It was half a lifetime ago for Bobby Hasson, but the memories of those nights spent helping youth on the Eastside still bring the 69-year-old...
It was half a lifetime ago for Bobby Hasson, but the memories of those nights spent helping youth on the Eastside still bring the 69-year-old to tears.
There was the teenage boy named Worthy, whose father had died and who was in desperate need of support and someone to talk to.
There was the homeless boy nicknamed Moose who sometimes slept in trees. And the girl who wanted to bum a cigarette, but was really looking for help on handling problems with her mother.
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All they wanted was someone to listen, and that’s what he did. Today the organization that began as Heads Up, and has long since been renamed Youth Eastside Services (YES), is undergoing its largest expansion since starting nearly four decades ago in a tiny house in Bellevue.
Last week YES razed its headquarters in Bellevue’s Crossroads Park. When the new 20,000-square-foot building is completed in fall 2008, it will be more than twice the size of the old one. A $10.7 million fundraising campaign is under way to cover the construction costs and relocate and expand satellite offices. The money will also go toward increasing services to clients over the next 10 years, said Mel Baer, campaign director.
With its primary service area in the Lake Washington and Bellevue school districts, the organization wants to relocate its Kirkland offices to the north Juanita area and open offices in Sammamish and south Bellevue, said Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director.
It plans to partner with cities for office space or find low-rent buildings in those areas, with the goal of having YES’ services within a 20-minute car ride for most clients, she said.
The organization served 24,000 young people last year up to age 19, including children as young as 6. It also provides counseling for parents and families.
By 2015, it hopes to be serving 43,000 young people, Skelton-McGougan said.
The organization was started in 1968 by Phil Nudelman, a pharmacist who worked for a drugstore in the Lake Hills neighborhood of Bellevue. Before the age of coffeehouses and online instant messages, the pharmacy was often a place where people gathered, and Nudelman befriended many of the youths who came into the store. Many just seemed to be looking for a place to hang out and someone to talk to, Nudelman said.
“I wasn’t judgmental with them,” Nudelman said. “I was open to answering their questions and asking questions back. If they asked what I thought they should do, I’d ask what they thought was the right thing to do.”
Nudelman was among the core group of people who launched the all-volunteer program with the idea that teens and youth needed a place they felt safe and able to talk about their problems. From there, the program took off.
Hasson was among the first to volunteer as a “rapper” — someone who would spend time talking to the teens — and recalls many nights when 100 or more people showed up to hang out at the center. He had no experience with counseling teens, but he was good at talking to people and listening, and the kids responded to that, Hasson said. It was volunteer job he did for more than two decades.
“I wanted to put them all under a shield and protect them,” Hasson said.
Many of those teens were dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, problems at home and family dynamics. Now the list of issues clients deal with includes dating violence, teen gambling and eating disorders. “We weren’t dealing with sexual predators who are able to connect with kids on the Internet,” Skelton-McGougan said. “Technology has been a great thing, but it has brought concerns.”
YES also offers support groups for gay and lesbian teenagers, and it has worked to keep pace with the Eastside’s growing multicultural and multilingual population.
The list of services has grown long over the years. Although YES no longer runs teen centers, it provides counseling and outreach programs through schools and city-run teen centers.
In recent years it has focused more on providing counseling and support to parents struggling with adolescent children, Skelton-McGougan said.
“Looking ahead, I want to focus on helping parents more,” she said. “It’s another step on the education-prevention side if we can prevent families from falling apart at home and keep them on track.”
Jana Haws knows how quickly things can go awry at home, and how sometimes families don’t have the coping skills they need to support each other.
When Haws’ teenage son told her he was gay, she didn’t know how to handle it. She and her then-husband reacted by not talking about it, and in turn, her son grew depressed.
“I was from a traditional Christian background. I didn’t know how to deal with it,” she said. “He tried to reach out, but when that didn’t work, he internalized it.”
They sought family counseling with YES, and her son attended a support group for gay youth.
That was 10 years ago. Haws said she now works to bring more understanding about alternative lifestyles.
“I wish I had had this knowledge beforehand,” Haws said. “They helped so much, my whole outlook changed. For him, it was the first time he was able to find another group of kids he could be comfortable with.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org