The following is a brief history of ANSIL A New Start In Life, written from interviews provided to Tanya Lasuk by Jim Pierce, edited by Crystal Willingham.
When 18 to 24-year-olds grow up with family support and move into a semi-independent environment like college, they have a greater likelihood to become fully independent without damaging themselves and others. So believed Jim Pierce, pastor of River of Life Church in Kennewick, Washington for 18 years, parent of eight children.
The River of Life Church is in an “L” shaped building, a former motel, sitting in a delta bounded by Vista Way, Bruneau Place, and North Conway Street. At the end of the two-story wing, on Bruneau Place, is the sanctuary. The one-story wing has housed a variety of non-profits over the years.
In 2011, Rev. Jim was thinking of ways to use the upper story of the two-story wing beyond the sanctuary. While the whole building is pretty no-frills, that part of the building needed a good deal of renovation. The phrase “A New Start in Life” came to him and he thought of using the renovation to provide no or low rent housing for homeless youth so they can make that new start.
From 2006 to 2011 Vista Youth Center provided a safe place for LGBTQ+ teens whose survival depended on belonging to a family of friends. Many of these young people had their birth family close the door and their school friends leave them to the bullies.
Rev. Jim convened an interest group who came up with a plan - housing for young adults, with a focus on LGBTQ individuals who had aged out of foster care, or simply had no family support and needed help - sort of a no-college dormitory to provide the semi-structured environment needed to safely enter full adulthood. The proposed living area was dubbed ANSIL Hall.
During the two years spent developing ANSIL Hall, the ANSIL used program grants to provide young adults low rent apartments in the area using a one-year structured financial program. The first three months ANSIL paid 100% of the rent, then 75%, 50 % and finally 25%.
In January of 2014 with a $300,000 renovation grant, the 3200 ft renovation began and in November of 2015, ANSIL Hall, a dormitory for any young adults willing to return to and complete high school, was ready.
In 2016, eleven 18 to 19-year old's, including nine who had been living at My Friend’s Place, a local residential program for homeless youth 13 - 17, were ready to move into ANSIL Hall - but the Hall was unfurnished.
Requested by Rev. Jim, the local newspaper, the Tri City Herald published a story requesting beds and furnishing for the new ANSIL Hall. A tremendous outpouring of donations resulted in a hodge-podge of used furniture - enough for the young adults to move in on time.
Unfortunately, some of the residents couldn’t adjust responsibly to the greater freedom after the structure of My Friend’s Place and were asked to leave. When summer came, the residents either had to be in summer school or leave ANSIL Hall. Some left.
Some other pivots came with experience. There was more success with 18-20s than 21-24s. GED programs did not provide enough structure, so the requirement because enrollment in a high school with classroom time. After high school completion, some participants needed more support, so an option to stay on while getting and keeping a first job for a year or so was added to the program.
ANSIL became a program under the United Way umbrella and received funding for brand new beds, dressers, and lamps - and a part time director’s salary.
River of Life Church is located in a low-income area and rented space to other non-profits at less than half the going rate for commercial property. Startup non-profits serving low- or no-income people rented space in the one-story wing of the building, often contributing renovations and innovations in assisting people who are marginalized.
The next tenant, Therapeutic Innovation and Recovery (TIR) evolved into a service center with showers and laundry facilities so homeless and low-income people. Dayspring ministries took on these services, adding a modest food service.
ANSIL continued as River of Life program under Rev. Jim Pierce until 2018 when Tobaski Snipes began as executive director of ANSIL as a River of Life program. After a year, ANSIL Hall and ANSIL Services became an independent program, still under Tobaski’s direction.
Tobaski brings the same qualities that have exemplified ANSIL from the beginning: the strengths of those who knowing poverty are not bound by it, using vision to work toward goals step by step, whatever it takes, and responding to the person in front of them as a brother or sister with their own dignity and purpose.
The ANSIL program continued to expand and improve as opportunities present themselves and adjustments lead to better outcomes. ANSIL Service Center included a “clothes closet” where folks could obtain an outfit once a week. A housewares and furnishing area provided donated items for people to furnish their first apartment. A pantry distributes non-perishable foods. In the summer of 2020, a small house not far from ANSIL Hall was leased by ANSIL. With five bedrooms, longtime residents of ANSIL Hall ready for more independence had moved to the new home. There were are learning how to manage a home as a team - cooking, paying bills, housekeeping, yard maintenance. Those with jobs paid rent, those in school had vouchers tied to school attendance.
On the River of Life property, a community garden was in the planning stages, being prepared for Spring of 2021. Like other projects and programs geared to leadership and community responsibility, the goal of the garden was not prize-winning vegetables but prize worthy humans.
Tobaski had made strong bonds within the community at large, inviting speakers and trainers to provide seminars for a variety of life skills such as money management, computer skills, non-violent communications and taking the residents on educational and fun fieldtrips.
ANSIL intended to deal with homelessness one human at a time, providing a strong program of leadership skills to the ANSIL young adults, extending a program of truly affordable housing, while continuing immediate aid to those living on the street.
The future is uncertain for ANSIL but the mission and vision for helping people remains. The current board and executive director have spent most of 2021 locked in a civil battle with a former board member, who has allegedly sabotaged the facility and program for their own personal gain. Nevertheless, there is work to be done to aid a specific group of underserved people in our community, that work will be done.