Franky Price put himself in foster care after a chaotic childhood left him with no advocates.
His memories of growing up are a blur of different apartments, an uncle who cooked crack in his kitchen, the indifference of his addicted parents. He started taking drugs when he was 8.
“I wasn’t a bad kid. I wasn’t,” he said. “I just took care of myself.”
In the seventh grade, he told a school counselor he needed help. He was drinking until he blacked out, smoking marijuana every day, addicted to pills. The state put him in a drug-rehabilitation program, but the relatives’ home where he ended up afterward was no good either. So Franky asked to live with strangers in foster care.
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With all the uncertainty of foster care came one thing at last: Through a nonprofit organization called Treehouse, there was finally someone to take care of Franky.
Treehouse is one of 12 organizations that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. The nonprofit supports more than 6,000 youth in foster care each year.
Franky, now 16, is a gangly and gregarious junior at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle. He lives with his dad, who is also recovering from addiction, and he is on track to graduate and go to college.
Through a new, school-based Treehouse program called Graduation Success, Franky checks in daily with a Treehouse social worker at Chief Sealth.
“My office is like a home away from home,” said Carrie Syvertsen, one of two Sealth-based social workers. “We sort of fill that void for him. He does need a lot of emotional feedback and support. He needs a lot of people telling him that he’s doing a good job and he’s on the right track. I think a kid that’s been deprived of that, he’s needing it all the more in his adolescent years.”
Filling a void is exactly what Treehouse aims to do for the kids it serves. Foster kids and caregivers can shop at The Wearhouse, Treehouse’s free “store” for Christmas gifts, clothes and school supplies.
Treehouse can pick up the tab for expenses such as piano lessons, summer camp and playing sports. And Treehouse is there with mentorship and academic support while kids cope with unpredictable circumstances.
Two types of Treehouse staff help Franky. Syvertsen is on campus, free to drop everything and sit in on a discipline meeting or speak to a teacher.
Roland Pablo, Treehouse education specialist, is at Sealth every Thursday. Pablo said his job can sometimes be frustrating, as he watches students repeat mistakes. Franky is a reminder about what a difference he can make.
“His outlook on life has really helped me out, too,” Pablo said. “I sort of remind him to just look back every once in a while and look at all you’ve been through, and look at where you are right now.”
The hard truth is that foster youth have to be survivors. Treehouse tries to show them how.
Franky started getting help from Treehouse after the eighth grade when he left his third foster home in Bonney Lake and moved back to the Seattle area with his dad. The adjustment was not easy.
Shelby Weitzel, Franky’s Treehouse education specialist at his new school in the Highline School District, watched his usually good grades dip to failing. He was frustrated, depressed and being bullied. Weitzel advocated for him with school security and administration, and ultimately decided to help him switch schools.
In their weekly meetings, Franky grew to trust Weitzel. He was struggling to bond with his dad after many years apart, so Weitzel helped Franky’s dad get a grant from Treehouse to send him to a retreat he wanted to attend. They celebrated together when their new apartment was in the Chief Sealth assignment area, and Weitzel helped them fill out the paperwork to transfer.
“Treehouse has been a blessing,” said Franky’s dad, Frank Price, who is working as a shuttle driver. “They’re all about the kids, and that’s what I want to do is give back to the kids. I’m really trying to be more active in Franky’s life in every way.”
Weitzel sees Franky as an inspiration, and a reminder of what Treehouse can do.
“He is a perfect example of how the environment around a kid can make or break their dreams.”
Disappointment still finds Franky more than most. For financial reasons, he gave up his own room this month when he and Price had to move again, this time to a smaller apartment.
Day to day, Franky leans hard into his Christian faith. For the little things, he looks to Treehouse. The organization paid for him to go to driver’s education. It picked up the tab for a leadership camp he wanted to attend.
Little things like that are a big deal for Franky, an upbeat young man who nevertheless still catches himself assuming that things will work out for the worst. That’s just been his experience.
The difference is he now has a community to remind him there is reason to hope.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone, and I have to remember I have a lot of support,” Franky said. “They’re really proud of me, and they tell me that.”
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter