Farid looked out across a packed Bellevue Hyatt Regency ballroom on Friday with hundreds of faces staring back at him and said, “Wow.”
The young Middle Eastern immigrant had come so far in that moment.
The last speaker of the 13th annual Celebration of Youth luncheon – which was meant to raise money for Eastside nonprofit Friends of Youth – then proceeded to tell his story.
“I was born in the dark age of my time,” Farid said of the year 1999 in which the Taliban regime reigned throughout Afghanistan.
Farid couldn’t properly attend school and his quality of life was severely restricted.
Then, in 2014, the unimaginable happened.
“In 2014, when I was 14 years old, the extremists changed my life by taking my father from me,” he said. “To save my life, my mother told me to leave the country alone …”
With the help of a friend, Farid left but ended up in Indonesia, a country he had never heard of.
“At the same time, I was really confused because I had never been far from my family and I was only 14 years old,” he recalled.
Farid would go on to live in a youth detention center in a sort of a “limbo” state. He said he was shy and very sad during that time.
But then after three years, he was told he would be sent to the United States of America. On June 8, 2017 he arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He was face-to-face with a kind stranger holding a sign that read “Welcome” in his native language. He took a deep breath and thought he was sure he would find the right place to call home.
Farid was taken to his new home in Kirkland, where the Friends of Youth transitional housing is located.
“When I got here, I had so many questions in my mind, like how did I survive this journey without anything else?” Farid said. “Back then, I didn’t understand all of my questions but now I know all of my answers.”
Farid said he now has hopes and dreams and encouraged the community to support Friends of Youth so that they can help the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have escaped horrible living conditions around the world so that they, too, can have hopes and dreams.
In its 67th year, Friends of Youth not only provides transitional housing services for immigrant youth, they provide shelter for homeless teens and young adults, foster care, treatment programs and they are the primary Youth and Family Services agency for the Riverview, Snoqualmie Valley and Issaquah school districts. The organization also operates a drop-in center and an emergency overnight shelter for young adults in Redmond, and offers other services across the Eastside.
David Kim, an Issaquah School District student and leader in his school community, said at the luncheon he envisions a world in which every student receives social and emotional learning techniques so they can better identify their feelings and assess their mental health.
“We are here today because the system we have in place to address mental illness and substance abuse disorder is simply inadequate, and on top of that, there is still a significant stigma pertaining to the discussion of mental illness,” he said.
“We are here today because we recognize that sustaining mental health and substance abuse services allow for us to support youth for making positive decisions that ultimately lead them down the path of health and wellness, which is really one of the most important actions we can take to make our community be a better, tighter and more productive place.”
Jennifer Schabell, a local real estate agent who graduated from Friends of Youth’s Homeless Youth Services program years ago, said in a video that the nonprofit gave her a stepping stone to get her life on the right track.
At 21 years old, Schabell found herself homeless and eight months pregnant with her son in 2005. She was looking for night shelters when she stumbled across Friends of Youth and they “welcomed her with open arms.” Schabell moved into New Ground Bothell, a transitional housing program for young families.
Today, Schabell is married with more children and has a successful career.
“They gave me, and so many other girls that I still talk to today, an opportunity to live our lives … to really focus and help point us in the right direction,” she said, “and I am truly [grateful].”
Mercer Island resident Terry Pottmeyer, the CEO and president of Friends of Youth, said one-third of all homeless families have a head of household that is 25 years or younger and approximately 17 percent of families facing homelessness in King County are headed by young adults between ages 18-21.
Pottmeyer said the organization is passionate about providing specialized support for young families who are homeless because young parents rarely receive the developmentally appropriate care and support they need. In addition, finding access to housing and typical support from programs is designed for adults, not young adults who are still in their “own journey to adulthood.”
“According to the Financial Center for Children of Poverty, 42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom 10 percent of economic distribution remain in the bottom as adults,” Pottmeyer said at the luncheon. “And I know because you joined today for lunch that that’s not the world you want to live in. We can change that reality.”
For more information on Friends of Youth or to donate to the nonprofit, visit www.friendsofyouth.org.