From left, Marysville School District’s McKinney-Vento and foster care liaison Deanna Bashour, Andrea Wyatt, Larisa Koenig and Rosemary Peterson stand in a room full of donated items on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

From left, Marysville School District’s McKinney-Vento and foster care liaison Deanna Bashour, Andrea Wyatt, Larisa Koenig and Rosemary Peterson stand in a room full of donated items on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A new haven of help for homeless students in Marysville

“You name it, if they need it, we’ve got it,” says the Connections Center’s foster care liaison.

MARYSVILLE — A portable at the Marysville School District offices may not look like much, but what’s inside will support hundreds of homeless students and their families.

The Connections Center opened Thursday as the school district’s new hub for serving the more than 500 students identified as experiencing some form of homelessness.

For families living out of their vehicles, bouncing from couch to couch or sleeping in tents, and students separated from their parents, the space will be a refuge of resources, provisions and amenities.

“You name it, if they need it, we’ve got it,” said Deanna Bashour, the district’s McKinney-Vento and foster care liaison. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 is a federal law that provides federal money for homeless student programs.

Formerly a classroom, the portable now has a shower, laundry machine and bathroom, not to mention a kitchen stocked with snacks. The supply room is stuffed with backpacks and school necessities, in addition to clothes, shoes, blankets and hygiene kits, ready to be distributed as needed. The student center gives kids a computer, desk and couch to complete school work.

Bashour envisioned the center three years ago as she watched student homelessness swell in Marysville. Tearful calls from parents in need only emphasized the problem, and there was often little she could do to assist.

“I am so pushy about the center because I am tired of telling families, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that,’” she said.

The laundry and shower room is seen at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center for homeless students and their families on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The laundry and shower room is seen at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center for homeless students and their families on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In March, after two-and-a-half years of funding and facility obstacles, the Connections Center found a home. The modest portable behind the school district building gives students and families a discreet environment away from campus and potential judgment.

“I’ve been the squeaky wheel, constantly reminding them of the need for something like this,” Bashour said. “The need keeps growing, so I just kept talking and I wouldn’t let it go.”

Funded primarily by donations and grants, the center will house Marysville’s four-person McKinney-Vento staff assigned to ensure students without a secure living situation are provided the same access to education as their peers.

Andrea Wyatt directs McKinney-Vento operations, Rosemary Peterson leads graduation success, Larisa Koenig coordinates mentor opportunities and Bashour is the liaison with students and families.

The team’s goal is to break the cycle of homelessness.

“We are giving kids a foundation so they can be successful,” Peterson said. “Letting them know there are people out there to help them.”

Tubs of blankets, donated by local churches, and racks of donated clothes fill a room at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Tubs of blankets, donated by local churches, and racks of donated clothes fill a room at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In its earliest days, the Connection Center has already made a difference. A timid teen, withdrawn and embarrassed, visited last week. A new pair of Vans shoes, clean clothes and a backpack full of snacks had her beaming like a kid on Christmas morning, Bashour said.

The center primarily provides education support, but staff make regular referrals to community partners assisting with housing and other needs.

The creation of the McKinney-Vento community trust by Marysville’s Word of Life Women’s Ministry gave Bashour funds to buy resources that go beyond the classroom. She’s purchased new winter coats and warm clothes for students and supplied a new tent to a family living in a tattered shelter that would flood.

“We will do what we can with what we have,” she said. “No one is alone in this.”

Brand new backpacks fill the shelves at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Brand new backpacks fill the shelves at the Marysville School District’s Connection Center on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

For student and family confidentially, the center is open by appointment only. Bashour said she tries to give dignity and hope to people who often arrive humiliated. By the end of their time in the Connection Center, the McKinney-Vento staff wants Marysville students to leave knowing someone cares for as long as needed.

Donations of resources or funds to the Connections Center can be coordinated with Bashour at 360-965-0049 or by emailing deanna_bashour@msd25.org.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.

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