One year ago the nonprofit group The Trail Youth set a plan in motion to bring their operations off of the trails and into a physical location. Thanks to help from the community, King County grants and the hit-web show “Returning the Favor,” The Trail Youth have cut the ribbon on a completely renovated and operational coffee house in North Bend.
The Trial Youth is an organization that strives to provide free teen programming that connects teenagers with the resources they may need to find success. The organization provides ways for teens to develop a variety of skills and offers mentorship and leadership development programs.
The organization is led by Executive Director Kristin Zuray, Programs Director Tonya Guinn and Operations Director Wendy Laxton.
The group started by setting up a table on some Valley trails and invited teens who needed or were willing to just talk. They provided an outlet for community members who felt like they weren’t being heard to just speak and have someone listen. The popularity of their work motivated the group to pursue growing the nonprofit and offering more teen programming to serve a need they saw in the community.
Zuray and The Trail Youth were recently the subject of the popular Facebook web show “Returning the Favor” hosted by Mike Rowe, most well known for the Discovery Channel show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe and his crew led the secret renovation of The Trail Youth’s recently acquired downtown North Bend space and turned the event into an episode.
The premise of the show is that Rowe travels to different cities around the country highlighting people who give back to their communities by giving them something big to help them carry on their work. In this case, a newly renovated coffee house.
In 2017, Zuray and her colleagues had a goal to move into a physical space that would better suit their needs as an organization. They had been connecting with teens on the Valley trails with their coffee and donut meet-ups, but felt that a more stable location that would not be affected by the weather would be vital to the continued success of the organization.
They had found their desired location, the building right next door to Scott’s Dairy Freeze in North Bend, and were looking for a way to contact the person who owned the building. Luckily, Zuray found that the mother of her son’s friend was a realtor in charge of that space. They began talks and in the summer of 2017 the group applied for grant money to be able to afford it.
In October of that year, The Trail Youth received a King County Best Starts for Kids grant of $400,000 over three years. In February 2018, they began leasing the space from the owner. However, Zuray said they expected any work to renovate the space to be complete in a year.
Around the same time, Zuray said they were contacted by the TV crew from New York who wanted to highlight the group. She was surprised, but didn’t think anything of it.
In reality, friend and fellow community member Vicki Rinehart had nominated the group to be featured on the “Returning the Favor” Facebook page. After being contacted by the production company, Guinn and Laxton worked with the producers to set up the renovation of the space as a surprise for Zuray. The building was closed off from entry by faking that the contractors had found a dangerous mold outbreak.
“I’m being told there was this horrific mold here, everything had to be shut down. That scared me and I thought ‘How am I going to tell this company that they can’t film this?’” she said. “How I didn’t pick up on it I don’t know, but I did notice that Tonya and Wendy were getting really stressed towards the end so I thought ‘wow I need to help them out.’”
On March 22, the day of filming interviews about the group, Zuray worried that the crews would want to see the building. Her fears became reality when the crews said they wanted her to take them to the location to film the final scene of the episode. Zuray resisted, but eventually made it to the front door before being pushed inside by Rowe.
When she was pushed through the front door she saw the completed renovation filled with friends and community members yelling “surprise!”
“We got to the door, I’m just like ‘no, no, no we can’t go in,’ really freaking out. I was really scared but trying to maintain my composure because they are filming,” she said. “Then he pushed me through the door and life kinda just stopped right there. Everything turned into a dream.”
Rowe explained everything that had gone on and the secrets that had been kept from Zuray in order to maintain the surprise. Zuray was shocked, but managed to give a short speech of thanks to the crews and the community members for their support.
“I didn’t remember speaking,” she said. “Someone told me ‘yeah what you said was really nice.’”
Since that day, The Trail Youth has been fully operating out of the new coffee house and setting up their programs.
“Now that this is all done, we really want to start working on developing the mentorship program, getting the leadership programming done, developing a youth board, meeting with schools and councilors and letting them know we are here and developing those relationships,” Zuray said.
Everything is geared around giving teens a purpose, a boost for their resume, she explained. They have music classes, art, barista training, professional development programs and more. They are even starting up a youth board to train teens in how organizations like non-profits work.
For experiences and offers that can’t be provided by the group, The Trail Youth will be reaching out to businesses in the area about coming in to talk, or even job shadow and internship possibilities.
“It’s all about getting them out of their present circumstances and giving them the tools to succeed and the vision to succeed,” Zuray said.
However, with one big project complete, Zuray, Guinn and Laxton already have their eyes on the next step to keep strengthening their impact on the community. They want to get back on the trail, but in order to operate more efficiently without having to deal with unreliable weather, they want to purchase a food truck to do their coffee and donut meet-ups in and outside of the Valley.
“Our next big step is we would like to get a food truck so that way we can do coffee on wheels into another town where there is more trails, this time with a food truck instead of a tent,” Zuray said. “We’d like to give ourselves a chance to get into a routine here and the programs established in a strong foundation here and then start applying for grants for the food truck.”
The latest episode of “Returning the Favor” featuring The Trail Youth already has more than 2 million views and can be found on their official Facebook page. For more information on The Trail Youth, visit www.trailyouth.com.