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Program meets at-risk youths’ overlooked needs | Kitsap Week
Some North Kitsap students face a daily dilemma: gas or books? Baby formula or lab fees? Toilet paper or tuition?
Although food banks and social programs have seen an increase in need and implore neighbors to donate a few cans of soup or dollars for bread for those hit hardest, another program is seeking to meet a different need: toiletries.
“It’s amazing how many youth we have that are at risk and because we don’t see it, we assume it's not a problem,” said Meisha Rouser, a student at Leadership Kitsap and a co-founder of Support Our Students.
The Support Our Students campaign was inspired by the support Coffee Oasis received for its at-risk youth center in Poulsbo. Rouser said red donation bins are located all around Kitsap County for donations of basic needs that many take for granted: deodorant, feminine products, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste and toothbrushes, toilet paper.
The campaign organizers estimate there are more than 800 at-risk students who are homeless, live out of their cars, or just don’t have a consistent, safe place to “call home.” Rouser wants the community to be more aware of this number.
“At-risk youth are very proud, they do not want people to know they’re couch surfing or having trouble at home,” Rouser said. “They only carry what they can in their backpacks.”
Tom Jacobs, a member of SOS who also works with Olympic College’s Students in Need Group, added, “A lot of [students] don’t have jobs, they’re making decisions based on whether put gas in the car, food on table, or buy other products they need like diapers.”
“That was a moment for me, when someone had to decide whether go to school. They had $20 to put in their car or buy diapers,” Jacobs said. “We gave them some diapers, hopefully they spent the other [money] on gas.”
Rouser and Jacobs launched SOS through their membership with Leadership Kitsap, a nonprofit organization that offers a year-long educational program for community leaders. Every year, the leadership class breaks into several groups which develop community projects.
“These people are fighting against all odds,” Jacobs said. “If we can just make one of those odds a little bit easier ... that’s how we brought up Support Our Students.”
The campaign will continue until May 31, and bins can be found at Olympic College, North Kitsap schools, Bainbridge Island schools, grocery stores, businesses and churches. The collected items will be distributed through OC’s Students in Need Group, Coffee Oasis, Spectrum, and various food banks in the area.