For the past year, a group of volunteers has been cautiously and quietly working with local teens and young adults, who are troubled, to build trust, friendship and confidence. Since January, The Trail Youth has set up a weekly coffee stand on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail in North Bend, offering free hot coffee, doughnuts, sometimes hats and gloves for the winter months, and always an opportunity to just talk.
Their goal then, as now, was to help these 30-plus kids, many (not all) from the nearby Two Rivers School, to find the help they needed to solve their problems.
“We want to help people accesses the services that are available to them,” said Tonya Guinn, the soon-to-be program director for The Trail Youth projects in the coming year.
What that means depends on the youth, and on the problem. Some of the kids are fighting drug addiction, some have family troubles, some don’t have a place to live.
“They’re not homeless and they don’t like being called homeless,” said Kristen Zuray, founder of the Trail Youth. “Some are couch surfing, some are sleeping in their cars…. some kids came from really good homes and just lost their way.”
To help them find their way again, Zuray started The Trail Youth project about four years ago, in Issaquah. Two years ago, she moved it to the Valley, where she connected with Guinn and Wendy Laxton, the future operations manager for the organization. The three have been working together for the past year to reach this hard-to-reach population, mostly through coffee, doughnuts and warm clothing.
Next year, when The Trail Youth officially receives some of the funding from its recently awarded $400,000 Best Starts for Kids grant, the group will add some offerings to its menu of services, but coffee will still be at the top of the list.
“Our dream has been to open a coffeehouse, so kids have a safe, warm place to go after school,” said Guinn.
“Before they go out into whatever their circumstances are,” added Zuray.
That coffeehouse, within walking distance of the school, serving coffee by donation, providing gallery space for student art to be displayed and sold and offering a supply bin of extra gloves and other necessities, is close to becoming a reality. The group is negotiating a lease now and hopes to open in early 2018, after some building renovations.
For some students, the coffeehouse will also provide a job.
“We’re going to offer barista training, for the students who want it,” said Laxton.
Students will operate the coffeehouse, with adult supervision, during its open hours, which are yet to be determined. Zuray said it will be open at least until dark on weekdays during the school year and for special events on Saturdays.
The coffeehouse, though, is just one of the services to be funded by the King County grant.
“It will also cover the mentoring program,” said Laxton, referring to the pilot program The Trail Youth just launched.
In this program, five youth — there’s already a waiting list — are paired with five adults who will meet with them at least weekly and offer advice and support to help the youth achieve their goals.
“In the course of the mentorship, we’re going to develop individual paths to success,” Zuray said.
Basically, she summarized, the pairings will start with the youth’s dream, then work backward to build a road map he or she can follow to reach it.
Another group of youth have been recruited into The Trail Youth’s leadership program, to help operate the new iteration of the Teen Closet, a non-profit clothing bank specifically for teenagers. The original Teen Closet, operated by Monica Rutherford and Joan Guenther for several years out of Mount Si Lutheran Church, closed last summer.
Since the clothing bank’s work was with the same group that The Trail Youth were reaching, the organization saw an opportunity to re-open the program under that youth leadership. A youth board is being developed to create a mission statement, policies and procedures for the bank, giving the board members real-world experience at managing a nonprofit.
Or, as Laxton answered when the youth protested that they just wanted free labor for the clothing bank, “It’s not free labor, it’s resumé building!”
A simple perspective shift, reframing a youth’s vision of the world into a more welcoming place, full of opportunity, is a skill that all of The Trail Youth staff have developed. Both Guinn and Laxton said they were drawn to the organization because of their own, personal perspectives on struggling teenagers.
“I think it would be so nice to help some teens avoid some of those pitfalls,” said Laxton.
Zuray, executive director of the program, hopes to make that perspective shift even broader, eventually, charging students with producing fundraisers to help other struggling youth, in other countries.
“It’s a way for them to start looking outside of their own circumstances to see the world around them,” she said.
Learn more about The Trail Youth at http://www.thetrailyouth.com.