On Tuesday, Feb 6, Student Leadership at Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) led us in an all-school compassion project, based on an idea offered by a PSCS alumni parent seeking to transform still very raw tragedy into meaning.
Adam Reeder was an artist and designer, brother, son, and friend, who passed away in March of 2023 at just 39 years old. Adam attended PSCS in the late 90s and was known to be a deeply kind, creative, and compassionate human being. He struggled in his late teens and adult life with addiction and mental illness. According to his mother, Pam Drewery, from a young age Adam lived life “experientially” always dancing on the edge of the cliff, seeing how long he could balance and catch the best view. Pam said his years at PSCS (at the time a homeschool collective with no required courses) were a respite from his disengagement in prior schooling—a time, she noted, he found much needed purpose and belonging.
After high school, Adam went through a lot of big ups and low downs. He lived for a period of time on the street, where he saw firsthand how unhoused folks and those struggling with mental and emotional instability were treated by passers by and from their own communities.
Eventually and with help, Adam found more stability. As an artist, he continued to experience fluctuating periods of limited money and resources. Still, he always gave what he had to anyone in need, whether sharing food, helping people find resources, or simply spending time talking with those most often ignored.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Adam was living in Atlanta and was isolated without friends or family nearby. His drug use and health spiraled, but, in 2022 he came back to the PNW and entered rehab. Adam started to re-engage in life and in creativity, and never stopped offering what he had with those who had less. As Pam put it, one day, during either a really high high or a really low low, he used once more and died.
Adam’s family is still reckoning with this incredible tragedy. However, in August of last year, Pam reached out to our Director of Community Engagement, Sieglinde, who had known her son when he came back as a volunteer at PSCS in 2014. Motivated by need to make sense of the sense-less, and to pay forward his compassion for those suffering and forgotten, Pam shared her idea for a simple project she wondered if students at PSCS might be interested in helping carry to fruition—creating and disseminating care packages for hungry and unhoused people in our neighborhood.
After hearing her son’s story, PSCS Student Leadership was galvanized by this opportunity. Located in the Chinatown neighborhood of the International District—a community that has always been relatively on its own when it comes to safety (see: Donnie Chin)—which has seen a massive uptick in unhoused and suffering folks since the start of the pandemic. The school is next to an abandoned dry cleaning business which, until a fence went up recently, was home to a lot of people seeking shelter under its large awning. Small encampments have popped up, two burned down in massive fires across the street during classes.
PSCS leadership has publicly aligned with Safety Not Sweeps, and works to build neighborhood partnerships in order to support each other as houseless folks and those with mental instability are pushed from one site to another and less able to access basic facilities. Shelters have shut down nearby and there aren’t enough beds for all who need them. Staff at PSCS often clean up medical disasters and need to move sleeping people from the adjacent parking lots and in front of our doors—in order to ensure students get through safely.
Students and staff regularly engage in conversations about Safety Not Sweeps, the C-IDBA, the needs of the neighborhood businesses and those who live here and the very real contention over how to find true safety and who has access to it. With so many at odds over how to keep this area safe and thriving, this community has many concerns about keeping those without access to basic services safe and cared for—while acknowledging the need for bodily security and protection. These last few years have simply enlarged the lens through which people can see the reality of this neighborhood and Seattle’s massive neighborhood discrepancies as a whole.
PSCS Student Leadership decided to organize a preexisting all-school Community Engagement Day around creating the care packages. They started out hoping to make enough to hand out in the neighborhood to individuals, but also to local businesses so they could have them on hand to give out the next time they need to ask someone to move from their doorway. They decided to ask for supplies from the community and to build toward doing this more frequently.
Students, with the help of Leadership facilitator Hannah Blacksin, and Sieglinde, researched items most necessary (according to advocates of unhoused people) communities, created a list of priorities within a budget Administration thought manageable, and then reached out to ask for donations. Within 48-hours, all requests were fulfilled, even items thought to be lower priority, mostly by current and alumni parents and students. They even received additional funding that equaled $500 from several families, to put toward the continuation of the project.
On the morning of Engagement Day, PSCS students and staff, as well as Pam, Adam’s sister, Kaili, and a few family and friends, assembled over 100 care packages from the donated items. Each one included food, water, sanitary care products, oral and hair care, hand warmers, ponchos, and thermal blankets. Pam had created stickers from a drawing of Adam, and the packets included local resources and a note:
In March last year, a friend of ours, Adam, died suddenly at just 39 years old. Adam was an artist and designer who was funny and compassionate. According to his mother, Pam, the happiest period of Adam’s life were his years at our school, Puget Sound Community School (in the C-ID).
Adam had a lot of ups and downs in his life post high school. He moved out of state, living for a period of time on the street and struggling with addiction. During that time he saw first hand the way houseless folks and those struggling were treated. With help, he found stability and while he continued to go through periods without money or resources, he always stopped to engage with those living on the street or in encampments, sharing his food, helping find resources, sometimes just having conversations with those that were lonely or needed someone to talk to—whatever he could do in an effort to ensure everyone felt valued and seen.
The contents of this Care Package are in honor of Adam, and are yours to keep or share; a small offering to help you if you want it and as a gentle reminder that you are valuable and cared for.
After an all-school safety and awareness discussion, students and staff left in groups to hand these out around the neighborhood to people, and to local businesses who offered to keep them should anyone come to them in need or to offer as they ask them to seek another place to shelter.
Leadership concluded with group reflection on the project. Many had experienced a stronger sense of interconnectedness to each other, some had feelings of dissatisfaction, worry about being performative, how it isn’t enough. And, with Adam as the reason we started this project, how delicate the line is between the have and the have nots.
The project provided an opportunity to extend care to those around us, to have these deeper conversations, and it illuminated what all of us, both young people and grown people, are grappling with more than ever these days. How can we engage with each other and those who are in very different realities, safely and with compassion? What is performative and what is service? How do we acknowledge true suffering and what, if anything, can be done about it?
Adam’s experiences in life imbued him with a deep sense of connection and compassion for those he saw ignored. In death, he reminds us that liberation relies on daily engagement with those around us, even if we don’t see things the same way, or have different life experiences and identities; moving past that which most scares us or believing we have to face the truth alone—reminding ourselves every second that each one of our lives should be valued; that each one of us is someone’s child; that blessings don’t have to be only for the religious, they are a dedication to the world, and to all of it’s children.