Communities in Schools raises $52,000 for students during Federal Way fundraiser | Slideshow

Marshun Newman, Jr., doesn’t have a dad to teach him how to be a man.

The Federal Way High School sophomore is the oldest of four siblings and helps his single mother take care of his family.

“So to have all of them and to have my mom raise them, it’s just … it’s just hard without my dad,” Newman said in a packed room of nearly 230 people during Communities in Schools of Federal Way’s annual fundraising breakfast on Friday at Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters. “And I don’t want to make this into a sob story, but I just really want you to understand that where I came from to where I am now, Communities in Schools really helped me a lot.”

Newman credited his Communities in Schools mentors with helping him to stay on the path towards graduating high school.

The Federal Way organization is part of the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization that works in public schools to help students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

In Federal Way last year, site mentors helped 2,700 students overcome barriers to success, stay on track to graduate and aim for a brighter future, according to the organization’s website.

Newman said he struggled in middle school and his grades slipped “because my mom was really stressed out.”

While he was in the seventh grade, he got involved with the organization, which he said has given him the independence, strength and drive to succeed in school and go to college.

Newman said he can speak to his Communities in Schools mentor about anything — even “girl problems,” he said to the crowd that erupted in laughter.

“ … I feel like I just need that extra help. [My mentor] helps me look through college applications and it’s really inspiring because I want to be a mentor myself,” he said, adding he hopes to show kids their “real potential.” “This year in high school has been outstanding because of Communities in Schools and to have this opportunity and to have all these people here supporting me, it’s just a relief.”

During the event, which raised more than $52,000 for the organization, former Seahawks fullback Mack Strong spoke about “The Voices of the Kids.”

“I can honestly tell you the most nervous part of the day for me is following [Marshun Newman]. But what an appropriate name for me to follow — Marshun. It should probably be the other way around,” Strong said of Newman and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch as the crowd laughed.

Strong spoke of his sons, ages 10 and 12, and how it makes him proud to hear their excitement when they’re learning something new in school.

“There are times, though, when my kids come home and they have that sad sound in their voice,” Strong said, noting how his youngest son struggled in school a couple of years ago. “Man, I’m not really smart. I remember him telling me that. But the sound of that, my kid telling me that he felt like he was failing, broke my heart.”

He said he is grateful as a parent that he can be there to encourage his kids.

He also supports students as an education advocate.

Strong and his wife founded the Team-Works Foundation in 2002, a mentorship program that serves at-risk youth grades three through 12 through school-based programs and summer camps.

He said he loves hearing the voices of kids who are in the program, which teaches them about overcoming adversity, dedication and perseverance.

He spoke about one student who was failing in school and had issues going on at home.

“We just spent time with him every day, we just encouraged him, we just kept telling him, you can do this, Tom, you can achieve, you can be successful, you’ve just got to stick with it — don’t give up,” Strong recalled. “Continue to keep talking about the things you feel frustrated with. We want to help you deal with those things that are going on at home.”

The student went on to Kennedy High School and kept in touch with Strong.

“It’s great because every so often I get a text from Tom that says, ‘Hey Mr. Strong, I’m at the mall and I’m hanging out with my friends and I just want to just thank you for what you did for me and how you helped me out,’” he said. “Another time he called me and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Strong, I made the football team at Kennedy as a freshman, I’m really loving it and I just wanted to thank you for encouraging me … Man, that was the best feeling in the world, just to hear his voice and to hear how it’s changed over the years, it’s just phenomenal.”

But too often, he said he hears voices of kids in the Team-Works program who are “broken” — kids whose parents are strung out on drugs or who are hungry, he noted.

“These voices continually keep ringing through my head every day,” Strong said.

He said he’s learned that people committed to helping kids need to listen to them.

“We have to make sure that we don’t get bent out of shape by the way that a kid is communicating because they may be communicating inappropriately, they may be communicating loudly or they may be communicating quietly, but it all tells a story and I think as volunteers, as donors as people committed to helping young people, in order to make sure that children really feel like their voice matters, you have to willing to listen,” he said.

He added those committed to helping children and to ensure their voice matters should approach children with compassion and dignity.

During the event, Sally McLean, interim superintendent, announced that she will be recommending to the school board a significant increase in the partnership between Federal Way Public Schools and Communities in Schools. She said the increase is due, in large part, to changes in the Washington state Legislature, and thanked Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, who was at the event, for the change.

Brian Ailinger was also recognized as Communities in Schools of Federal Way’s Mentor of the Year.

For more information, visit or contact Tracy Oster, executive director, at


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