Administrators with a local nonprofit group aimed at helping homeless Waco Independent School District students fear the center’s opening could be delayed by at least a month if the group is unable to raise the needed funds.

The Cove, a nonprofit group serving Waco ISD students experiencing homelessness, must raise $100,000 by Aug. 15 to avoid delaying its opening, said Rosemary Townsend, a board member and resource development coordinator for The Cove.

The Cove is trying to address two of its biggest hurdles — securing funds for grants and establishing the trust of the students who will use the facility, Townsend said.

The district helps about 1,200 homeless students a year, often those who bounce from couch to couch because of an unstable home life.

The teen nurturing center, which is expected to serve 40 youths attending Waco ISD high schools this fall, could open within the next month, but an official date hasn’t yet been set because funding is still needed. Waco ISD’s school year starts Aug. 22.

“The first goal is to secure enough operating funds so that we can then qualify for some grants to help us with the resources we need,” Townsend said. “It’s an important deadline for us for a number of reasons. If we have that amount of money, plus another promise that’s been made to us, we will be comfortable knowing we have enough money to open our doors. It really is a critical goal.”

Right now, The Cove has $400,000 worth of grants pending fall approval, including a $175,000 grant request through the city, Townsend said. But establishing trust for a “forgotten segment of our population” is the No. 1 job for The Cove, which is difficult to do without the funding and which is why The Cove is starting out slowly by helping a small number of students, Townsend said.

After that, The Cove would love to expand, she said.

“These are young people who have been let down time and time again by adults in their lives,” Townsend said. “The name of the game with us is we can do amazing things that can truly help them build toward an important future, but the very first thing we’ve got to do is gain their trust.

“It’s really a friend-raising effort with them, that not only is this a place where you can get a free meal and wash your clothes, but that these are people who care about you and can help you deal with some of the experiences you’ve had in your life.”

As of Monday afternoon, The Cove had a total of $74,750, but organizers are looking for 100 people willing to donate $1,000 each, Townsend said, adding she is confident the funding needs will be met.

The nonprofit group also has a goal to raise $300,000 in grants and corporate funding by December, which includes the $100,000 by Aug. 15, to have operating funds in future years and to show potential funders The Cove is sustainable, Elisa Jelley, an AmeriCorps vista at The Cove, stated via email. The Cove will take about $190,000 annually to operate, she stated.

“We need a group of people who truly understand The Cove, who have their hearts in it,” Townsend said. “We also ask they give us $1,000 this year, and based on our performance in years two and three, that they’ll consider following up in each of those years with a similar gift. Then, you’ve got a sustainable base of donors who understand at a deep level.”

The Cove’s target population is ninth- through 12th-graders. Last year, 285 homeless youth were enrolled in Waco ISD high schools, with 97 of those classified as unaccompanied youth, meaning no adult or parent/guardian can be found with ties to the child, Townsend said.

40-student capacity

The Cove, 2226 Washington Ave., has the capacity to help 40 of those students from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the fall semester once it’s open, including 11 staffers and volunteers.

The students, vetted through Waco ISD, will have shower and laundry facilities and be provided a family-style dinner, access to counseling, medical and hair-cutting services, as well as case management.

The Cove also offers a chance for students to do homework or receive tutoring, and help students find any possible benefits they may have coming, Townsend said. In crisis situations, The Cove will help students find safe places to sleep, but most students tend to be resilient and resourceful and already have plans, said Jelley.

“I think this is universally true for nonprofits across the board, having financial sustainability. Being able to cobble together a combination of individual, private, federal and state contributions at a sustainable level can keep your doors open,” said Lauren Moser, an intern at The Cove who helped put the nonprofit group’s strategic plan together. “After you get that done though, and once you’ve laid that foundation, it does get exponentially easier to maintain and build on that original foundation.”

Food, safety and shelter, academic and emotional support, clothing and access to health care are the most important elements a homeless student needs to be successful, Townsend said. Without that kind of support, these students are at a higher risk of being sexually or emotionally abused, becoming victims of human trafficking, struggling with depression, substance abuse and suicide.

The Cove does plan to track the students’ progress and success after they’ve received help, Townsend said.

“These students are a fascinating combination of resilience, street smarts, toughness and, at the same time, incredibly vulnerable and fragile,” Townsend said. “These are our children, the community’s children and we need to do our very best by them.”

To donate, visit www.thecovewaco.org, search for “The Cove — Waco” on Facebook or mail a check to P.O. Box 1956, Waco, TX 76703.

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At a glance

In 2015, 285 Waco ISD students in grades nine through 12 were designated as homeless. More than 30 percent of those were found to be unaccompanied, meaning there were no direct ties to any adults, parent or guardian.

1.6 to 1.7 million youth experience homelessness each year in the U.S.

20 to 40 percent of homeless youth were sexually abused in their homes.

Two-thirds or more report at least one parent who abuses drugs or alcohol.

20 to 40 percent were thrown out of their homes because of sexual orientation or pregnancy.

Source: Waco ISD Homeless Outreach Services and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, 2015

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