Had Jacob Crawford never discovered Cascadia Technical Academy, life may have been wildly different for the 2023 Washougal High graduate.

“I would probably be very unhappy,” Crawford, 19, said. “I most likely wouldn’t have graduated high school … and probably would be working a job I don’t like.”

Instead, after attending Cascadia Technical Academy (Cascadia Tech) — a public education program housed in Vancouver’s Evergreen School District that teaches career and technical skills to more than 1,300 high school juniors and seniors from school districts throughout Clark County — Crawford works as an automotive technician at the Westlie Ford automotive dealership in Washougal, is earning his associate’s degree in applied technology through the Ford ASSET program, and hopes to continue his education and someday become an automotive engineer.

“I started off not even knowing how to do an oil change and, when I finished, I was rebuilding engines and knew how to do car maintenance and how to keep a shop in order,” Crawford recently told The Post-Record.

His experience at Cascadia Tech was so positive, Crawford now tells his two younger sisters that they also need to attend the part-time technical academy during their final years of high school.

“It was the best choice I’ve ever made,” the Washougal teen said of signing up for Cascadia Tech classes.

During his senior year, Crawford received a $2,000 scholarship that helped him purchase the tools he needed for his internship and job at Westlie Ford.

“I started working there full-time over the summer and needed to buy my own tools,” Crawford said. “The scholarship helped me a lot with that.”

Dave Cole, the executive director of the Cascadia Technical Academy Foundation, which helps find grants, donations, and other funds to support Cascadia Tech students, said Crawford’s scholarship is one of several examples of how grant money the Foundation receives from grant-funding groups, such as the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, helps give students a leg up during their technical training and internships.

In 2023, the Cascadia Technical Academy Foundation was one of seven nonprofits to accept their first-ever Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant.

“I was aware of their reputation and knew they like to support their community,” Cole said of the Community Chest, a nearly 80-year-old grant-funding organization focused on helping Camas-Washougal individuals and families in need. “Knowing that we have a high percentage of Camas-Washougal students at Cascadia Tech, it seemed like a good fit.”

In his application for a $3,075 Community Chest grant, Cole wrote that the money would help students purchase required uniforms, textbooks and supplies — a chef’s jacket for a culinary student, scrubs for students in the school’s applied medical science program or tools for construction or automotive students, for example — and could help some students’ families fund basic necessities such as food, a few nights’ lodging or a gas card to get to work.

“We’re living in unprecedented times and families are strained more than ever,” Cole said. “We have a SAFE — Students and Family Emergency — fund that has paid for families to get an apartment after their house flooded, or to get food or support students over the holidays.”

The Foundation also tries to help Cascadia Tech students pay for registration fees and travel costs associated with the SKILLS USA competition that tests students’ knowledge and can lead to state and national honors.

“We’re the most decorated high school in Washington for the SKILLS USA competition,” Cole noted. “And that can cost well over $1,000, depending on how far they go in the program.”

Cole, who has a background in social services, called Cascadia Tech “the ultimate prevention program” and said grants like the $3,075 Community Chest grant his Foundation received in 2023, can make a huge difference for many students.

“Regardless of their background or family history, when they’re able to get industry training and jobs that pay family wages, it makes a difference,” Cole said. “The kids who come here will have that competitive advantage after high school.”

C-W Community Chest launches 2024 fundraising campaign

Now in its 77th year of funding nonprofits that help Camas-Washougal students, families, and individuals in need, the Community Chest recently launched its 2024 fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $120,000.

“To reach its goal for the 2024 campaign, the Community Chest needs donations from individuals and businesses in Camas and Washougal,” the group’s campaign chair, Richard Reiter, stated in a news release.

The charitable-giving group wrapped up a successful 2023 campaign, which raised $135,500 and funded 30 grants that directly help Camas-Washougal individuals and families as well as local environmental programs.

“Programs and projects funded in 2023 included support of the local food bank run by Inter-Faith Treasure House, funding for family support programs run by Children’s Home Society of Washington, funding a portion of Family Promise’s Cares prevention program to help low-income families avoid losing their home, funding habitat improvements in the Gibbons Creek watershed conducted by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership and funding for food and food service supplies for the local Meals on Wheels People program,” Community Chest leaders stated in the news release.

The 30 grants awarded by the Community Chest in 2023 also included seven new recipients:

  • Cascadia Technical Academy Foundation, which asked for $3,075 to help Camas-Washougal students at Cascadia Tech.
  • Camas Robotics Booster Club, which requested $5,000 to help “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting, mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills … that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication and leadership.
  • Camas-Washougal Parent Co-op Preschool, a nonprofit preschool that, according to its application to the Community Chest, ”provides a positive introductory learning experience for preschoolers that will help prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.”
  • East County Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit group founded in January 2022, with around 90 volunteers from Camas and Washougal that, according to its grant application, strives to support the East Clark County community and public institutions “through relationship-building, education, advocacy, and volunteer initiatives that grow positive relationships and build a vibrant, healthy East County.”
  • Komak, a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance to people who are unable to work during cancer treatments. In its request for $!0,000 from the Community Chest, the group said that “lacking our emergency support, clients and their families often face the threat of eviction, utility cutoffs, nutritional insufficiency, and property repossessions during a time when the focus should be on recovering health and self-sufficiency.”
  • Lacamas Watershed Council, a nonprofit founded in 2019 by Camas citizens concerned about toxic algal blooms in Lacamas, Round, and Fallen Leaf lakes. The group, according to their grant application, “advocates for improved water quality based on the best available science.”
  • YWCA Clark County, which, according to its grant application, “is a multi-service organization dedicated to supporting and empowering local adults, children, and families … (that) serves over 12,000 individuals annually, including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; youth aging out of foster care; and preschool children at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”

Other programs funded by the Community Chest in 2023 included: the Camas Farmers Market, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Impact Camas-Washougal at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Lifeline Connections, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, Meals on Wheels People, the Pink Lemonade Project, St. Anne’s Safe Stay Program, Unite! Washougal Community Coalition, the Washougal School District’s Principal’s Checkbook program — which helps Washougal principals fund basic needs for low-income or homeless students — and the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society animal shelter in Washougal.

Major donations for the 2023 Community Chest grants, according to the organization, came from Georgia-Pacific (GP) employees and the GP Foundation, HP employees, the HP Corporation, Camas and Washougal school district employees, city employees from Camas and Washougal as well as the Port of Camas-Washougal, Watercare Industrial Services, Columbia Rock Products, Waste Connections, Windermere Foundation, the Tidland Christian Development Fund and the Hinds Charitable Fund.

To learn more about the Community Chest or to make a charitable donation to the local grant-funding organization that will help more Camas-Washougal individuals and families in need in 2024, visit the group’s website at CamasWashougalCommuni tyChest.org.