The Power of Home | Affordable Housing as a Platform for Transformation

Authored by: Joe Thompson
Mercy Housing Northwest President 

At Mercy Housing Northwest (MHNW), affordable housing is a platform for positive transformation, especially for our youth. Bellingham’s Sterling Meadows Apartments is a shining example.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, youth who have attended our out-of-school time programs at Sterling Meadows Apartments have attained on-time graduation rates which outpace those of the wealthiest locales across the state. From 2013-2020, the graduation rate averaged 98%. Thanks to a recent $1.5M investment courtesy of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, we’ll be able to expand our K-12 education programming by creating comprehensive out-of-school time programs enhanced by literacy and math curricula at eight other family properties. This initiative will serve up to 1,000 children and youth in kindergarten through 12th grade annually in Washington and Oregon.

Crystal Morales, who was a resident of Sterling Meadows and an avid participant of its onsite out-of-school time program, and Crystal’s mentor Lindsey Karas, embody transformational success. Crystal’s parents are agricultural workers who immigrated from Mexico and wanted Crystal and her siblings to have stable housing and educational opportunities. A first-generation U.S. citizen, Crystal was inspired by Lindsey, who first volunteered at Sterling Meadows during her Western Washington University college years and mentored Crystal and her siblings during the out-of-school time program and homework club. Lindsey discovered that like Crystal’s parents, the majority of residents at Sterling Meadows were immigrants and agricultural workers and that, historically, the school systems had failed to create meaningful engagement with these students and their parents. This was illuminated by the extremely low high school graduation rate of Sterling Meadows residents, which typified broader statistics.

“There was a lot of blatant bias and even racism in the school system at the time,” said Lindsey, who joined the MHNW staff after graduation from college as a Resident Services Coordinator and now oversees eight properties, “and there were almost no Spanish language resources available.” This contributed to the lack of parent engagement and overall mistrust of schools in the area. Lindsey was instrumental in building connection, trust and understanding among the youth residents at Sterling Meadows, their parents and local schools. She helped establish dedicated space and resources that allowed Sterling Meadows youth to focus on homework, connect with each other and learn to advocate for themselves at school. Growing a network of partnership and collaboration across the community with school districts, Western Washington University and multiple local organizations was critical. MHNW helped foster what Lindsey calls a “change in educational culture” that led to the near-100% graduation rate from 2013-2020.

Photo of two women hugging
Lindsey and Crystal celebrate high school graduation


Crystal, like her mentor Lindsey, attended and graduated from Western Washington University, becoming the first to graduate college in her family.

Photo of Crystal in Graduation Attire
Crystal celebrates college graduation

While attending college, Crystal was able to give back to her community by volunteering and interning at Sterling Meadows.

Crystal’s career goals have always been to help others in need. Her motivation comes from her parents. They came to the U.S. in search of opportunities for their children and experienced struggles in accessing resources and navigating complex school systems to help their children reach their educational goals. That changed dramatically when they moved to Sterling Meadows and met Lindsey, who loved the opportunity to work with and learn from the entire Morales family. Crystal has begun building her professional foundation so that she can be to others what Lindsey and MHNW were for her – an everyday advocate for education and the power of home.