The first day Nia started YouthCare’s Tile Project, she barely spoke a word.

Growing up, Nia’s family moved often, finding sporadic shelter in rooms with relatives. Tensions rose with every move and shouting matches were constant. When everything came to a boil, Nia found it best to keep silent. She became more and more withdrawn as she got older, losing confidence in herself and her voice.

Being invisible felt like a relief for Nia: a momentary escape from the chaos at home.

By the time she was a young adult, Nia had developed a fear of speaking. When a friend told her about YouthCare’s Tile Project, she was terrified. Living in a transitional housing program in South King County, she would also have to travel over an hour by bus to attend class. But Nia wanted to take steps to find a job and support herself. So, she took a deep breath and decided to give it a shot.

The Tile Project is a pre-employment program that helps young people learn key job readiness skills. For eight weeks, youth learn to work collaboratively on a team, develop their resumes, and practice healthy ways to express themselves through creative pieces of art.

Nia loved learning new ceramic techniques and always arrived on time for class. The passion she gained for learning a new craft was clear—but when it came to group activities in the classroom, Nia had a difficult time. She told staff that she didn’t like being around people she didn’t know; she only wanted to work independently.

Halfway through the program, youth were given the opportunity to sell their artwork at a local giving fair. Staff asked Nia if she was interested in attending, and she cautiously agreed. But, right before the fair, Nia said she didn’t feel comfortable talking to any of the customers and asked to help with paperwork at the event instead.

When the big day came, shoppers poured into the fair, and Nia worked the booth that morning with support from YouthCare Career Coordinator, Kate. Onlookers approached Nia with questions about the program and art pieces for sale. Each time, Nia turned to Kate to whisper the answers in her ear, and Kate repeated the answers out loud.

At one point during the fair, Nia was left alone for a moment. When a customer came up to ask a question, Nia reluctantly answered. Soon after, another customer approached the booth. When Kate returned to her side, Nia fought back her fears and answered their questions on her own.

Nia’s confidence grew with every interaction. By the end of the day, she was beaming.

“I was so impressed by Nia. She really loved explaining to customers how to glaze and fire ceramic,” said Kate. “The artwork she sold was the biggest sale of the day!”

That day at the fair was life-changing for Nia. She discovered that she truly enjoyed talking to others—especially about art! With continued support from staff to build communication skills and confidence, Nia completed the Tile Project with flying colors. Soon after, she enrolled in YouthCare’s Barista and Customer Service Training Program with her sights set on obtaining her first job in customer service. She’s ready to take on her next challenge, and we couldn’t be more excited for her!