Scared and emotionally drained, 21-year-old Chantier arrived at YouthCare’s James W. Ray Orion Center with little besides the clothes on her back and a few personal items. Chantier had just returned to Washington, where she had grown up. While living in another state, she had been abandoned by her friend and roommate and found herself homeless through the summer months, fighting to regain housing. She was able to secure housing again in early fall, but was quickly tossed back into turmoil when one of her housemates became violent. For the sake of her safety, she was forced to leave college and employment behind and flee back to Washington.
Though she is emotionally close with her family, it was important to Chantier to maintain independence and not burden her mother and seven siblings by consuming scarce space and financial resources. So when she returned to Seattle, Chantier immediately sought out YouthCare. “I had known about YouthCare because of growing up in Seattle,” Chantier said. “I had gotten an ID through them when I was transitioning from AmeriCorps.”
At the Orion Center, she immediately went to work rebuilding her stability. Within two weeks of her arrival, she had enrolled in case management, had begun working with staff to address her immediate needs and find housing, and was connected to YouthCare’s Tile Project through Leslie Horton, YouthCare’s Pro Youth Employment Supervisor. “I met with Leslie, and she told me about the different [job training] options. And I definitely wanted to do Tile… I’ve never created with my hands; I never thought I could draw, ever. But once I did Tile, let me tell you!”
Chantier discovered that the ten-week, arts-based pre-employment training program not only helped her build new creative skills, but also provided a safe, encouraging environment where she could begin to transition out of survival mode, let her guard down, and start looking forward to pursuing her longer-term goals.
“Every single day I had to be strong,” Chantier admitted. “Every day, I couldn’t face the reality of how I felt. So when I sat down and did this art, all of this pain started oozing out. I found myself again. I peeled back the layers… and it brought me back to the surface. I started to feel my fingertips again, and my feet. I started to smile.”
She knew that she needed time and support to recover from her trauma, achieve stability, and prepare to work on her ultimate goal of going back to school. The Tile Project gave Chantier a place to rebuild a foundation and reconnect with herself while doing what she loved: art. Throughout high school and her freshman year of college, she fostered a deep passion for learning and the arts. “Even in my homelessness, all I really wanted to do was get back into school,” she recalled. She became a youth leader at YouthCare’s Young Adult Shelter (YAS), which secured her a nightly spot in the shelter while she was enrolled in the Tile Project.
By the end of 2014, Chantier had successfully graduated from the Tile Project, and with the help of staff at YouthCare, she obtained stable housing. With the support of her case managers and income from the Tile Project, she was able to get her bank account back into good standing. These critical building blocks that she put in place allowed her to be able to return to college. She worked with YouthCare staff to explore school options, complete her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and begin the enrollment process. She signed up for classes at a local community college, where she started in December.
“She was always so positive,” reflected Leslie. “She was completely motivated to get herself out of homelessness and really used our services to get herself back into housing and a place of stability. She knew she had it inside of her to succeed and get out of homelessness and into college; college was her dream when I met her. She knew she had the right agency and the right people to help guide her.”
Chantier has completed three-quarters of school with an impressive 3.79 GPA. She is involved with her school’s radio station and was an editor for the annual literary journal. “I love school. I’m just a nerd,” she joked. Chantier plans to finish her associate degree and transfer to a university, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree with a major in business and a minor in art. “I want to go all the way up to my doctorate,” she said. “I want to open my own performing arts foundation, which is why I’m going to school for business and art.”
No longer stuck in survival mode, Chantier is again able to plan for and build her future. “Orion was my bridge. All of them at YouthCare, all of them were on my team. They believed in me when I didn’t have anything.” For hundreds of young people each year, YouthCare is a place to overcome barriers, stabilize, and move forward. YouthCare’s support helped Chantier make incredible strides in the past year, and she considers all that she’s done as just the tip of the iceberg. We are so proud of Chantier, and are looking forward to witnessing all the wonderful things that her future holds!