Gabbie Price was just 14 when undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes put her in a two-week coma. Lacking family support, she struggled with not just her disease but with homelessness and instability.
Staying with different family members and feeling alone, Price’s diagnosis left her despondent. “I didn’t take my insulin at all,” she said. “I would just hope that someday maybe [diabetes] would kill me. And I wouldn’t have to deal with this [or] with anybody. Like I wouldn’t have to deal with myself.”
At 16, Price became pregnant, which overwhelmed her even more. Her school, the Interagency Academy, reached out to Michelle Mitchell-Brannon of Atlantic Street Center’s Teens as Parents Program (TAPP) for support. It turned into a life-changing meeting.
Even before the baby was born, Price said Mitchell-Brannon would frequently show up to check on her. After her son, Z’aedyn, was born in 2012, Price said, “[Mitchell-Brannon] would literally come and spend a few hours with me at school and just hold my baby, because I didn’t have daycare. So she would literally just love on my baby while I got some work done.” After school, Mitchell-Brannon would come and read to her son at home.
In addition to help with diapers and other basic necessities for the baby, Mitchell-Brannon supported Price in taking care of herself. “She used to get me calendars to write my blood sugars in and when she saw me, she would be on me like, ‘What’s your blood sugar?’ And that got me [testing] more and more.” By 17, Mitchell-Brannon helped Price, her fiancé, and their son secure their first permanent housing.
Now 24, Price is no longer the quiet, guarded teen she used to be. An outspoken leader, community advocate, foster parent and mentor, Price has taken advantage of all the opportunities TAPP has offered. From parenting classes, tours of Microsoft and a weekly meeting with other young parents in the TAPP support group, Price gained confidence, skills and a passion to give back to the community. “At the end of the day, all I needed was somebody to believe in me and tell me I was going to be OK,” Price said.
Price is just one of some 8,000 people Atlantic Street Center served last year and one of 60 supported by TAPP. Founded in 1910, the Seattle-based agency supports primarily low-income families and individuals of color with kinship care resources, behavioral health counseling, referrals, homelessness- prevention services and more. In 2018, 100% of the agency’s 263 homelessness-prevention clients retained their housing. Atlantic Street Center is one of 12 agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
“Mom Michelle,” as Price and many other young people in the Teens as Parents Program call her, knows firsthand the struggles many young parents face. Bounced around between different family members, Mitchell-Brannon describes her early life as feeling like “nobody’s child.” Homeless with three babies at 15, Mitchell-Brannon would ride the bus with them all night so they could stay warm. After they all spent time in foster care, a sympathetic judge allowed them to be reunited in Seattle, where she had family support.
“I could not let [my kids] go through life trying to figure out what was it about them that would separate them from their mom’s love, because that was something that I constantly questioned,” Mitchell-Brannon said. “What was it about me? Why was I not good enough?”
When Mitchell-Brannon started as the youth development/TAPP program manager in 2007, she said “these babies were in the streets with babies.” She said 80% of the young people in the program were homeless or in unstable housing, and many were afraid to ask for help for fear of being separated from their children by the state. She knew they would fail the young parents if they didn’t tackle homelessness and other fundamental barriers, one by one.
Mitchell-Brannon was not afraid to take matters into her own hands. “There was a time that I went and paid all the [apartment] screening fees,” she said. “… And I knew that $40 separated 11 young ladies from having access to brand new affordable low-income housing.”
At a recent TAPP group meeting at Atlantic Street Center’s Family Support and Early Learning building in Rainier Beach, about 10 young moms gathered in the basement while their children played in a child- care room. After sharing a home-cooked meal provided by volunteers, each person shared one thing they were proud of from the week. Later, a volunteer from Microsoft taught the class tips on how to interview for a job and one of Mitchell-Brannon’s oldest sons, twin Marcus, 33, demonstrated basic coding skills.
Atlantic Street Center’s Executive Director, Someireh Amirfaiz, said while the agency is proud of the holistic approach its takes with clients, it does not want to put a “Band-Aid” on problems. To that end, it’s focusing more on advocacy and policy shifts needed to prevent conditions leading to poverty and homelessness in the first place. She also doesn’t want Atlantic Street Center to stay the “best kept secret” of Seattle social service agencies.
Mitchell-Brannon said ultimately, believing in the potential of young people goes a long way. “I love them and I want to see them be successful and I know that they have what it takes,” she said. “They just need somebody to let them know that they’re enough. But they’ve been broken down in so many ways. If we support these young people early on and plant the seeds of knowledge, they make different decisions.”
Price said Atlantic Street Center made her feel part of a community. “I would come in and they would ask me if I needed food and just honestly cared about me. And it wasn’t to gain anything from me other than the hope that one day I’ll be in a better place,” she said. “We all deserve a chance and all we want is a chance.”
Editor’s note: Due to the sensitive nature of Fund For The Needy stories, comments are not enabled. Comments will return on Naomi Ishisaka’s column next week.