WANDA LAUKKANEN | WRITER
It’s summertime in Hillsboro. A little breeze pushes hot air down the street.. The sun shines down. Smells of barbequed chicken fill the air, as pint-sized children hang on to their parents.
This barbeque is different than most, though. The people eating are mostly young, ages 11 to 24, some with babies and toddlers of their own. They also are, for one reason are another, homeless or close to it.
The evening meal is one of the drop-in services offered at HomePlate Youth Services, a non-religious nonprofit in Hillsboro that provides a variety of services for Washington County youth. The organization, founded in 2005, provides meals cooked by volunteers twice a week: Mondays at the Hillsboro Friends Church and Thursday at the Hillsboro First Congregatonal Church UCC.
In addition to dinner, the drop-in centers provide a respite from life on the street, with showers, a clothes closet, video games, arts and crafts, games, hygiene supplies, and resource and referral information.
“Really, [the resources are] a supplemental piece for what we really provide,” says Pacific alumna Terra Neilson ’10. “It’s all helpful, but I think the real draw for youth coming to HomePlate is really the relationships they build with our staff and our volunteers.
“Having people who will light up when you complete your GED or land your first job, or offer support when you’re feeling burned-out, or resources for assistance in accomplishing your goals—it is an understated, but incredibly important need.”
At 17, Neilson attended an alternative high school program and moved out of her family home. She transferred to Pacific University after completing her associate’s degree, then doubled-majored in social work and sociology, while participating in a variety of activities. Today, she serves as the full-time developmental director at HomePlate, where she volunteered for the last two years.
HomePlate is planning a third drop-in location at Merlo Station High School in Beaverton. Volunteers are always welcome to assist in a variety of services, from cooking to childcare to outreach. Donations also are accepted. A wish list includes such items as bottled water, bus tickets and diapers.
In addition to its many community partners in the community, including churches, schools and clubs, HomePlate has received funding from a variety of businesses and organizations. The Meyer Memorial Trust recently awarded a three-year capacity building grant to the organization, which helps fund Neilson’s full-time position as development director.