Youth Eastside Services helps children, youth and families suffering violence, emotional distress or substance abuse in East King County, Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland.

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Her eyes shine, and she can’t wait to show you her castle (cardboard, sure, but a castle all the same), how high she can jump on her mini-trampoline — or how much she loves her mom.

That’s Maya today at age 4, and her mom Laura Nelson-Mann, 26, of Bellevue, after four years of intensive work with Youth Eastside Services. Counselors helped Nelson-Mann grow from a struggling new single parent, emerging from an abusive relationship, to a confident mother full of plans for herself and her thriving young daughter.

“I was always worried, overwhelmed, I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing,” said Nelson-Mann. “I didn’t know if I was too harsh, or not harsh enough. She’s upset. I’m upset. I didn’t really know what to do or where to go.”


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When she was still pregnant, she was referred through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to Youth Eastside Services, one of a dozen nonprofits that share in The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, supported by reader donations.

That’s where she got the help she needed.

Karen Wherlock, a family support specialist from Youth Eastside Services, came to Nelson-Mann’s home to observe her interacting with Maya, and offer assistance and support on everything from breast-feeding to establishing a sleep schedule, learning how to give positive reinforcement, setting boundaries and playing.

When Nelson-Mann’s abusive boyfriend threatened her and Maya, she said, Wherlock helped her obtain a protection order.

As Maya grew into a toddler, Nelson-Mann grew, too, “graduating” to other help offered at Youth Eastside Services, including a counseling program to coach her in parenting. Watching through one-way glass and listening in on Nelson-Mann’s interaction with Maya, Jackie Bui, education and prevention director and clinical director for YES, offered help in how to praise, how to set boundaries, and when and how to discipline. “You are a mom. Why are you allowing a 3-year-old to argue with you?” Bui said.

Reinforced with role play, and through daily, guided at-home practice, Nelson-Mann became more confident and skilled, ready for new situations as they arise. “It won’t be perfect, but we give you the tools to apply, and know it will be OK,” Bui said.

Meanwhile, Nelson-Mann not only became a better parent. She also graduated from community college and began full-time work as a ship welder, making as much as $31 an hour. She’s got all sorts of plans now for herself, and for her daughter.

“I want for her what I want for myself,” Nelson-Mann said. “Maya is really strong-willed, which is good. She likes to be independent.”

After an exuberant welcome that included a few quick hand stands and showing off her room, Maya settled into entertaining herself at a kid-sized work table, coloring a giraffe. Wherlock, recently visiting Nelson-Mann in her home for the first time in a while, smiled at the bond between the two, and Nelson-Mann’s easy confidence with her parenting.

Your dollars at work

Youth Eastside Services provides mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and psychiatric services to help children, youth and families struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, substance abuse, cultural and gender identity issues, low self-esteem and more.

Samples of what it can do with your donation:

$25: Helps two Spanish-speaking families receive a Parent-Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT) manual in their native language

$50: Helps provide a counselor at a local teen center for intervention and support for a 15- year-old with an eating disorder

$100: Helps two at-risk youth attend a free, counselor-guided summer camp program

For information:

“Nobody wants to be a bad mom,” Wherlock said. “She just needed some support.”

The agency provides services not only in the home and at its Bellevue headquarters, but at schools and other community settings on the Eastside, including Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and East King County.

Begun with the humblest of starts in a volunteer’s living room, YES celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018, and has grown to a lifeline offering trained and certified staff for kids from birth through age 22 and their families. An open-door policy assures no one is turned away for lack of ability to pay.

The nonprofit even offers open access for any Eastside resident, first come, first served, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. at its Bellevue headquarters, 999 164th Ave. N.E.

Children and youth may even initiate treatment on their own — sometimes necessary in troubled families.

More than 5,000 children, youth and families receive intensive counseling from the nonprofit every year. About 1,500 youth break free of addiction and substance abuse in a typical year. And more than 40,000 people take advantage of the nonprofit’s outreach and education services, such as drug and alcohol education at school assemblies.

Clients are from every walk of life, and most — 74 percent in 2016 — are in a tender, transitional stage of life, from ages 6 to17. Those are ages when some help getting back on track can make a lifelong difference — and nurture a young adult who will go on to become a good parent to the next generation, said Patti Skelton-McGougan, YES executive director.

In her 20 years at YES, Skelton-McGougan says, she has seen lives turn around, whether it’s by ending an addiction to drugs, or blocking the urge for self-harm or even suicide. “Adults come up to me and say, ‘YES saved my life. I just want to thank you.’”

For Nelson-Mann, the support she and her daughter received means she can do what she most wants to: Raise a happy kid.

“That’s success to me.”