"It's my story"

Homeless and harried in youth, Schooley healed from past to improve present
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Krista Schooley, Founder and CEO of The Underground, looks out a window at the organization's new space Friday Feb. 8, 2013 in Kenai, Alaska. Schooley said the room, which serves as both a consultation office and storage space for supplies the organization gifts to homeless teens and young adults, has been open for two weeks.

By the time Krista Schooley was 17 she had two children. By the time she was 18 she had been raped twice.

 

Her children were not products of the rapes, she said.

“I was majorly at risk,” Schooley said. “I was always in need. Always underprivileged.”

From 16 to 18 she slept on couches on the Kenai Peninsula, said Schooley, at the time Krista Tri. But when she was 19 she met Shawn Schooley, who became an instant father figure to her two children. Eight months later they married and she had her third child shortly thereafter.

“He accepted me for who I was, but he had to go through all the grieving that was attached, too,” she said.

Now, after all they have been through, 39-year-old is opening The Underground.

She signed the papers Jan. 28. Now the Soldotna resident works out of a single room in a larger building complex off of Kalifornsky Beach Road where she coordinates outreach efforts. She provides clothing and helps place youth in caring families, she said.

One day she will take the two rooms across the hall, and after that, she will open up as a homeless shelter, she said.

After living through her tumultuous youth, she knows she has to help, she said.

“It’s my story,” she said. “I’ve always had a desire to help. I just had to get through my own healing and learn the tools to be a healthy individual before I could start helping others.”

She said there is a strong need for it in the Central Peninsula communities.

By the end of the last school year, Kelly King, homeless liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said in a November interview with the Clarion that 301 adolescents were enrolled in KPBSD’s Student in Transition Program for Homeless Children and Youth.

This year she expects that number to be in the 300s again, she said in November.

Schooley said the homeless, at risk or in need children sleep behind buildings, in cars, on couches, in mobile homes and stores open 24 hours a day — any transient place they can find shelter from the cold.

“I want the community to know that when you walk in a store, there could be a homeless kid there and they wouldn’t even know it,” she said.

Her and Shawn Schooley’s efforts began when they started biking at the Soldotna Skate Park. Shawn Schooley and one of their sons are avid bikers, she said.

Then they started getting to know the kids there.

“Just being around the kids we started seeing major needs,” she said. “A couple were homeless; another lived year round in a motor home. “Kids were coming to us saying we don’t have any cloths for school,” she said.

In May 2011, the couple formed The Tribe and took on the skate park and its youth. They organized barbeques twice a month, all nighters at the park and brainstormed ways to improve facility with the Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael.

A month later The Tribe became a nonprofit through Bridge Community Resource Network, she said.

The Tribe still serves about 80 in need, at risk and underprivileged youth, but the homeless population continues to grow, she said.

“(The need) got just so big we just had to make them two separate entities,” she said.

Shawn Schooley runs The Tribe while Krista Schooley runs The Underground, also a nonprofit, as of October, she said.

She has received a lot of community support. SND Enterprises, Buckets Sports Grill, Bare Skin Spa, the Katzenbeger family and her parents, Guy and Marja Tri, pay The Underground’s $450 monthly rent, and the community has donated bags of clothing for her organization’s outreach efforts, she said.

“People know it’s happening,” she said. “They just didn’t know it was happening as much as it (is),” she said.

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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