Friends of Youth –
Helping Students Achieve

For quarter 2, YP Impact is focusing on helping students graduate. Washington State’s graduation rate currently sits at 79.3 percent, below the national average of 84 percent. And those in under-served demographics range from 60 to 71 percent. Research has shown, a lack of a high school diploma doubles a person’s probability of living under the poverty line. YP Impact spoke with Daniel Benner, Education and Employment Program Coordinator at Friends of Youth — our featured nonprofit for quarter 2— to learn more about one of the many ways they are helping students in the community have the ability and resources to graduate.

Ross Palmer: Could you tell us about Friends of Youth, your mission, and your history in Seattle?

Daniel Benner: Friends of Youth is a non-profit located primarily on the Eastside of King County.  The organization started in 1951, and started out primarily as a foster home for at-risk youth.  Since then, it has grown considerably, and now has 22 sites across East King County, with a variety of youth-centered services including under-18 emergency shelters, Safe Place liaisons, foster care, extended foster care, mental and chemical dependency counseling for youth over and under 18, a young adult shelter for youth age 18-24, transitional living programs for young adults, supportive permanent housing, rapid rehousing, as well as employment and educational support services. 

It is our mission to partner with youth and families to provide the relationships, resources, and skills they need to attain personal growth and success.  Friends of Youth envisions all youth having every opportunity to succeed. 

Students study for GED

RP: Friends of Youth provides many services for children and young adults – such as child welfare, youth and family counseling, and GED classes. YP Impact is currently focusing on helping students graduate and earn their high school diplomas/GED’s. Could you elaborate on the GED program that Friends of Youth provides and how Friends of Youth came to offer this service?

DB: Friends of Youth started the Eastside Reengagement Center (ERC) in 2015 in collaboration with Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT) and Seattle Education Access with funding from OSPI’s Open Doors program and “start-up” funding from the Raikes Foundation.  For years, direct service provider’s at Friends of Youth noticed a service gap in providing adequate educational resources to the youth in our programs, so our development and leadership team reached out to OSPI and Lake Washington Institute of Technology once House Bill 1418 was passed in 2014.  HB 1418 was designed to create Open Doors programs across Washington State to support young people that are not likely to graduate high school due to credit deficiency find an alternative pathway to a high school diploma, high school equivalency (aka, GED), and/or vocational and/or technical post-secondary educational support. This was a great fit for the needs of the clients we work with at Friends of Youth, and so we applied for the funding alongside LWIT (they provided the instructors and some data entry, and we provided the space, case management, and wrap around support).  Since we’re a relatively small Open Doors site, we decided to focus exclusively on the GED and providing comprehensive wrap around support by utilizing the case management and behavioral health services at the Redmond Youth Service Center, a Friends of Youth site next to the ERC. 

RP: Who can enter the program and how do they apply?

DB: Any youth between the ages of 16-21 that is credit deficient in high school is eligible to enroll.  Youth 16 years old must have turned 16 before September 1st of the current academic year, or 21 after September 1st of the current academic year. Those that are not credit deficient can still enroll through a recommendation by their school counselor, social worker, or case manager. 

Aside from that though, we are very flexible; students can enroll anytime, the program is FREE, we have flexible attendance (we don’t kick youth out for missing class; life happens and we understand that), and we provide supportive services to help youth succeed, whether that’s chemical dependency counseling, project 360 case management (for youth at-risk of or the survivor of sexual assault), or simply giving out bus tickets to get to class, having snacks and bottled water for hungry/thirsty students or gift card incentives for passing classes!

Some of the students who have gotten their GED through the Eastside Reengagement Center (Photo Credit: Friends of Youth)

RP: Friends of Youth is partnered with Seattle Education Access and Lake Washington Institute of Technology to help students for after they’ve earned their GED. What are Friends of Youths role within the partnership?

