For teachers, a reason to stay

Wendy and Chris Kozina at home. These Bainbridge teachers can live on the island because of the Marguerite Foundation. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Wendy and Chris Kozina at home. These Bainbridge teachers can live on the island because of the Marguerite Foundation.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

A private local foundation buys five houses, offers low rent to low-paid teachers.

Imagine being a young Bainbridge teacher with a starting salary of $28,000 – and then trying live on the island, where finding an affordable rental can depend on sheer luck, and the median home price for 2007 was $680,000.

And then a gift comes along, in the form of a beautiful house with a big yard in a great neighborhood, at the unimaginable rent of $500 per month.

“Shocking, wonderful, unbelievable,” Jason Sovick said. “It’s seriously life-changing.”

That’s how Sovick, a math teacher at Bainbridge High School, describes his response to being selected as a beneficiary of the Marguerite Foundation.

The program is the creation of an anonymous Bainbridge resident who, having grown increasingly concerned about the lack of affordable housing on the island for teachers, decided to use the resources at her disposal, collaborate with local realtors and educators, and do something about it.

With the help of Windermere agents Mark Wilson and Bill Hunt along with a small advisory committee of island educators and a general contractor, the donor laid out an investment of $2.6 million to privately purchase five island homes, for the express purpose of retaining teachers who either couldn’t afford to live on the island in the first place, or who were at risk of leaving.

“Our biggest bill, as is everybody’s, is our mortgage,” says Mike Holloway, BHS teacher and a member of the advisory committee.

What’s more, he adds, the Washington state-wide salary allocation for teachers does not make adjustments for cost of living in each locale, meaning that a salary dollar in, say, Yakima will go far further than on Bainbridge.

“Real estate here, as we know, is not the same as it is everywhere in the state,” added Jo Vander Stoep, Sakai Intermediate School principal and another advisory committee member. “It’s never been easy to build or buy a house on Bainbridge, but it’s harder now.”

Sovick certainly found that to be the case. Until moving into his Marguerite Foundation house last November, he rented a house in Bremerton and spent $400-$600 per month on gas for his daily commute to Bainbridge.

On top of that, Sovick and his wife, who’s at home with their three kids, opted for private school in Bremerton because they felt their kids would get a better quality education that way.

Now, he lives in what he describes as an “absolutely beautiful” three-bedroom home in the Commodore neighborhood.

He walks his oldest son, James, to school at the Odyssey Multiage Program before walking to BHS to start his day.

Sovick found out about the Marguerite Foundation when the group, with the blessing of Superintendent Ken Crawford, emailed a district-wide call for applications in September 2006.

The donor’s criteria for acceptance weren’t rigid, but according to advisory committee member and Blakely Elementary teacher Maureen Wilson, also married to Mark Wilson, a clear framework did exist.

Teachers must be early in their careers; demonstrate a clear desire to be a part of the Bainbridge community; and be at risk of leaving or not living on the island without an opportunity like this one.

“It was going to be different from just people who were struggling financially,” Wilson said.

Wendy and Chris Kozina – she a seventh grade math teacher at Woodward Middle School, he a PE and social studies teacher in the Commodore Options program – were the only couple who actually lived on Bainbridge when the applications were sent out.

With a comfortable rental situation that was about to come to an end, they found themselves on the verge of renting a new place in Indianola.

When they found they’d been selected for the program, they weren’t sure what to expect.

“We had no idea what we were getting into,” Wendy said. “All we knew was that this woman was purchasing homes and wanted to offer them because she wanted to keep teachers on the island.”

As it happened, the donor, working closely with the advisory committee, not only purchased the homes, but tailored the matches for each beneficiary.

When Sovick and his family toured the home she had in mind for them, he remarked to his wife, “Oh, the back yard’s kind of small, but I guess you can’t have everything.”

The next day, he said, he got a call from one of the realtors saying, “You know what? We think we have a better home for you” – this one with a large yard.

“She really took each person into had to do with need, but also with what they’d like,” Holloway said.

Vander Stoep says there’s no question in her mind that a community is stronger when teachers, firefighters, police officers and others who form its day-to-day backbone can actually live there.

“That was a big goal for us, to stay on the island we work on,” Wendy Kozina said.

“It’s been a fortunate blessing; it’s so generous,” Chris added. “It’s allowed us to be where we want to be, and be comfortable in the community.”

This past April, the foundation was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c) charitable foundation.

The residents of all five houses have renewed their leases for the upcoming year.

Marguerite Foundation advisory committee members say the donor – who does not want to be identified – is evaluating possible next steps.

She’s not in any hurry to buy up more houses quickly; she’d like to see how her current crop of tenants fares first.

The donor is also interested in helping other people who might be considering getting a similar private effort started.

And part of the thrust, according to Wilson and Vander Stoep, is that with the means and the will, providing this sort of large-scale service to the community doesn’t have to involve insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles.

“She’s very private, but she wants her effort to be replicated by others,” Vander Stoep said.

“I think what she wants to say is, it’s not that complicated,” Wilson added. “She’s trying to get people to realize, just move ahead, move ahead.”


Make it happen

For more information about the Marguerite Foundation, contact Windermere real estate agents and Marguerite Foundation advisory committee members Mark Wilson, 780-7679, and Bill Hunt, (206) 300-4889.

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