Elwin Pittman, 10, plays foosball with Ashley Kiboigo, who started the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Elwin Pittman, 10, plays foosball with Ashley Kiboigo, who started the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Born of the pandemic, this business is a parental reprieve

Ashley Kiboigo’s Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett is a place for kids to study and play.

EVERETT — When schools shut down a year ago and learning became remote, many children were left without a place to do their online coursework. One local woman created a business with a mission to help some of them succeed.

Last October, 32-year-old Ashley Kiboigo launched Safe Haven WiFi Cafe. It is a quiet, secure place with internet access where first-through-12th-grade students can learn remotely and receive in-person tutoring.

“When all of this started with the pandemic, it became very clear to me that a lot of families were not set up at home to all of a sudden be a teacher, be a tutor and know how to get into the Zoom classes,” Kiboigo said. “Some parents aren’t even able to stay home with their kids at all.”

Safe Haven operates from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. four days per week, and students who attend are subject to daily temperature and symptom checks.

“We’re a drop-off distance learning space. We’re really able to cater to each student, because I get to know them, and I get to know their families,” Kiboigo said.

Parents can pay for their children to have week-to-week enrollment or a single drop-in day, as needed. But Kiboigo said she’s found space for children whose families can’t afford to pay.

Safe Haven WiFi Cafe founder Ashley Kiboigo stocks the snack table. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Safe Haven WiFi Cafe founder Ashley Kiboigo stocks the snack table. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“At the end of the day, I want to help my community, so I have provided a lot of the funds for this. I’ve also had a few donations, and that’s been huge,” she said.

The cafe is in the Faith Tabernacle Fellowship Church building at 9800 Evergreen Way, a space Kiboigo has access to because it’s her family’s church.

“I’m just using this space. I like to keep it very separate from the church so that no one feels like they can’t come, or have to be a part of the church to come,” she said.

One student who’s been attending Safe Haven since it opened is 14-year-old Amya Knighten, a ninth-grader at Mariner High School. She said Kiboigo and Safe Haven have been a saving grace, keeping her focused and motivated in school.

“Without Safe Haven, I would have been sleeping through all my classes,” she said. “I’d be doing all my work late and would probably have a 3.0 instead of a 4.0.”

But students who study in the space are getting more out of it than just academic help.

During breaks between classes and homework, students have the opportunity to socialize and are encouraged to put down the screen and play games with one another. The space is equipped with a basketball hoop outside and an activity room inside.

Ashley Kiboigo checks on a student at the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ashley Kiboigo checks on a student at the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

There are currently six full-time students studying at Safe Haven, and Kiboigo said she has the capacity for at least six more.

When asked why she chose to take on the challenge of opening the space, Kiboigo said her background in child care and education, coupled with her love for community, made it a no-brainer. Kiboigo, a Lynnwood resident, is a Mariner High graduate.

“I’m very familiar with this area — it has my heart because I pretty much grew up here,” she said. “I really love what I do. People are trusting me with their kids and paying for this service, so I’m going to go above and beyond.”

Despite her passion, Kiboigo’s entrepreneurial journey hasn’t always been easy.

Elwin Pittman writes code for fun after school at the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Elwin Pittman writes code for fun after school at the Safe Haven WiFi Cafe in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It’s definitely been a challenge. Being a minority — a Black, woman-owned, woman-led company — I think there has been some talk like, ‘Is she qualified to do this?’” Kiboigo said.

But she’s just getting started and can’t wait to watch Safe Haven grow.

“I’m passionate, I’m ready and I’m a fresh entrepreneur,” she said. “It takes a village, and we all came together as glue.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen

An earlier version of this story misstated the age of Ashley Kiboigo.

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