From the gently rippling surface of Yale Lake in the north to the Interstate 205-rumbling neighborhoods of its southernmost tip, the Battle Ground school district is a spectacularly beautiful and exciting place to live for most of its 12,000 students. But not for all of them.
“Because we don’t see them on our streets, it’s easy to forget how many of our neighbors are suffering,” Lydia Sanders said. “They’re sleeping in vacant lots, or in their cars.”
Growing up homeless and in foster care herself, Sanders understands desperation all too well. But getting involved with the homeless program at Battle Ground Public Schools— in particular the liaison office staffed at the time by Sharon Brown and Diane Mason — changed her life.
“They took me under their wing,” Sanders said. “They wrapped love around me and gave me an unconditional acceptance I’d never had.”
Today Sanders is the coordinator for BGPS’s Family and Community Resource Center (FCRC), where she works to nurture that same kind of hands-on support for students and families in need. FCRC’s mission is to help break the cycle of poverty by connecting families with area resources, as well as directly supplying items like shoes, coats, backpacks and school supplies. They also can match students with mentors, who teach valuable life skills like time management, organization and problem solving.
Mentoring, according to Sanders, has proven to be by far the most effective cycle-breaking tool because it helps students and families learn the skills and find long-term support for a different way of life.
The “secret recipe” is starting with hope.
“We work to build relationships,” Sanders said, “to light a little flame of hope in situations that a lot of times feel so hopeless.”
Alison Weddle, one of the FCRC advocates, tells the story of a family she recently helped find transportation when complicated health and home situations left the kids stranded.
“I started with home visits to learn about their needs,” Weddle said. “They had a very unsure, non-confident mom who wanted the best for her kids. We first helped out with clothing and toiletries, and then connected the mom with a mentor. We were able to help with rent and worked with her landlord to avoid eviction. Now she has a new job and a new apartment right on the bus route and the kids are successfully enrolled in new schools. She’s a terrific mom and I’m grateful the FCRC has the resources to help her through the transition.”
Another person’s life radically changed for the better thanks to the mentoring program.
“I was going through a rough time at home,” she said. “I walked into FCRC because I needed school supplies. They asked, ‘hey, do you want someone to talk to?’ They connected me with a mentor, who truly helped me become who I am as a person. She helped me get on the right track with techniques I still use today.”
Mindi Rew, one of FCRC’s mentors, has personally witnessed this kind of transformation more than once, even though she hadn’t originally thought of herself as a mentor.
“But Lydia told me all I needed was to show up,” Rew said. “And she was right. A lot of it is listening. Or maybe the student needs something like a driver’s license. So then you say, ‘OK, let’s see how to go about that.’ As simple as that. These kids just need to know somebody cares. You’re not going to have all the answers. But you can give them a little bit of hope.”
Sanders agreed, saying, “We’re trying to remove barriers. To be a mentor, there’s one primary qualification: be imperfect.”
The woman who was helped by the mentoring program now works as a CNA and recently bought a home. She plans to become a mentor herself.
“I walked in that day for school supplies and came away with a lifelong friend,” she said.
Learn how to support the work of FCRC, which includes volunteering as a mentor, online at battlegroundps.org/fcrc.
To donate to the efforts of FCRC and to learn more about the Battle Ground Education Foundation, go online to bgef.org.