After working as Homeless Liaison for Waco Independent School District for five years, Cheryl Pooler saw a huge problem. As she met with student after student who had been abused, abandoned, or kicked out of his or her home, she knew that they needed a safe place to go after the school bell rang each afternoon. She knew that these students deserved a chance to succeed and that the Waco community would not stand to see them fall through the cracks into chronic homelessness. 

We give youth experiencing homelessness a safe place to thrive.

Cheryl started researching best practices around the country and found that an after school teen nurturing center was what Waco needed to ensure that these vulnerable students were empowered and equipped to graduate high school and achieve their goals. Cheryl reached out, and the community responded. In the summer of 2015, Cheryl Pooler and community volunteer Rosemary Townsend founded the Cove and formed the Board of Directors. The Cove is initially molded after the NEST in Georgetown, TX.  

In October 2016, began serving its first cohort of students. In the 2016 - 17 school year, The Cove served 61 individual students. This last year, we served 76, a nearly 25% increase. In our first year, we saw 440 visits over 118 days of operation, while in the 2017 - 18 school year, we saw 1,359 visits over 138 days of operation. We are so excited about the ways in which the Cove is making an impact in the lives of students and serving the Waco community. 

The Need

335 high school students were identified as homeless in the Waco Independent School District in the 2017-18 school year. 

161 of those students are also unaccompanied, meaning they are not in the care of a parent or guardian. Fewer than 25% of homeless students in Texas and across the U.S. graduate from high school. Youth homelessness is not only a problem in Waco, but across the nation. It's estimated that over 1.6 million youth experience homelessness each year. 

1.6 Million

youth experience homelessness

on their own each year in the U.S.


Were abused physically

in their homes


Report at least one parent

who abuses drugs or alcohol


Homeless youth are some of the most vulnerable youth in Waco.

“These types of abuse and conflict are linked to higher rates of depression and attempted suicide, as well as poor physical health.”

Most of these young people leave home because of severe family dysfunction, including abuse and neglect. Studies have found that 20-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth were abused sexually in their homes, while 40-60% were abused physically (NAEHCY). Often times, this abuse is what has led to their current situation of homelessness. These types of abuse and conflict are linked to higher rates of depression and attempted suicide, as well as poor physical health.

Many homeless youth are forced to trade their bodies for a shower, a hot meal, or a bed. In fact, out of all the factors that may increase a youth’s vulnerability to sex trafficking, homelessness is widely considered to be the most direct contributor (Estes and Weiner 2001, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council). Experts have reported that within 48 hours of running away, an adolescent is likely to be approached to participate in prostitution or another form of commercial sexual exploitation (Spangenberg, 2001).


Where Homeless Children in Texas Spend Their Nights

2012-2013 School Year


Includes cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers, abandoned buildings and substandard housing.




Sharing of housing due to loss of housing, economic hardship.


“To see how prominent

youth homelessness is in our very own backyard is truly heartbreaking…Our hope is that our friends and neighbors will join us in supporting The Cove and the most vulnerable youth in our community.”

— Lyle Mason, Magnolia Foundation Executive Director


Youth unemployment is a huge issue for our community.

Many students who do graduate from high school do not find gainful employment. In 2012, the Upjohn institute studied the City of Waco and found that in terms of living in poverty, 16-24 year olds were the most likely to be unemployed. The Financial Security Steering Committee of Prosper Waco has identified “increasing youth employment” as one of their three top goals. Because these students do not have stable housing and are often moving from place to place, access to food, medical insurance and care, transportation, jobs, and educational opportunities is extremely difficult. 

What we do

The Cove is a teen nurturing center designed to provide a safe space for students experiencing homelessness to access the resources they need to thrive.

Licensed professionals and Cove volunteers provide:  

  • Homework help, tutors and computers

  • Mentoring  

  • Family-style dinners and healthy snacks    

  • Washer/dryer for laundry  

  • Shower and toiletries   

  • Counseling, medical and hair-cutting services  

  • SNAP/Medicaid Outreach

  • Programming from local partners: CIS Workforce Development, Advocacy Center, Klaras Center for Families