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New center provides warm space for teens who don’t have hot meals, dry clothes, heat

Jan 10, 2024, 6:39 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2024, 12:49 pm

BOUNTIFUL — The Davis Education Foundation opened its seventh teen center Wednesday.

The Valhalla Student Center, located at Viewmont High School in Bountiful, gives students in need access to mental health resources, a place to rest, lockers, showers, washers and dryers, and a kitchen full of food.

“All young people deserve to be clean, to be fed, to be safe and to be warm,” said the foundation’s executive director, Jodi Lunt.

Foundation and district employees said winter can be an especially hard time for homeless and housing-insecure students.

“A lot of families are not able to pay to heat their homes, to put food on the table,” said Jen Harmer, the McKinny-Vento Coordinator for Davis School District.

She helps students and their families going through challenges. Harmer said in Davis County, there are currently 1,500 homeless students enrolled, and of those students, about 150 are not with a guardian. She said about 40 students do not have stable places to stay.

Some of the students make long treks to school in snow sometimes without the proper winter layers.

“A lot of our high school kids are coming to school and their feet are soaked because they’ve walked an hour and a half to get to school because they’re now staying somewhere else (from) where they had originally resided in,” she said.

“I’m giving out a lot of coats, blankets,” said the center’s coordinator, Zach Wheatley.

Wheatley, Harmer and Lunt said the new teen center will help those students stay warm, and stay in school.

“We can help them reset and help them feel more ready to take on any struggles that they deal with,” Wheatley said.

Harmer said when students are well-rested and not concerned with how cold they are, they will perform better in class.

“You’re worried about having to go home and be cold again, ” she said. “Or you’re having to worry about, ‘How am I going to stay awake? I didn’t sleep last night because I was so cold.'”

Students meet with their coordinator to access other resources their family might need.

“We’ve had kids that have roamed the county all night long because they had nowhere to go. But they’re at the teen center the second it opens,” Harmer said.

The district and foundation have plans to open a teen living center in Layton this year. The overnight shelter will give 16 students a place to sleep.

“Our teen living center came about because on Fridays, like this week, it’s going to be really cold once that sun hits its peak and starts going down, and our teens that have nowhere to go … sometimes they’re not welcome in their home, sometimes they leave of their own free will, but they don’t have anywhere to go,” Harmer said. “We can help them as much as we possibly can between our school hours, but then where do they go afterwards?”

She said the new center, scheduled to be complete before the start of the 2024-2025 school year, will give them a solution. Harmer said the new center, like the Valhalla Teen Center, will be the reason some students will be able to graduate.

“This overnight shelter will be massive to the lives of our students,” she said.

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New center provides warm space for teens who don’t have hot meals, dry clothes, heat