A Teen's Path to Stability

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Pictured: Elizabeth Chambers, assistant director, Tamarack House -

Immigrating to a new country as a child is daunting enough—imagine then facing a host of severe emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric problems.

Pioneer’s Snohomish County Youth Services is comprised of three male-only residential programs, namely, Cypress, Sequoia, and Tamarack House. These programs work with 13- to 18 years-old who are behaviorally challenged and perhaps some of the state’s hardest-to-serve youth.

When F.A.* came through the doors of Tamarack House, he met considerable obstacles. Not unlike any of the other boys. Yet there were many things about F.A. which set him apart.

F.A. came to the United States after spending much of his childhood in refugee camps in Ethiopia. His family escaped the violence and human rights abuses of the Eritrean regime, with young F.A. in tow. After he arrived in the U.S., and it was clear that he needed much more support than his peers, he was denied by other residential programs because of his mental health diagnosis—schizophrenia.  

To make circumstances even more difficult, F.A.’s English language ability was limited and he could only communicate in one or two-word sentences. He was also extremely shy by nature, spending every day alone in his room.

But things started to change.

F.A. made steady progress,” said Mary Johnson-Schroeder, director of Snohomish County Youth Services. “He blossomed into a friendly, self-reliant young man.”

He’s since moved into Cocoon House in Everett, a nonprofit organization providing housing for youth and independent living services. But getting there didn’t happen overnight—day-by-day, over the last couple of years, F.A. worked to achieve things which other teens generally took for granted.

Our first goal was to work on personal hygiene,” said program supervisor Elizabeth Welch. “When F.A. came to the U.S., he didn’t know how to appropriately bathe himself because his only access to water in Ethiopia was for drinking.

The next step was to get F.A. talking. “We wanted to get an interpreter but F.A. said, NO," said Welch. This was the first time F.A. stood up and said, "...this is what I want."  Welch said, "He wanted to speak English.” He started to speak more often, and in complete sentences. Now he can have full, although brief, conversations in English. F.A. also does well in school and has dreams of going to college.

F.A.’s move to Cocoon House is a huge step. It will allow him to make lasting friendships with youth his age and become the independent person he has worked so hard to become. We all wish F.A. the best of luck. His story represents the philosophy that all of us at Pioneer believe in – all children are capable of success with the right support, without exception.    

Johnson-Schroeder stated, “We’ve done away with negative labels such as ‘at-risk’ or ‘disadvantaged’ which subliminally hurt a child’s success. It’s a self-fulfilling paradigm. If no one had high expectations of F.A., he may not be where he is today.”

*Client’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.


Friday, May 11, 2018