A vacant Whidbey Island motel could hold the key to the future of Ryan’s House for Youth, an organization dedicated to helping at-risk and homeless teens on the island.
The former Countryside Inn just south of Coupeville would make the perfect facility for Ryan’s House, according to administrators, but acquiring it means the nonprofit group needs to raise $399,000 by the end of February.
“There’s so much potential here,” said Lori Cavender, executive director and founder of Ryan’s House. “We’re very, very excited about the possibilities here.”
In fact, every inch of the property could be used as-is or with very little alteration, giving the organization the ability to provide transitional housing to youth 18 and over. Purchasing the property has become the fundraising focus of the organization, which has relied on its drop-in center in Freeland, an outreach van and host homes (for youth age 17 and older) since it was founded in 2009.
The annual budget for Ryan’s House, which has three paid staff members including Cavender, is under $100,000. Coming up with nearly $400,000 is a far cry from what the group normally raises at its annual auction, slated to be held this year on Saturday, Feb. 13.
“Normally we’re happy if we raise $20,000 at the auction,” said Cavender. “This is going to take someone opening their heart and their checkbook and writing a very, very large check. Our normal donor capacity is not $399,000 strong. It’s going to take some really amazing people to say ‘Hey, they need a building, let’s write them a big check.’”
Cavender said the group has opened up several avenues for donations, such as a GoFundMe account, MobileCause, the group’s website, videos and media outlets.
“We’re trying to hit every avenue we possibly can to get the word out. It’s just going to be whether or not it touches somebody’s heart,” she said. “That’s really what it comes down to, can somebody help us with this big purchase?”
“In my mind’s eye, I just know there’s enough monied people who care about the community and are always investing in it, that if we could get half of it raised through all the little people out there, I think the big people will come along and polish it off,” said Marchele Hatchner, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Freeland and a Ryan’s House volunteer.
“There are a lot of things about Ryan’s House that are amazing in its own right,” said Cavender, who founded the organization in 2009 and named it after the late Ryan Busche, a young man who would always provide food, a shower and a place to sleep to someone in need.
“But when you add those things all together and you can actually put them in one place that’s centrally located on the island that every kid can get to, it’s just going to allow us to serve so many more kids than we’re already serving in Freeland,” she continued.
The motel property went into foreclosure last summer, according to Hatchner. All told, it has 7,200 square feet between two buildings and sits on seven-and-a-half acres of property.
There are 14 single and double rooms, each equipped with a private bathroom, refrigerator and table or desk. Four one-bedroom apartments are also available and are fully equipped, right down to the pots, pans, dishes and coffeemaker. One of the best features, said both Hatchner and Cavender, is a laundry facility complete with two washers, two dryers and room for lots of storage.
Should they be able to acquire the property, plans include transforming the current lobby into a conference room and utilizing one of the apartments as office space. A two-bedroom apartment would be used for a full-time caretaker and the former owner’s living quarters would be transformed into a 24/7 drop-in center, caseworker office and clothing closet, which gives youth access to toiletries, clothes and sleeping bags. There is even space for a potential medical clinic.
“Off the kitchen is an old greenhouse area that has its own separate entrance that we are going attempt to turn into a medical clinic,” said Cavender, showing off the space. “We have a nurse-practitioner that wants to open one up for us. We’re pretty excited about all the opportunities that are here.”
The motel site would serve as transitional housing for teens age 18 and up. If they are working, they would be required to give a portion of their income toward housing.
“We want them to learn how to be successful adults,” Cavender said. “They’re not going to be able to live for free anywhere else. So if they start out paying a percentage of their income, and say, if they’re only making $200 a month, then 10 percent of $200 a month is $20. But it’s something. As they have a more successful job, they can pay more. Then they’ll eventually get to the point where they’ll take on one of the apartments or they can move out somewhere else where they are sustaining their own way of life.”
There is also the possibility the apartments and a few rooms could be rented to the community at large if the situation warrants, which would help sustain the budget throughout the year. But Cavender said there is much more Ryan’s House would be able to do with the property in the future.
“The ultimate dream was to build a barn for equestrian therapy, an art studio for art therapy and a mechanics garage and a woodworking place so that the boys would have a way to be able to talk – boys don’t talk face to face, they talk side by side over a project – and we’d give the community a way to mentor to those kids and they would be able to learn skills,” she said. “We would have room for a garden and they could grow things and learn to cook them in the kitchen. So there’s a lot of possibilities here.”
The dream even includes one day building a youth center for youth from ages 13 to 17.
”We would be able to do a lot of the things that we’ve always dreamed of and be able to grow the services that we already offer,” said Cavender.
The scope of what Ryan’s House does is sometimes misunderstood, according to Cavender.
“There’s all of these things that people don’t realize that we do,” she said. “We get them their ID, we help them with legal things, we help them get medical, we help them get counselors. There’s a lot of money spent through Ryan’s House that is specifically geared just for the needs of the kids, and every kid is different.”
There were 104 identified unaccompanied homeless youth attending middle and high school on Whidbey Island last year, according to Cavender.
“If you add up all the ones that weren’t identified, the ones that had to drop out of school, the ones that have already graduated, the ones that are ages 19 to 24, we’re talking about 200 and some homeless kids that are living on their own here on Whidbey,” she said.
A survey is currently underway to try to get a more accurate count of homeless youth and how well the problem is understood.
“We’re actually doing a survey right now through Survey Monkey for the community and for the kids to find out how well people understand the issue, how well doing supporting that issue and how well the community is serving that issue of homelessness,” she said. “We wanted to see from kids themselves what their needs were and how we could meet them or if we have met them. And we wanted to find out what the community understood about youth homelessness and what they’re aware of as far as resources and what they think the needs are for these kids.”
So while the survey will tell them a lot, Cavender said being able to purchase the motel site will help them serve the needs of Whidbey’s homeless youth now and well into the future.
“We’ve got case management, we’ve got the outreach van, we’ve got the host family program, we’ve got the drop-in center and then we would be able to add transitional housing to that as well,” she said. “We would just be able to serve kids in every way they possibly need it.”
The survey will run through January 31. To take the youth or community survey, click here. To donate or find out how you can help, visit the Ryan’s House for Youth website.
“If you compare this project to the WAIF animal shelter that was just built, I keep thinking ‘If they can spend millions on animals, they can spend half a million on the kids,’” said Cavender. “Because at this moment in time, what it’s going to come down to is who is willing to invest in these kids?”