Ryan’s House director retires from nonprofit she founded

After a decade of helping homeless young people on Whidbey Island, Ryan’s House for Youth Founder and Executive Director Lori Cavender is retiring from the organization.

Former program manager Amber Truex is serving as interim executive director.

Cavender said she’s going to be working on statewide host-home initiatives, similar to what her organization started doing in 2012.

Cavender created the program, which matches community members to young people who need help and a place to stay.

In 2016, she helped pass host-home legislation, and this past year co-authored a manual with best practices for the program’s use statewide, according to a press release.

The Ryan’s House campus will continue to serve as a drop-in center for youth from 13 to 17, but the minors do not stay overnight at the Coupeville campus, said board member Tom Choquette.

Choquette said the Central Whidbey location, which is an old motel, is primarily aimed at helping 18- to 24-year olds with Ryan House’s emergency and transitional housing programs.

Choquette said the nonprofit has received a grant and is planning to use it to open a drop-in center in Oak Harbor that would be focused on helping school-aged young people.

He said the two age groups would not mix.

The proximity of young teens and young adults prompted former Island County Sheriff Mark Brown to raise concerns, which eventually led to the state pulling a grant for the organization.

The drop-in center offers resources such as laundry, meals, emergency transportation, help finding a job and case management for young people in need.

The transitional housing program provides temporary lodging and case management while young people work or go back to school.

Rent is charged proportionally to the residents’ income.

The nonprofit was born through Cavender’s efforts to provide mobile services to young people on the island. She used a donated van to hand out supplies and provide information about resources to youth from the three public school districts.

In 2016, the organization purchased the old Countryside Inn on Highway 20 and grew to include housing services.

Cavender said she recognizes that, with a change in leadership, it’s likely the organization will go in a slightly different direction but will still fill a gap in services for a vulnerable population.

“My main focus for Ryan’s House was always the young people,” she said.

“My hope is that Ryan’s House is around until we work ourselves out of the job.”

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