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From homeless to taking care of business

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Recent graduate of Second Home shares his journey


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jairo Quintero, 19, shares a laugh with Debbie Wilkins at their home in Aloha. Wilkins opened her home to Quintero, who was a homeless student in Beaverton.Jairo Quintero is outgoing, well rounded and on the right track for success. However, more than a year ago, he couldn’t imagine graduating high school as a possibility.

While attending Beaverton High School, Quintero was registered as a homeless student.

Trying to juggle school with the constant worry of where he’d be sleeping at night was starting to take a toll on him. At the time, Quintero was sleeping in a spare bedroom in his newlywed sister’s home. The situation soon became unstable for him.

Having no other family or sources to turn to in the area, Quintero often crashed with friends.

“I couldn’t organize my time because I was always trying to manage living ‘somewhere’ and going to school,” Quintero said. “Things were getting complicated. I wanted to have a sense of independence, which is why I’m here.”

Now, a freshman at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus, Quintero, 19, is working toward an applied science degree in welding.

“I couldn’t imagine being in college. My first day here was like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe I’m here,’” Quintero said. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jairo Quintero, 19, who graduated from Beaverton High School this year, was homeless before Debbie Wilkins opened her home to him.

His path to success wasn’t so clear prior to finding stable housing through the Second Home program, an organization that connects homeless youth in the Beaverton School District, city of Beaverton and Washington County with home providers.

Providers for Second Home go through an application and screening process once they’ve decided to open up their homes for students to stay. Living arrangements and negotiations are worked out amongst the student and provider. Second Home’s role is to match students with potential providers. They provide help with rental contracts and questions.

‘Just look for options’

Familiar with Quintero’s unstable living situation, a friend who was already in the Second Home program suggested Quintero reach out to program counselors and support staff. “Why don’t you just look for options?” asked the friend.

Within one week, Quintero connected with Jenny Pratt, Second Home student coordinator and acting program director, who lined up potential home providers for him. Quintero started the interview process over the phone. The program typically tries to match students up with more than one home to accommodate the best compatability options for both students and providers.

After Quintero’s first phone interview, he’d made up his mind. A second face-to-face meeting at his future home only reconfirmed Quintero’s initial decision.

Pratt said her only job was to initiate the paperwork to get Quintero into the Second Home system. As for matching him to a safe home and supportive environment, “That was all Jairo’s own work. He made the calls, met with his providers and knew instantly that was where he wanted to be.”

Home sweet home

Moving in with strangers can send anyone into a state of frenzy. “I didn’t have any of that. When I went there, everything felt normal,” Quintero said. “They were loving and caring. They worry for you and always want to know about you — every day.” That sealed the deal for Quintero.

Students have the option of choosing a home based on how involved their providers will be with their lives and their schooling. Although they agree on standard rules in the household, there can still be that line of support and motivation that providers offer the students.

In Quintero’s case, he sought out a provider to push him academically and emotionally. “I wasn’t doing that well in high school, so I needed someone on me like a parent to give me that extra motivation,” Quintero said.

Quintero said finding his new home was similar to finding a job. Only the students interview the providers and have the final say as to where they’ll be housed and supported through high school.

Finding a stable home and knowing that he had support and love gave Quintero a sense of direction.

As a senior, Quintero started getting involved with student organizations and speaking out more. He recognized youths in similar situations he experienced. He spoke up, reached out and shared his own experiences. He let people know where there was help. These are the people who programs such as Second Home want to connect with.

Looking ahead

Quintero’s never looked back. Fifteen months after Quintero’s initial meeting, he continues to live with his home providers in Aloha.

“Quintero’s providers have huge trust in him. He’s showed them that he’s responsible. And it’s also because he’s open and honest,” Pratt said.

Typically, providers only support and house students through high school. Once Quintero entered college, his home providers wanted him to focus on his studies and stay put. They offered Quintero the option of staying with them and finishing school. Debbie and Steve Wilkins have hosted a student before. They really believe in youth and want to invest in them.

Debbie is chairwoman for a foundation through Southminister Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. The foundation awards grants to community organizations primarily in Washington. Second Home applied for its first grant through this group.

“When I learned more about their program, I was touched. My husband and I have a soft spot for high school kids. We’ve got the space, and I just thought, ‘We can do this,’” she said.

Quintero feels strongly that his success is due to connecting with the Second Home program as well as having a stable living situation. He said he wants individuals who are experiencing what he’s been through to know that it’s OK — there are people who truly care about young people in this community and want to see them succeed and get a proper education.

“I still get excited to come to school every day,” Quintero said.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Debbie Wilkins opened her home to Jairo Quintero while he was a senior at Beaverton High School. He is now a freshman at Portland Community College.

An exchange student from our community

Debbie and Steve Wilkins open home for second time

It takes a whole lot of heart and courage to open up your home to a complete stranger, but the Wilkins family has the compassion it takes to provide a safe haven for a student in need of stable housing.

The Wilkins family offers their “roommate” in Aloha far more than a roof over his head. They provide Jairo Quintero with love, encouragement and support to stay in school and pursue his dreams.

