Briana walked into the community room at YouthCare’s University District Youth Center (UDYC) with a smile across her face, holding Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in one hand and a bag of food for her dog, Stinka, in the other.

As a staff member at UDYC, Briana leads The Healing Pages, a bi-weekly book club run in collaboration with The Doorway Project and dedicated to exploring issues of identity, social justice, and community for young people. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Briana would begin her own journey of healing as a young person experiencing homelessness on the streets of the University District.

Magnetic and thoughtful, Briana is just twenty-two years old, but wise beyond her years. Like many of the young people YouthCare serves, she was dealt a difficult hand and forced to grow up quickly.

Briana struggled with bullying in high school. Things weren’t much better at home: financial hardship sparked tensions with her mom, trickling into the classroom and affecting Briana’s concentration. After reaching a breaking point, Briana’s mom sent her to live with her sister. She bounced between different homes that never provided the supportive environment Briana desperately needed.

“I was passed around my entire life by different family members. I felt like a burden. It seemed like nobody—not even my family—really wanted to support me or get to know me as a person.”

Amidst the instability, Briana started a relationship with a partner who she thought she could trust. He was kind and consistent, and even helped her adopt Stinka from a local animal shelter. Briana remembers being instantly connected to Stinka, who had a hard exterior but a big heart underneath—just like her.

She didn’t realize it then, but it was the start of an abusive relationship that ultimately led to living out of a car, traveling to Seattle in hopes of a new beginning, and ending up deserted and alone in the middle of the city.

Briana always had a survivor instinct. She went to a nearby museum for shelter and called around for help. She stayed at a shelter in the University District while looking for a job and caring for Stinka. When she heard about UDYC through a friend, she found the one thing she had always been looking for: a community that could support her healing and growth.

“I was on my last leg. I was suicidal, thinking that maybe life wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be here. UDYC saved me. I encountered a lot of people [at UDYC] who came at me with open arms, with nothing but respect, love, and generosity. They genuinely saved my life.”

Briana walked into UDYC, a cozy house in the University District, to meet with her new case manager, Shannon. She looked around the room at people—who she now calls her chosen family—and felt seen for the first time in a long time.

Shannon helped Briana find an apartment for her and Stinka. The team helped her set up her new place, connected her with a therapist to begin her healing journey, and introduced her to the power of art and reading to manage stress. As Briana spent more time at UDYC, she began to feel an undeniable urge to help other young people like herself.

“You’ll see! I’m going to be working here one day,” Briana remembers joking to staff. A year later, her dream came true.

“I want to be able to help eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who are just like I was a few years ago. I love being able to help youth rise up and rebuild themselves and their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

Briana’s passion for psychology—her favorite class in community college—and her own personal experience help her understand how to connect with the young people she works with every day. Her voice quickens with excitement as she launches into a discussion on trauma-informed care, or how to help a young person manage their emotions and frustrations.

“I am always there to have a conversation about why [the youth] have the frustrations they do and why they act out on them. Do they understand how systems of oppression have affected them? How can they move past them and rebuild themselves? I want to teach them along the way.”

Briana's dog, Stinka!
Briana’s dog, Stinka!

As Briana works to help youth find their own pathways to healing, she is keenly aware that healing is a journey—not something to be completed in one year or even five years.

“My healing process is still going, but I am in a wonderful place. I am at a spot where I don’t focus only on the hard things anymore. But I will never say I don’t have hard days.”

The holidays are coming up, and Briana says she’ll be spending them with her chosen family, the UDYC staff team. Together, they will be cooking holiday meals, brightening the space with festive décor, and helping the young people staying at UDYC find joy and comfort during this hard year.

Briana’s amazing story comes full circle as a YouthCare staff member who was a client not so long ago. In her struggle, she found a loving community and a deep purpose to help young people find that same sense of community.

You are a part of this beautiful community—a community that nurtures young people’s potential, that supports young people’s healing and journeys to stability.

When you make a donation, your generosity helps young people like Briana find the confidence to be their authentic selves in a world where they often feel invisible. Your support helps them step into their power, so that they can shape a more compassionate and just society for us all.