Baking is a holiday tradition for Nancy Friesen: with her first-graders when she taught at Clover Ridge School, and with her grandchildren after she retired.

Now that she's also a volunteer ambassador with Jackson Street Youth Services, Friesen volunteered to make cookies with youths at the Albany shelter as it marks its first Christmas. 

On Wednesday, she and Lance O'Hearn, 15, joined forces to make crispy rice cereal marshmallow treats, peanut butter-and-jam thumbprints and a pretzel-chocolate concoction that didn't come with a particular name.

"Quick and Easies? Sweet and Salties? There's probably a name for them," Friesen said, nodding at the tray full of pretzel squares topped by a melted Hershey's Kiss crowned with an M&M.

"They're really pretty with Hugs," she went on, referencing the candies that come white and brown stripes, "but they were completely, completely out." 

It isn't easy for homeless youths to maintain any kind of traditions, assuming they even want to, said Ann Craig, executive director. 

Activities at the youth shelter also depend on who's there — and that can change daily.

However, holiday baking is just one of those things Friesen wanted to make sure was offered, whether or not anyone wanted to take part.

"It's sort of a family thing, and I like family things," she said. 

O'Hearn was willing, although he said he doesn't usually do much in the way of cooking. "It's a new experience," he said.

He was also open to whatever the results might be.

"Sprinkles or no sprinkles?" Friesen asked, offering canisters of red and green sugar for the marshmallow treats. 

"I'm fine either way," he replied with a grin.

"You're going to be eating them."

"I'm fine with sprinkles or without," he insisted — so they compromised, choosing to sprinkle just a few.

In Corvallis, Jackson Street Youth Shelter opened in 2001. Long in the works, the Albany shelter at 1240 Seventh Ave. S.E. opened this past May.

Children ages 10 to 17 are eligible for residence. The Albany shelter can house up to 10 youths at any given time, five girls and five boys. Its Corvallis counterpart can hold six of each.

Youths can call themselves or come to the shelter through a referral, which could come from a school, a health provider, a juvenile service organization, a state welfare organization or even a parent or guardian who needs support.

Once youths arrive, they can stay for 72 hours. After that, a shelter team assesses the situation to see whether the shelter is the best place for the youths to fulfill their next goals. If so, they can stay an undetermined amount of time (although not once they turn 18), continuing to make progress on their goals and living situations.

Albany's shelter has been full on and off since opening, Craig said. The home currently has just two boys, but more youths were expected to check in this week.

'I think sometimes a lot of people are surprised that there's a need," she said. However, she added: "I think the word is spreading."

That need continues to grow, according to state figures. Reports indicate the Albany school district had 385 homeless youths in 2014-15, a total that's been on the rise for at least the past five years. Of those, 102 youths were considered "unaccompanied."

The organization changed its name to "Jackson Street Youth Services," rather than "Shelter," to reflect the variety of services it offers.

Like the Corvallis organization, Albany will mark its first Christmas by serving a holiday meal at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the shelter. Anyone younger than 17 is welcome to join the dinner inside, while older youths will be fixed a to-go pack. That goes for the Corvallis site, too, Craig said.

Also like the Corvallis shelter, Albany will provide residents with Christmas gifts from their holiday wish list.

"We're obviously trying to provide safety — but we're also trying to provide a sense of normalcy," Craig said.


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