K’s story is one of struggle, resilience, passion, and growth. His wrestle with mental health and strife at home led him to unhealthy ways of coping, but K’s journey didn’t stop there. A gifted poet, friend, and now YouthGrow alumni, K has found healing and has taught us all the values of perseverance, community, and creativity.
K has been writing poetry for over 2 years. This cathartic way of expressing himself became a channel for him to share his thoughts and emotions and has also helped him process his life experiences. He started by writing short stories, but the way he could capture rhythm, cadence, and imagery in the melodic structure of stanzas proved to be his favorite way to write.
“It gives me a rhyme and reason for things. A lot of times, I can feel emotions, but I’m not good at expressing them with my words. But I can sit down and [write] exactly how I feel in whatever terms I want to use and not feel like I need to protect myself or hurt other people.”
Before he found this passion, however, K’s way of processing was tumultuous. A childhood ridden with struggle and anger led him to drugs and alcohol by the time he was in sixth grade. “I always felt like there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. Since I was young, I was angry or upset all the time…. Something felt off.”
K’s mental health was not in a good place, and for years, he didn’t have the resources necessary to deal with his constant internal struggles. By ninth grade, he was no longer living at home and was continuing to struggle in school. After staying at a friend’s house and sleeping in parks, he asked his mom if he could stop by to pick up clothes and necessities. His mom agreed, but under one condition: he needed to get mental health support. K agreed.
This important step led him to a rehab program for the next year, and in rehab, K found his love for writing. K would journal every day, which inspired him to write short stories and, eventually, poetry. When he finished the program, he was gifted his grandmother’s typewriter and soon was sharing his work with others. The power of new possibilities it brought was ever-present and motivating.
After rehab, K enrolled in Seattle Public School’s Interagency Academy. “The other kids at that school nurtured me,” he says. “I’m happy and living life.”
Still, K’s continuous struggle with mental health made it difficult to keep up with schoolwork. He discovered that the academy partners with YouthGrow, an eight-week program of YouthCare designed to teach students how to cultivate, harvest, and market produce while working toward completing their secondary education and gaining valuable employment skills. After K learned he could earn the last science credits he needed to graduate by working outside among peers, he was sold.
Every day, K would find a way from Queen Anne to YouthGrow’s beautiful garden in Columbia City. He dove in headfirst and soaked in everything the program had to offer, including gardening, landscaping, and food production skills. The afternoons spent trimming, watering, harvesting, and learning were productive and healing for K and the other students. He not only finished the program with valuable skills and new knowledge, but also made great friends and had a special connection with Lucas, YouthGrow’s Program Coordinator.
When reflecting on his relationship with Lucas, K says, “He is so, so, so caring. He would always ask me how I was doing. He’s so personable, and he would always want to talk. I’m a big talker… so having someone who likes to talk as much as I do is really nice.”
K was also inspired by Claudia, the Workforce Instructor at YouthGrow. Claudia encouraged him to apply for the Seattle Youth Poet Leadership Award, which he won and led him to read his poetry at the Folklife Festival.
He says of Claudia “She has [more] experience than anyone I’ve ever met. She was so wise, like she had lived many lifetimes.” Claudia also ignited Kenyon’s passion to travel the world, helping him realize there is so much more to learn. He plans to explore places like Japan, Rome, Thailand, and India to expand his mind and heart and see how the world lives. The wisdom he gleaned from Claudia extends beyond the borders of the garden and is something he can take with him throughout life.
K has learned the value of productivity and hard work, especially when it comes to taking care of his mind.
“My mental health is so much better since coming to [the garden]. There’s something to do, there’s somewhere to go, you’re outside in nature experiencing minor hardships, but you can grow from it.”
YouthGrow has provided K with the tools and experience necessary for his journey toward thriving. He is optimistic about his future, and so are we. His empathetic and compassionate nature has even given him the desire to become a social worker one day. “I want to share my experience with other people and help them out,” he says.
Since graduating from YouthGrow, K has been steadily employed and is doing well “physically, mentally and spiritually”. He has been growing and harvesting on the land that he lives on and continues to find peace and inspiration from nature.
“Coming to the program really opened my eyes to the realization that I feel most spiritually sound when I’m working the garden without gloves or tromping through the woods barefoot.”
K also dreams of becoming a published author. Below is a poem he graciously shared with us.
I write in time with the rain drops on the windowsill
Thinking in the same meditative trickle as the
stream rolling down my gutters.
My roots are growing again.
Forcing their way with all their methodical might.
The way I sprout, curl, and twist must seem chaotic
This is only the charted path
Designed by this mother our concrete jungles are built into.
– Does the rain fall clearer? Does it fall clear enough?
Thank you, K, for inspiring us to live a life full of passion, beauty, and growth!