A Magnolia Foundation donation will help a local nonprofit seek overnight accommodations for homeless Waco teens.

The Cove announced Tuesday it had received its largest single gift since it opened three years ago. Officials with the nonprofit and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Foundation did not disclose the amount of the donation.

The money will help the after-school teen nurturing center develop housing for homeless Waco Independent School District teenagers, Cove Executive Director Kelly Atkinson said.

“This donation means so much to us and our students,” Atkinson said. “Our students really need to know the Waco community sees them and cares for them.”

The Cove offers a place for Waco ISD teenagers between 4 and 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the school year to receive a variety of resources from local professionals and volunteers.

However, there is nowhere in the immediate area teenagers can stay overnight, said Kim Ellis, Waco ISD director of homeless outreach services. There are shelters for women and men, but they are not intended for housing youth, said Ellis, who also sits on the board for The Cove.

Housing is a major issue for the area, Ellis said.

The board has considered developing a “host home” program that would match students for a semester with someone prepared to support a child who comes from a high-stress environment, Atkinson said. Another option could include building dorm-style apartments to house students on-site, she said.

The Cove rents its building and could pursue its own property with room for apartments, she said. Whatever option the organization pursues, it will lead to being able to serve more students, Atkinson said.

“To see how prominent youth homelessness is in our very own backyard is truly heartbreaking,” Magnolia Foundation Executive Director Lyle Mason wrote in a press release on the donation. “Our hope is that our friends and neighbors will join us in supporting The Cove and the most vulnerable youth in our community.”

More than 1,000 students out of the 15,000 enrolled in Waco ISD were identified as homeless last year, Ellis said. Homelessness can mean not having a place of one’s own to call home, a family doubling up with someone else, or living in motels or vehicles, she said.

Licensed professionals and Cove volunteers help students with homework, offer mentoring services, family-style dinners and healthy snacks, laundry services, shower and toiletries, counseling, medical and hair-cutting services and more.

The Cove has the equivalent of four full-time staff members, plus interns from local colleges, Atkinson said. Its $250,000 annual budget is covered about 50 percent by donations from individuals, about 30 percent by donations from foundations, and the remaining by donations from churches, corporations or other civic organizations, Atkinson said.

“We also receive a ton of in-kind support,” she said. “That goes a long way in our budget as well.”

Waco ISD, which works with The Cove, is able to provide many resources for its homeless students, including clothing, backpacks full of school supplies and transportation, Ellis said. The district also allows homeless students to stay enrolled in the same school through the year, which is a major help, she said.

“For many of our families who move around from family to family who will shelter them, we can provide transportation back to what the state and federal level call the ‘school of origin’ so that child does not have to change schools during the school year,” Ellis said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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