As a working single mother, Puyallup’s Karissa Thompson had her hands full. When her children began struggling in school, she wondered how many other local families were struggling as well.
“I went to my son’s teacher for help, and then to his principal, and it still wasn’t enough,” Thompson, president of the Downtown Puyallup Rotary group, said. “I was wondering who I would go to for tutoring help.”
Thompson started talking with other Rotarians and community leaders, and eventually the Youth Advocacy Project was born. With so many nonprofit and service clubs in the Puyallup community, the Youth Advocacy Project is connecting school administrators and other youth organizations with resources in their community.
The organization has met quarterly since 2015 and hosts a round-table discussion where school administrators and other community organizations gather to discuss the needs for students and how to get those needs met.
“The round table is raising awareness for what kids in our community need,” Thompson said. “The goal is to find organizations to help pay for things students need.”
One of those organizations is the YMCA’s Youth Investment Center in downtown Puyallup. Since the Youth Investment Center started partnering with the Youth Advocacy Project, a mentorship program was created at Walker High School, the district’s alternative high school.
“At Walker High School, mentors have been matched with ninth-graders,” said Renne Gilliam, program director at the Youth Investment Center. “Every other week, ninth-graders meet with their mentor.”
Matching community members with various community needs is the end goal for the Youth Advocacy Project.
“It’s really establishing the power of a network,” Thompson said. “We want to be that support in the community, and do what we can.”
Currently, Downtown Rotary is the main service group behind the project, but Thompson is hard at work collaborating with other service clubs.
“There are so many service clubs that are all passionate about youth,” said Thompson. “Kiwanis, The Lions, The Masons. There’s a lot of resources we can tap into.”
“We really try to meet the needs,” Gilliam said. “We hear from the administration teams at the schools about what their students need.”
Thompson uses the example of her relationship with her own children as the basis to what she hopes the project will accomplish.
“Instead of parents fighting over homework with their kids, we’re opening the conversation back up to talk about other things, and restore those relationships,” Thompson said.