When Brandon Atkins first arrived in Seattle last summer, it was supposed to be for a vacation.
But when all of his belongings were stolen from his hostel room his first day in the city, he soon found himself homeless — his only possessions being what he had in his pockets at that time. The 23-year-old from Minnesota did a Google search for “How to be homeless” and came across Friends of Youth — a Kirkland-based nonprofit whose mission is to deliver services to youth and their families to improve emotional stability and self-sufficiency — about halfway down the page.
Atkins ended up at The Landing, the organization’s emergency shelter for young adults 18-24 in Redmond.
“My only real hope was my spot at The Landing,” he said about this difficult period in his life.
Atkins shared his story at the organization’s Celebration of Youth last Friday, an annual event to raise money for the nonprofit, at The Westin in Bellevue.
Friends of Youth has been operating for 63 years and the organization’s President and CEO Terry Pottmeyer said their goal was to raise $200,000, which would go toward the Friends of Youth’s operations. The amount raised was not available at the Reporter’s deadline.
Atkins said that his aunt and uncle, who he had been staying with in Minnesota — along with two cousins — could not afford to send money so he could go home.
“I was stuck,” Atkins told the Reporter in an email. “I had wanted to see Seattle. I guess my wish was granted.”
He said Landing staff helped him by providing meals and a place to shower, receive mail and apply for jobs. After a few months of staying at the Landing, Atkins now has a small studio apartment near Seattle’s International District and has started his part-time job at Einstein Bros Bagels.
“After a summer of saving, I’ll have enough to pay for a couple college classes and I’ll enroll at (South Seattle Community College),” he said.
At Friday’s event, Pottmeyer said the organization has “grown a great deal since (its) founding in 1951” and that growth has been motivated and accomplished as the organization has responded to the needs of the community. And that need is great, as Friends of Youth serves more than 4,800 young people and their families per year, Pottmeyer said.
“Each child’s success has been a triumph,” she said.
Friends of Youth board member Jeane Buchanan said Celebration of Youth is their largest fundraising opportunity of the year and raises awareness about youth homelessness. It was through such events that she learned more about the issues. She said having grown up on the Eastside, she never understood the magnitude before this. Buchanan joined the organization’s board of directors about three and a half years ago and said many people she talks to at fundraising events are just like her and surprised to hear that homelessness is an issue on the Eastside.
“We need to get the word out that it is a community issue,” she said.
Community was a common theme among those who spoke at Friday’s event.
Adrienne Quinn, director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, was the afternoon’s keynote speaker and focused on how the outcome of a person’s life depends on caring communities.
“It takes all of us,” she told the audience. “Together, this community is transforming lives, sometimes saving lives.”
For Atkins, it was the Friends of Youth community that helped him get his life back on track.
“It was a good support system for me since I didn’t have anything really and nowhere to go,” he said.
In addition to the help received during his tough times, Atkins said he learned a lot from his experience. One of the most important lessons was to not to run from his problems, which was what he was doing when he came to the Pacific Northwest.
“Look where that got me,” he said.
Atkins also learned to be humble and stay focused on what he wanted.
“I found myself in the very last place I thought I was ever going to be, and for each day I sat around and moped about my situation, it was a day longer I would remain in my situation,” he said. “If I could give any advice it would be to stay focused. Stay focused on where you want to go. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, kicking yourself, but don’t. It only makes things worse.”
Brandon Atkins tells his story of how Friends of Youth helped him out of being homeless during its annual luncheon. SAMANTHA PAK, Reporter Newspapers