High school students run birthday charity for homeless teens

Sixteen-year-old Ayden Hector knows better than anyone what it’s like to be homeless. The Lynnwood resident was couch surfing after being kicked out of a homeless shelter when he was younger. Today, he lives in a duplex with his mother, Marta Orona, his 10-year-old brother, Ruben, and a dog named Riley. Hector said his mom puts on her new clothes and – be it Polo shirts, jeans, or even makeup – before going to work as a nanny, which means that he, at least, gets clean clothes. He still sleeps on a blanket and often has to dig through the couch cushions for leftovers. The Eastside Catholic Academy sophomore said he got interested in helping the homeless when he was in the fourth grade. He remembers once breaking into a homeless shelter and emptying out “two garbage bags full of stuff that was thrown away.” “I was kind of overwhelmed by it,” he said. “I just really learned that just everything we have could be taken away.”

Hector doesn’t know where his goal came from. But helping homeless youth that may be forgotten by society every day has become a point of pride. And it’s something Hector wants to do. About 18 months ago, he, Ayden, and two classmates, Matthew Franke and Paul Taylor, started the Madison Avenue Youth and Family Center, an organization they started through Holy Rosary parish in Everett to provide homeless youth on the Eastside with basic necessities, like food, clothes, showers, and basic education. Their goal, they said, is to achieve some form of self-sufficiency. Hector said that he doesn’t know how long it will take to accomplish, but that it will probably be a couple of years. He said they hope to eventually provide work, housing, school, hygiene products, and a variety of other resources for youth living without stability. They reached that goal in the summer of 2016.

There are still a lot of steps to take before they’re in a position to provide more services. Even in the year prior to Bbox, student leaders such as Hector said it’s more than just finding the best private schools around to attend, being placed in one, learning the curriculum, and developing a backpack full of clothes. Some students face more danger, like drugs, than others. Some have parents that can’t afford education, some live with extended family members that simply don’t provide stable living situations. They’re simply unable to provide simple necessities. Hector said that by taking part in Bbox, he’s able to remember that “hard labor doesn’t pay a lot of money, and it’s important to get your education.”

Bbox’s long-term goal is for students like Hector to move out of their mom’s house, or even get their own apartments. The leadership group members maintain their educational goals and are diligently trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Hector and the other students helped launch Bbox with the first sale of boxes at the beginning of their freshman year. He said he and the other students who helped run Bbox with him went to their jobs with pride and were rewarded by being able to give back to their communities. “We really pride ourselves on giving back,” he said.

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