’t hesitate to join the council, and she has been working in the summer food program. In Everett, she joined Emerson in giving backpacks to kids in preparation for the coming school year.
At another table across the room, junior Taryn Tamez, 16, was also giving out backpacks, but these were for adults, filled with toiletries and other personal hygiene products.
“This is really fun,” Tamez said.
At another table, freshman Ashlee Wiley, 14, was laminating family portraits taken by a professional photographer.
Wiley also moved back to Darrington, where she was born, a year and a half ago, and she also followed her sister to the youth council.
“When we came back I wanted to be part of the community again,” said Wiley, who also plays basketball and softball.
A lot of the teens in the youth council play multiple sports as well as volunteering or working summer jobs, Perrault said.
On Tuesday, with the summer food program wrapped up, the teens in the youth coalition were working on a few more projects before the school year starts, including assembling care packages for students in Okanogan County who have been affected by wildfires.
“They saw the devastation happening in Omak and they wanted to help. That’s why we’re here today,” Perrault said.
Looking back on the summer, Perrault said the four teens who came to Project Homeless Connect plan to return next year, all in keeping with a group that sees giving back as just another normal activity.
Or, as Emily Young put it, “I’ve always liked helping people in need of help.”