At the age of 16, Subhadra "Subi" Terhanian found herself with a fractured family and no real home to speak of. Her parents had split up...
At the age of 16, Subhadra “Subi” Terhanian found herself with a fractured family and no real home to speak of.
Her parents had split up. A week later, their home burned down, and she learned what it was like to need help from others for some of life’s basics.
Now, not only is the 17-year-old graduating with honors from Redmond High School on Thursday, but she is being recognized repeatedly for her community service to help formerly homeless youths.
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At a recent school assembly, Terhanian was presented with the President’s Education Award, signed by President Bush, and a Washington state award for being in the top 10 percent in the state for cumulative grades and SAT scores. Terhanian scored 1360 on her SAT, out of a possible 1600.
But the award she is most proud of came from Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives, who honored Terhanian for her senior project, which helped formerly homeless youths in the community.
“I wanted to do something to help my community,” Terhanian said. “I wanted to do something that helped others and not just focused on myself.”
She came up with the idea of setting up a “Princess for a Day” for youths living at the Transitional Living Campus, a nonprofit Friends of Youth facility for homeless young women 18 to 21 years old.
As part of the project, she turned donated clothes from a clothing bank into cute, trendy skirts and shirts for seven young women. A lime green T-shirt became a miniskirt. She punched up a plain baseball-style knit shirt with a silk-screen iron-on design she made through a computer graphic program.
She lobbied a local salon, Hair FX in Redmond, to give the girls makeovers — including hair cuts, coloring, waxing and makeup. When the makeovers were done, Terhanian took the girls to the Old Fire House Teen Center in Redmond and made a five-course East Indian dinner for the group.
“We were blown away by her ability to pull this together. It’s rare to find someone her age with the ability to do that,” said Sarah Keating, program coordinator for the transitional-living program. “The girls all came back beaming from their makeovers. They all said how special and cared-for they felt.”
Terhanian also coordinated a rock-band benefit show that raised about $1,000 for the young women, enough to buy four refurbished computers and new printers, with money left over to buy new clothes for some of the women.
Terhanian has always been community-minded, said Shannon Roach, program coordinator for the teen center, who has known Terhanian for about four years. Roach began taking note of the “sassy and smart” girl when she was 13 and organized a campuswide recycling program at her junior high school.
“She saw a need for it, and she made it happen,” Roach said. “It’s still going on at Redmond Junior High to this day.”
Roach has also seen Terhanian grow and mature as she was forced to deal with difficult family situations.
“I’m amazed, with the challenges she has been through, that she was able to be successful,” Roach said. “She’s moving forward with her life, and she’s going to UW this fall.”
In September 2003, Terhanian’s home caught fire when her toddler nephew was playing with matches in a bedroom closet. No one was injured, but much of the home was destroyed.
Her mother had moved out of the state the previous week, and Terhanian could have gone to live with her, but she didn’t want to leave her high school or her friends. And while her father is financially and emotionally supportive, she wasn’t able to live with him, either.
She lived with an older sister, brother-in-law and their children for a while, but space constraints made that situation difficult.
So, in October, she moved in with Ryan and Colleen Hixenbaugh, the parents of her boyfriend at the time. They split up, but she has remained with the family.
Before she even gets her high-school diploma next week, Terhanian will move again, this time into her own apartment in Seattle. She plans to continue volunteering in the community when she attends UW in the fall.
“It’s been weird,” Terhanian said of the past two years. “But life is weird. As long as you have good people along the way, it’s OK.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org