Back in 2012, Nicole Ward was working at Rock the Dock Pub & Grill, going about her daily routines as always. Then she saw something that sent her in a direction where giving became her way of life. It seems that her friend and counselor at Lincoln High School made a Facebook post asking for help with a holiday charity for students in need, and Ward shared it with her friends and challenged them to help. Within 45 minutes, a neighbor donated the first backpack of what would become thousands over the ensuing years from people all over town, with the first Team Backpack of Tacoma fundraiser bringing in $5,000 in just 18 days.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Team Backpack acquired the legal 501(c)3 non-profit status under the name “Forgotten Youth Foundation.” Working closely with principals, counselors and community liaisons at Tacoma schools to find out what the most crucial needs were among students, Team Backpack expanded its giving beyond backpacks and care packages full of food, clothing and hygiene items to what is by now likely tons of school supplies, along with gift cards, Christmas cards with money inside, and countless diapers and formula for teen parents who are continuing their education. Today, Team Backpack helps homeless youth and other students in need at 21 high schools in the Pierce County area, and counting. This year, three new schools reach out to Team Backpack for help.
“The absolute coolest thing that sets us aside from other outreach programs is that we have removed the barrier to reach these students,” Ward said. “We deliver directly to our schools, making it possible for the staff to have necessary items on hand for these kids to get each individual’s needs met. This makes it not only convenient for staff/students; I feel it really helps remove the humiliation factor as well.”
The Forgotten Youth Foundation “Team Backpack of Tacoma” is recipient of the 2018 City of Destiny Awards for the category of “Homeless Advocacy.” The city added this as a new category this year because they saw so much value in what Team Backpack does.
A major achievement came in 2018 when Ward led the way to bring a fiberglass greenhouse to Oakland High School where students grow plants, conduct experiments and learn valuable academic and life lessons. This gift was possible thanks to Ward partnering with John Hamil at Tacoma company Solar Gem Greenhouses, which provided the greenhouse at a significant discount. Xavier Cooper, a 2010 Wilson High School graduate who plays for the New York Jets, contributed to help cover the cost of the greenhouse and gardening supplies. Team Backpack also purchased a new portable basketball hoop setup for the Willie Stewart Academy.
“Everything we do goes directly to our schools,” Ward said. “Of course, we have regular operations cost. I am proud to say that 82 percent of our project funding goes to the schools (items we purchase) and the other 18 percent goes to these operation costs – storage unit fees, insurance, etc. We are 100 percent volunteer at this point still.”
A big need right now is a permanent home in Tacoma. Currently, Team Backpack works from a small home office, a storage unit and a post office box and needs a facility where everything can be in one place. A box truck or mini van would also be a big help to keep backpacks and donations out of the elements. Right now, an open bed pickup truck is all that Team Backpack has to use.
SAVE THE DATE
The goal for 2018 is to build 1,500 backpacks to be distributed to homeless high school students in Tacoma and public schools in the greater Pierce County area. This will help alleviate a serious unmet need for resources for homeless students who go without proper food, shelter, hygiene supplies and necessary items that help keep them be mentally focused in high school, the gateway to success in later life.
Items needed include coats, socks, clothing, blankets, toiletries, gift cards, backpacks, and the other important articles to help students get through the long winter school break that lasts from before the holidays until after the New Year.
Among items that are needed most are blankets. “If I could say one of the things that costs the most to purchase would be blankets,” Ward said. “We always seem to fall short of donations for this. We ask that blankets be no larger than twin size because that is the perfect size for our needs and saves room in the packs.”
To help Team Backpack in their work, the community is warmly invited to the “7th Annual Homeless Teen’s Backpack Project” on Saturday, Oct.13, at the I.L.W.U. Local 23 Longshore Union Hall, 1306 Alexander Ave. E. in Fife.
Doors opens at 5 p.m., auction registration opens at 5:15 p.m.,
silent auction opens at 5:30 p.m. and live auction begins at 8 p.m. There are more than 100 items to be had: private narrated flight for two people for two hours, tour for 10 of the Port of Tacoma, legal services for a will and testament, autographed Seattle Seahawks memorabilia, Seahawks tickets for Dec. 2 game against the 49ers, two-night stay in a king suite with brunch buffet from the Hilton in Bellevue, art from Tacoma artists, vintage and antique items, bicycles, sporting equipment, gift certificates to local restaurants and pubs, miscellaneous clothing items, vintage vinyl records totaling $1, 300, KISS bobble heads, wine and alcohol baskets (must be 21+ to bid on these items), autographed Melissa Etheridge memorabilia, $250 gift certificate from Selden’s home furnishings, gift certificate for advertising in the Tacoma Weekly, and more.
Admission is $15 per adult and $10 per student and includes
one Team Backpack memorial bracelet, light hors d’ oeuvres, a no-host bar and one complimentary drink courtesy of Rock The Dock (21+ only). Rod Koon and Friends will provide great live music.
Purchase presale tickets at http://event.attendstar.com/ event/show/7th-annual- homeless-teens-backpack- project.