Camas students launch Project Phoenix to help domestic violence shelter

Discovery High School teens seek to raise awareness of domestic violence, collect donations for YWCA SafeChoice shelter

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Discovery High students (left to right) Madison Dulong, Audrey Miller-Drapeau, Sophie Knight and Matayah Mach gather near a mural of their school’s mascot, the phoenix, Monday, March 25, 2024. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A group of Discovery High School students in Camas are working to raise awareness about domestic violence and collect donations to benefit the YWCA Clark County’s SafeChoice domestic violence shelter.

“Personally, for me, I felt like new generations need to know more about domestic violence,” said Madison Dulong, 18, a senior at Discovery. “I know it’s not really talked about a lot in school. There is very limited information they give, and people should know about shelters that support domestic violence survivors.”

Dulong had already decided to center her senior project around helping raise awareness about domestic violence when she joined forces with three other Discovery High students interested in establishing a sustainable schoolwide donation drive to benefit some of the community’s most vulnerable — those fleeing domestic violence situations.

The four students — Dulong, Sophie Knight, Matayah Mach and Audrey Miller-Drapeau — are calling their efforts “Project Phoenix,” partially as a nod to Discovery High School’s mascot, but mainly to highlight the transformative process many domestic violence survivors experience once they’ve left their abuser and started life anew.

“It’s coming from a bad situation, being ‘reborn,’ starting over and slowing growing,” 16-year-old Knight, a junior at Discovery, said of the phoenix. “It matched our ideas, and it’s the school mascot.”

The students are building donation boxes for their Project Phoenix. Some will be located inside Discovery High School while another, more permanent-style, lidded collection box will go inside the Camas Public Library, where it will run alongside the library’s Women History Month exhibit in April and could become a permanent part of the library.

“I really wanted to work with the library, to make a place where people could drop off donations and have some information on domestic violence awareness,” said Miller-Drapeau, 15, a Discovery High sophomore. “I specifically wanted to go to the Camas library because I know it’s a real community space, central to downtown.”

Miller-Drapeau hopes the box, which will allow people to drop off donations for the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter and pick up adjacent literature about the shelter’s needs and about local domestic violence resources, will be able to stay at the library for an extended period of time.

“My goal is to have it there permanently,” Miller-Drapeau said of the library donation box. “It’s the perfect place to (appeal to community members of) every demographic and age.”

Mach, 15, a Discovery sophomore, said she and her peers have similar hopes for the shelter drop-off boxes inside the project-based learning high school.

“We want to create something that would have a lasting effect,” Mach said.

Dulong is making informational pamphlets about domestic violence and the shelter’s specific needs to go with the donation boxes.

Dulong hopes Project Phoenix will not only collect vital donations for the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter but also help raise awareness of the warning signs and of the support systems available locally.

“My project is based on raising awareness,” Dulong said. “A lot of people are scared to talk about it … but nobody wants to go through that alone.”

The students have learned some valuable lessons during the run-up to their Project Phoenix launch, including the logistics that go into partnering with nonprofit organizations such as the YWCA Clark County. They’ve also learned that many of the things they thought a domestic violence shelter might need were not exactly on the shelter’s wishlist.

“We wanted to find out exactly what they needed and how we could actually help,” Miller-Drapeau said.

Some of the shelter’s most-needed items included microwaveable and shelf-stable food, pots and pans, phone chargers, used cell phones, bath towels and food storage containers.

The YWCA’s SafeChoice domestic violence shelter is gender-inclusive and provides emergency shelter for people who are in the process of escaping intimate-partner violence.

“The SafeChoice shelter provides many in-house services including the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a trained domestic violence and family support specialist to identify housing needs, potential barriers and next steps in securing safe housing,” the YWCA notes.

The SafeChoice program also includes a legal clinic, advocacy services, support groups and a 24-hour hotline (360-695-0501). For more information, visit yw