More than three years ago, Debbie Wilkins, chairwoman of Southminister Presbyterian Church’s foundation, learned of the Second Home program through its application for a grant.

Second Home, a program that works with homeless liaisons throughout the Beaverton School District, Washington County and the city of Beaverton, connects with volunteer home providers who open up their residences and provide stable housing for homeless students trying to finish their education.

Wilkins investigated the initial grant request for Second Home back in 2011, when the shelter program started. She interviewed Jenny Pratt, Second Home’s student coordinator and acting program director. Shortly after their discussion, Wilkins, who was touched by the program’s mission, realized the need to provide housing for high school kids to ensure they graduate.

“I was just touched,” Wilkins said, “and my husband and I, we have a soft spot for high school kids.”

Steve and Debbie Wilkins, who have two sons of their own, decided this was what they were going to do. With Debbie’s youngest son just graduating from high school, she wasn’t ready to become an “empty nester.” And she still had that motherly nature about her. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jairo Quintero, 19, shares a laugh with Garrett Wilkins at Wilkins' home in Aloha.

In the summer of 2011, they applied with Second Home, which included a screening process, background check, home tour and interview. Approved as home providers with the program, by November they had their first call from Second Home to house a child.

Harley, who was 16 at the time, lived with the Wilkins family while working a part-time job. He eventually earned his GED diploma.

“I had said to him, our house is so boring, it’s so normal,” Debbie Wilkins recalled. “He said to me, ‘I don’t know what that’s like.’”

When he became stable, Harley left the Wilkins’ home and went to live with a family friend. Two years later, Harley was tragically killed in a hit-and-run crash while walking home from work along Laurelwood Avenue near Southwest Homewood Street. The case remains under investigation by the Beaverton Police Department.

Most of the children with Second Home are referred to the program through school counselors. They go through a screening process to ensure providers have some background and knowledge about their student.

“They’re good, solid kids that just need a little help,” Wilkins said. “It’s no different than providing room and board for an exchange student from Europe or Asia.”

Second Home acts as a building block between student and provider, working behind the scenes to initiate and establish multiple providers for students to choose from. The final decision is left to the student after he or she sits down and interviews with all the potential home providers.

In July of 2013, Debbie and Steve Wilkins received another request from a Second Home student.

Jairo Quintero, 18 at the time, made the call himself to interview with Debbie Wilkins. Quintero knew from that first phone interview he had found a home. Something in Wilkins’ voice welcomed him, he said.

Without bothering to make a second call to other providers, Quintero met with the Wilkinses over breakfast — and the rest is history.

“He’s a really nice boy,” Debbie said. “My husband and I just decided, ‘Yes, this is going to work.’ Jairo is just such a good kid, very even keeled, very respectful. It’s no problem at all. He asked (about) expectations, and he follows them,” she said.

Wilkins admitted she and her husband don’t have many strict expectations for Quintero. His time is his own. They simply want to provide a stable home, where youths like Quintero can concentrate on and finish school.

“Children that don’t have stability just can’t thrive,” Wilkins said.

As a junior in high school, Quintero didn’t see graduation as a reality. Finding a stable home and knowing he had support and love gave him a sense of direction, he said. During his senior year, Quintero became involved with student organizations and started speaking out more, becoming a youth advocate in the process. Recognizing situations similar to his recent past, he shared his own experiences and let people know where there was help.

Quintero still lives with Debbie and Steve. While it’s typical for home providers to house a student through high school before they move on, the couple decided Quintero could better focus on his studies at the Portland Community College Sylvania campus if he remained with them.

“He’s a much more confident person now than when he first came here,” Wilkins said. “It’s just a good feeling. It’s good to know that we can help him in some small way. He’s just a really great kid.”

Quintero, she added, just made it easy — easy for them to open up their home and offer a safe space.

“It’s a great experience. You get more than you give,” she said. “It’s not that hard to open up your home to an exchange student from the local community.”

A look at Second Home

• Second Home is a community program connected with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. The program works with Beaverton School District youths and has ties with Washington County and the city of Beaverton to house youths who are at least 16 years old or older.

• Home providers volunteer their homes to youths needing stable housing and are in transitional living situations. Interested volunteers go through an application process, get screened and submit to a background check. Upon completion of the check, a home provider will have Second Home advocates do a walk through of where the student(s) will be staying.

• Second Home’s role between home providers and students is to find a suitable match. Students of the program are referred either by school counselors or the school district’s homeless liaisons. The decision of where to house a student is ultimately left for the student and home provider. Second Home program assistants believe this gives the students a say in what’s right for them and what fits their needs.

• There is a mediation process prior to a student moving into a home. A neutral third-party or mediator will sit together with student and home provider to lay the ground work for housing solutions. At this point, both parties have the option to say what works, what doesn’t, expectations and general rules of how living together can be best accommodated.

• The program is always looking for home providers. For those interested in being a home provider or know of someone who may be interested, contact Second Home program assistant Beverly Wolff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Second Home student coordinator Jenny Pratt at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-221-1054 ext. 208.