DB: One of our most important collaborations is with Seattle Education Access (SEA), they are a phenomenal resource for youth that are exiting our program as they can serve as the connection between the GED program and their next steps in post-secondary education. We strive to make this connection happen by setting up an appointment with the Education Advocate and the youth when they’re close to completing their GED to discuss next steps academically and/or vocationally. We then follow up on the progress the youth has made in connecting with SEA and meet regularly with the Education Advocate to see how they are coming along in those next steps. Many of our youth go on to take classes at LWIT and at Bellevue College, and this might not have had happened without our collaboration with SEA. 

RP: Do you have any success stories that you have seen with the Friends of Youth GED program, that you can share? 

DB: We have many success stories at the ERC! Here’s one:  A Latinx young woman who lives with her mother and three younger siblings entered our program in May of 2018 from Juanita High School in the LWSD, where she had significant amounts of absences and had been coming to the LWSD Community Truancy Board sessions at the LWSD to find out why. She spent most of her time working with her mother’s house cleaning company and taking care of her younger siblings, so it sounded like she would be a good fit for the ERC.  The ERC has a flexible attendance policy, which was exactly what she needed, as she had to support her mother in taking care of her siblings or in the at work randomly and at unpredictable times. She passed three subject level tests in late Spring and early summer, but like many students at the ERC, math was a struggle.  Compounding her challenges balancing work, childcare, and time to study, she found out she was pregnant in September. With continuous outreach and support though, she kept attending class, and managed to pass the math test in November!  She has now just begun to take classes at Lake Washington Tech this Spring quarter!

RP: What is the long-term vision and goals that Friends of Youth has for the future?

DB: The ultimate goal is for all of Friends of Youth’s work is to work our way out of a job and that all youth feel seen, valued, and empowered in their respective school districts so that they all complete their high school diploma there.  That being said, we realize that the graduation gap does not look like it’s going to completely close anytime soon, so our current long-term goal for the Eastside Reengagement Center is to create better visibility around our program with school district counselors, criminal justice system officials, non-profit youth service providers, social workers, community members, and parents and youth that would benefit from these services.  We do that by regularly participating in events and giving presentations about our program whenever possible in the community. Ideally, every counselor, truancy officer, juvenile probation counselor, and school administrator will know about our program and refer youth to the program when they are working with a student that is unlikely to graduate. 

Amy, a Friends of Youth Education Specialist (Photo Credit: Friends of Youth)

RP: How are some ways that people can contribute to, support, and become involved with Friends of Youth? 

DB: First, get the word out!  Our GED program is held in Redmond at the Together Center, suite C3 (16345 NE 87th St., Redmond, WA, 98052), with classes being 10:00am – 11:30am, Mon – Thurs, with quarters following the LWIT academic calendar.  We also have classes in the afternoon from 3:30pm – 5:00pm, Mon – Thurs, at the Kirkland Teen Union Building (348 Kirkland Ave, Kirkland, WA, 98033).  Feel free to have people reach out to me at 425-968-2031, or at daniel@friendsofyouth.org

Also, Friends of Youth relies on the support from our community to continue proving a safe place for young people we serve. Contributions of all kinds help support all our program areas, whether it be a financial contribution or in-kind donations such as clothing or school supplies. More information on how to give can be found on our website. Our community can also get involved through volunteering as a meal donor, at our overnight or drop-in shelter, or as a tutor for one of our residential programs. Contact our Volunteer Specialist by emailing volunteer@friendsofyouth.org to learn more.

YP Impact will be hosting awareness, volunteer and fundraising events for Friends of Youth during quarter 2. Our first event will be a film screening of the film Night School at our event Journey Back to Graduate: Documentary Screening & Discussion on April 27th at the Ballard Library.

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YP Impact is a budding community of young professionals with an interest in giving back to the community we live, work and play in.  If you’re interested in joining the community or just hearing more, visit this page and sign up to follow along.  

Ross Palmer

Ross Palmer

Ross grew up at the base of Snoqualmie Pass, riding dirt bikes and snowmobiles, and camping with his family. He is a member of YP Impact team and local mortgage broker, and enjoys opportunities to help people in both his personal and professional life.
Ross Palmer