Edmonds nonprofit helps homeless children and families

This is part of The Daily Herald’s annual report on charity in Snohomish County. Complete list of stories

EDMONDS — Kim Gorney still remembers her sense of dismay. A Facebook post from a moms group asked for food donations for local homeless kids.

“Being the wife of a teacher I said: What homeless kids?” she said. “I couldn’t believe there were really homeless kids in our area.”

Gorney met with Edmonds School District staff who work with homeless families.

She learned that for years bus drivers and school district employees had been trying to provide snacks to homeless students, who sometimes spend two hours a day being transported to shelters and other temporary housing.

Gorney’s sense of resolve was immediate. “I can’t not do something in our own community,” she said.

Every year, the number of homeless students in the school district grows. Eight years ago, there were 138 homeless students, said LeAnne Brisbois, a homeless liaison for the school district. Now that number can exceed 600.

“None of this is their choice,” Brisbois said. “They’re innocent victims.”

To help fill some of the needs, an ad hoc group of school employees and bus drivers worked with moms who would stop by with supplies.

But the need outgrew what they could provide. Local moms began posting messages on social media asking others for help.

This led Gorney to found a nonprofit, Washington Kids in Transition, to help meet the basic needs of homeless kids and their families.

“Every penny goes straight to the kids,” Brisbois said. “I love that.”

Erin Ornes, a Washington Kids in Transition board member, said that the work has been eye opening for her two children.

“My kids aren’t really exposed to some of the realities in our area,” Ornes said. “That was another motivation of mine, to get them out of their little bubble.”

Her oldest son, Hunter DeLeon, 13, is eager to jump in and ask how he can help, she said. And her 6-year old, Nils Ornes, will sometimes remark that the work is for children who don’t have a bed. “His empathy about it is so sweet,” she said.

The group now provides emergency supplies, such as toiletries, socks and underwear to 13 schools, Gorney said.

The group also provides short-term housing for homeless families, either at motels or in a new program it’s starting called motels-to-apartments.

Families would get help with the first- and last-month’s rent. They also would get training on their responsibilities, such as helping to maintain the property.

“If they have a permanent place to live, that’s a huge load off their mind,” said Tracy Marulitua, a Washington Kids in Transition board member.

The group can provide quick pick up and delivery service for emergency needs of students. In the past, school staff would have to fill out paperwork to get the items, then wait for them to be delivered.

“If it’s an urgent need like a pair of pants or shoes, we’re able to get it to them in an hour,” Marulitua said.

Gorney will simply send out a message saying: Is anybody able to take it there?

Gorney describes the organization as “12 core volunteers and a whole community of support.”

People respond to Facebook posts asking for volunteers to help with food packing parties to provide snacks for students.

Holy Rosary School in Edmonds organized a food drive for the group in the spring.

Girls Who Care, a group of local 13- to 18-year olds, organized a fundraiser and used the proceeds to organize a free showing of the movie “Finding Dory” for homeless students and their families at the Edmonds Theater.

Gorney’s group hopes to expand to help students in neighboring school districts, such as Northshore, Mukilteo and Everett.

And during the upcoming school year, Gorney hopes to have once-a-month birthday parties for homeless students in the Youth Hall at the Edmonds United Methodist Church.

A volunteer will be designated as party coordinator. “We’ll provide cake, ice cream and party balloons,” Gorney said.

Gorney volunteers about 30 hours a week to the organization’s projects.

“We are in a land of excess,” Gorney said. “For these kids, it’s just the simple things that can make a difference.

“I can’t solve homelessness,” she said, “but with one family at a time, I can make a difference.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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