Opinion

Role models for youth come in all shapes, sizes | LYNN BOHART

Lynn Bohart - Submitted.
Lynn Bohart
— image credit: Submitted.

If you saw Trevor Marshall hanging around a street corner, you might think he’s just one of those kids who doesn’t seem to have anything better to do. In his early 20s, Trevor sports tattoos and piercings, baggy pants and beard stubble.

But Trevor Marshall works for Friends of Youth, and he’s not just hanging around. He spends his days roaming the city looking for homeless youth, reaching out to them and offering them services.

“Outreach is all about being creative,” he tells me.

The staff of Friends of Youth visit Renton once a week. They park their van in Liberty Park and then walk from there. They will chat with kids at the skate park or on the street. They hang fliers asking, “Do you know someone between the ages of 15 - 22 who needs help?” They carry cards with their phone number and let kids know they have resources.

There’s no pressure, just support.

“We’ll ask them if they have a safe place to be tonight,” Trevor says. “If not, we’ll offer to help them get to our shelter in Redmond.”

The majority of youth leave home because they think it will be safer on the street. They find out quickly how wrong they are. It’s one of the reasons they end up using drugs. Some drugs take away hunger, some keep them warm, while others keep them awake so they don’t become prey.

“Many times, we’re asking young people to be what they’re not,” Trevor says. “Seventeen- to 18-year-olds are just trying to establish their own identities. When I was 17, I thought I was the only 17-year-old in the world.”

It’s back to that lack of a frontal cortex thing.

So is there a path to success for these kids? Or are they really just troublesome losers?

“Most of the youth I see,” says Trevor, “are sweet and vulnerable. They’ll give up their spot at the shelter if someone else needs it, or they’ll leave as a group if one of them is ‘lotteried-out’.”

The Redmond shelter only has 15 overnight beds, which are assigned on a lottery basis. But Friends of Youth gives kids a second chance at making life work in general. Anyone can come in and get dinner, a shower, do laundry and get a sleeping bag.

The shelter also gives them an address, important when you’re filling out a job application. They can use computers, phones and have access to interview clothes. They can work on resumes and have a locker to store their belongings. The staff will even get them into job-training programs.

Trevor reminds me that their situation doesn’t define who these young people are — it’s just where they are right now.

One young man came into their program homeless, went through a 10-week, job-training program and eventually got a job at Home Depot. Now he has a housing opportunity.

“I see kids get off the street all the time,” Trevor says. “We’re strength-based; so when you look at people in the best light, they want to live up to it.”

The homeless youth who find their way to Friends of Youth are not only given a second chance, they’re given hope. And they get to work with people like Trevor.

I asked Trevor, who in my eyes is barely a kid himself, why he chose this line of work. He actually got tears in his eyes.

“I don’t know why I grew up with everything and other kids didn’t,” he says. “But I have two strong willing hands, and I’m at my best when I’m in service to others.”

With role models like that, these kids find more than hope; they may just find a future.

 

Lynn Bohart is the executive director of the Renton Community Foundation that oversees a number of charitable funds that provide to a broad array of community needs. She can be reached at lbohart@rentonfoundation.org.  If you know of a troubled youth, or would like to lend support, call the Friends of Youth at 425-869-6490.

 

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