High school senior secures grant to help homeless peers

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By Tami Sanders –

In just 40 short days, 18-year-old Raul Marquez turned an inspired idea into $365,000—and the promise of a sorely needed youth homeless shelter in Salem, Oregon.

The idea came to Marquez, a soldier of the Salem Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, after the parents of one of his church friends fell onto hard times and became homeless. The adults were able to access shelter services. But the kids? They were shuffled from home to home with foster families.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, Salem-Keizer Public Schools had 93 students classified as “unsheltered” during the 2016–17 academic year. The thought of kids being separated from their parents and not having a safe, secure place to lay their heads devastated Marquez.

“Kids have so much to think about and worry about today,” Marquez said. “The last concern they should have is whether they have a safe place to sleep at night or enough to eat. It’s unacceptable.”  

Recently appointed a member of the Board of Directors of the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Marquez approached the Community Action Network. He armed himself with staggering statistics and a 100-day fundraising challenge plan to make his dream a reality.  

He had scouted a site already—the former Catarino Cavazos Center located a few blocks from the Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ Transition Educational Program office—with a cost of $310,000. Marquez’s fundraising goal was $400,000 to cover any necessary repairs or upgrades.

Standing before the Board, Marquez delivered his presentation hoping it would, at least, open the door to thoughtful discussion. Instead, he walked away with a $100,000 grant.

“It fit perfectly with our intent and mission to address Salem’s homeless crisis,” said United Way representative Ron Hayes. “Raul is an exemplary young man. He really is—he’s going to do great things. But, I have to say I’ve been so inspired with many of our youth coming up today.”

Marquez’s next stop was the Oregon State legislature. As an intern at a recent session, he worked closely with state representative Diego Hernandez (D-Portland). On the final day, the legislature appropriated $200,000 for the project. Another $65,000 has since been promised, bringing the project to within $35,000 of its $400,000 goal.

Marquez has his sights set on politics. As McKay High School Student Body President, he attributes his giving nature to his strong family values and faith.

“My parents are the most selfless, loving people you will ever meet,” he said. “They work hard every day to make sure me and my brothers and sisters have a good life. Giving back to our community is who we are.”

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