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Homeless — not helpless (cont'd)

Gateway Project Assistant Travis Richardson, at left, and Gateway Project Coordinator Bob Grovenburg, right, discuss class options with Parkrose High School senior and Gateway Project member Patricia Tijerina-King, center.
Many of the students who are supported by the program are like Christensen and live alone and must support themselves. Because of this, Grovenburg said it is difficult for many students to stay in school.

“Probably 50 percent of the kids who graduate wouldn’t graduate (without the help of the project),” he said.

Grovenburg said this is because many of the homeless students are considered to be “at-risk” and are enrolled in alternative programs.

Christensen said she is one of those students. Because of her unstable living conditions and need to pay rent, she said it would have been easy to give up.

“I really planned on dropping out of school, but what the project helped me do was understand that I had to take responsibility,” Christensen said. “But what it also gave me was opportunity. I wouldn’t be anywhere (if it wasn’t for the Gateway Project). I’d probably be out on the street falling back into my old ways.”

Today, Christensen works as a service dispatcher for a heating and cooling contractor in Clackamas — for a little over a year now. She is planning on returning to school in the near future, either at Mt. Hood or Clackamas Community College.

One way the Gateway Project helps students become more excited and want to stay in school is through after-school programs that provide tutoring and activities. Not only are they offered after school, but students can also participate during the summer.

A group of teachers from each of the departments at the high school gather during the year to tutor students, and during the summer, a part-time employee with the program works alongside Schools Uniting Neighborhoods. SUN is a collaboration of the city; county, state and schools in Multnomah County that helps students stay involved during the summer.

Because of the SUN program and other extended services the project provides and the amount of donations brought in every year, Caruso said that the project’s influence should extend past Parkrose School District.

“I think we’re a model for most school districts that have homeless projects. I hope they see what we are doing and take steps to do what we’re doing,” she said.

For more information about the array of student assistance programs in the Parkrose School District, or to make a contribution to the Gateway Project, contact Caruso at 503-408-2110.

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