Trust isn’t established on a deadline, but with a specific group of young people in Issaquah and another in the Valley, it can be built on a foundation of doughnuts, hot coffee, and warm clothing.
“Hats and gloves, mostly,” said Kristen Zuray, the director of the Trail Youth organization that has been reaching out to troubled youth in the Valley for the past month or so. She was talking about a recent effort to provide North Bend-area teens who are struggling in some way, from family issues to drug addiction, by providing them with some warm clothing, along with always-popular doughnuts.
It’s the first step in getting these kids the help they need.
“We just start building relationships and we get them talking… we just gain their trust. Once that trust has been gained, they can open up to us about deeper issues.”
Once Zuray knows what the kids need, she can start connecting them to resources that can help with their problems, which is the ultimate goal of her work. Many of the youth she works with don’t know that help is available.
It’s already been happening, unofficially, for the last month, but the Trail Youth organization is officially operating in the Snoqualmie Valley as of Tuesday, which means doughnuts and coffee.
Each week, the group will try to connect with teens who they’ve already met on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, behind the North Bend Library, during the lunch break at Two Rivers School.
Two Rivers is the nearby alternative school that some of the youth attend, and Zuray hopes her location near it is the first of several sites her organization will serve.
“The more I’m networking in the community, the more I’m hearing of other places to go,” she said.
The Trail Youth is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, started three years ago by Zuray, her husband, and another couple, to address some of the problems they were seeing on the Rainier Trail in Issaquah.
“There were a lot of young adults, 19 or 20, some younger, just doing drugs right there on the trail… Prostitution was going on, too,” Zuray said “and we just had to do something… So, we just started bringing doughnuts.”
The youth were drawn to the sugary treats, but skeptical of why Zuray’s group was bringing them. No, they weren’t cops, she promised the kids, and no, the volunteers weren’t expecting anything in return. They just wanted to listen, if the kids wanted to talk.
“Pretty soon, they accept you, because they see that you’re not there to get anything from them, you’re not there to dictate to them. Eventually, they got to trust us,” Zuray said. “They started giving us nicknames. It was cold, so we started bringing hot coffees to them…. Word got out, and we were going from 15 to 20 kids, to having to serve 50 to 80.”
Over time, the group bonded over successes and failures. Zuray said every new job was celebrated, and every setback supported.
“One of our kids in Issaquah was stabbed,” Zuray recalled, so her group had someone visit him every day he was in the hospital. “It really broke down barriers with him, his parents,” Zuray said.
The young man was eventually convinced to try a drug rehabilitation program, “and all his friends came and waved him goodbye.”
Zuray decided to bring the operation to her home turf — she lives in Snoqualmie — after she attended the homeless youth forums being hosted by the Sallal Grange (there’s another one scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Sallal Grange Hall). She was referred to the Two Rivers School as a starting point and got approval from the principal to talk to the kids outside of school. She also has begun working with the Snoqualmie Police, specifically Kim Stonebraker, Snoqualmie Valley School District school resource officer.
Stonebraker has been helping her to make contacts and to find potential locations for reaching out to the youth. It’s important to Zuray that they meet the kids where they hang out, because of what a girl in Issaquah said to her.
“She told me ‘you know what makes you so different from everybody else is you’re coming to us. You don’t expect us to come to you,’” Zuray said.
The Trail Youth welcomes volunteers and donations. Learn more at http://www.thetrailyouth.com.