‘Good energy’: Two Rivers HS opens center for homeless kids, others in need
OGDEN — It was only inaugurated on Thursday, but already, Shay Robinson, a Two Rivers High School junior, could feel the good vibes at the school’s new teen center.
“It feels like a safe space over here. It’s just good energy,” Shay said.
Weber School District officials gathered Thursday to officially open the Two Rivers Teen Center at Two Rivers High School, an alternative school geared to students who don’t thrive in a traditional facilities. The center, located within the high school, is meant to help homeless students, kids “in crisis” and others who just need a place to unwind, school leaders say. It’s the first of more planned at each of the district’s other high schools.
Among the features are showers, a kitchen area, laundry facilities, a food pantry, a common area where students can congregate, and a pair of “calming rooms.” Students also get guidance from a school official assigned to the facility, an “advocate.”
Emily Oyler, director of the Weber School District Foundation, which spearheaded teen center development, said the goal is to help homeless kids, assist students from unstable homes and give a nudge to others facing complicated situations due to other issues. Teen centers are planned for all Weber School District high schools, most immediately at Roy and Bonneville high schools by the 2024-2025 school year.
Students “have advocates who are cheering them on,” said Jennifer Dunyon, president of the foundation, a nonprofit group that aids the Weber School District. “The goal is to get them graduated.”
Having showers gives students a means to clean up when things at home may not be the best, Shay said. Having a space away from the tumult of everyday life — “a place to escape” — is also a good thing. The food pantry, also to be opened to the broader public, provides a means for students in need to get groceries as well as toiletries and school supplies.
The new facility, with a price tag of around $500,000, was modeled after a series of teen centers established or taking shape at several Davis School District high schools, Dunyon said. Those were the first such facilities in Utah, while Weber School District is the second school system to get them.
The Ogden School District is completing upgrades to Odyssey Elementary that include the addition of a resource center for homeless students and their families. The work should be done in October. Likewise, teen centers are planned at Ben Lomond and Ogden high schools, with construction tentatively set to begin in November, according to Ken Crawford, the Ogden system’s director of support services.
‘HOME AWAY FROM HOME’
Though meant for students facing a range of challenging situations, teen centers are geared in particular to homeless students. “Many (homeless students) attend our schools, and some of these kids are living out of cars, couch surfing between friends’ houses and have no stable place to live,” reads a Weber School District Facebook post announcing the Two Rivers Teen Center.
In researching homelessness as the Two Rivers Teen Center plans were coming together, Oyler learned there are some 900 homeless students across Weber County, including Ogden, and around 1,600 homeless families. “I was very surprised by the numbers,” she said.
Dunyon recalls, also with surprise, the response when foundation officials queried leaders of other Weber School District high schools on the homelessness question. “Every one of the principals could identify students in their schools who could use the services. They just need something to fill in the gap,” she said.
About half of the $500,000 for the Two Rivers facility, built within the footprint of the school at 955 W. 12th St., came from a Utah State Board of Education grant. The rest was raised by the Weber School District Foundation, mainly through its Christmas Tree Jubilee fundraiser.
The foundation received $547,000 in Utah State Board of Education grant money, most of it earmarked for the planned teen centers at Roy and Bonneville high schools. Another $500,000 will have to be raised. “We are pretty far along in the planning process,” Oyler said.
Of the $547,000 in new grant money, $47,000 will go toward development of a teen center at West Field High School, now under construction near West Haven. The foundation has assisted in teen center development, Oyler said, because construction of the facilities falls outside the realm of what school districts are allowed to do.
Whoever the motor, Shay, the Two Rivers High School junior, is grateful for the new facility at her school. “It feels like home away from home,” Shay said.