Young people come to YouthCare for many reasons. Some exit foster care without a place to go. Others flee from family abuse or rejection. But many come to us simply because their families are trapped in cycles of poverty—pushed to the margins of our economy and struggling to survive without an adequate safety net to help them bounce back from small or big challenges.

Tony is one of those young people. He grew up in a loving family with his two younger brothers. But his dad passed away when he was young, and his mom struggled as a single mother to make ends meet. An injury on the job made it impossible for her to work full-time. With SSI payments that covered only a fraction of the rent, Tony’s family soon found themselves on the streets. Tony was too old to stay with his family at a family shelter, and he soon found himself homeless.

After moving from couch to couch all summer, he walked into YouthCare’s Orion Center. There he sat for a meal of roasted chicken and vegetables—the first home-cooked food he’d had in a long time—and met his Case Manager, Amy.

As he talked to Amy over dinner, she could see immediately that Tony was caring, motivated, and hopeful to move forward. She asked if he’d like to explore YouthCare’s job training options and he lit up. Tony wanted nothing more than to have a job where he could prove himself and help provide for his family. He immediately signed up for YouthCare’s Tile Project, an eight-week, arts-based pre-employment program where students gain tools to help them in the workplace while engaging in the healing and creative challenge of making art.

Tony excelled in the Tile Project. When it was over, he expressed interest in working in the food industry, but didn’t feel like he had the skills or confidence to get a job. He was always excited about meals at Orion, so staff thought he’d be a natural fit for a kitchen internship there—one of the several internal employment internships we offer young people to prepare for their first job.

For the next three months, Tony greeted volunteers, cooked meals in the kitchen, washed dishes, organized the kitchen, and became more comfortable taking initiative. He took pride in his work and began to walk around the Orion Center with more confidence. He sat with his peers at meals, delighting in his newfound knowledge of meal planning and food preparation.

By the time he completed his kitchen internship, Tony felt ready to apply for a job. He asked Amy to help him get a haircut, and he shaved off his beard. They went shopping together to find him new clothing to wear to interviews. When he returned to the Orion Center, he looked and felt prepared for the next chapter of his life. He took the initiative to apply for a job in Kent at Amazon’s fulfillment center and was hired on the spot! He jumped at the chance to learn new skills and put his best foot forward.

The success he found in his new job showed him he was capable of much more than he’d ever realized. After a long talk with Amy, Tony decided that he wanted to go to college—the first in his family. With the high cost of tuition, he never thought it would be an option for him. But after talking with YouthCare’s partners at Seattle Education Access, he learned there’s a lot of support out there for young people like him who dream of going to college.

Tony started community college this fall. He’s only 19 years old, and he has the world at his fingertips.