Treehouse, a nonprofit agency in The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, supports some 8,000 foster children each year by helping them stay in school and providing important childhood experiences, such as summer camp and driver’s education.
At 12, Bryant Houser had to be more of an adult than others twice his age. He was getting his younger siblings dressed and ready for school, and pouring their breakfast Cheerios before walking them to the school down the street. Instead of attending sixth grade, he would take care of the four youngest, and do yard work and mow the lawn of an old neighbor to make some money.
As one of the oldest of now 14 children, Bryant put it on himself to be the responsible one on many occasions when his parents were unable or unavailable to care for their children.
After two temporary removals, Child Protective Services removed the children from their Everett home three days before Christmas 2012. His three oldest siblings were either close enough to 18 to stay with their parents, emancipated or went into foster care until turning 18. Bryant and some of his siblings were sent to his uncle’s house in Marysville, but the little ones he had been taking care of were sent somewhere else.
“When you live with your brother and sister, you are like, ‘Oh I hate them so much,’ but you don’t know what it is like to miss someone until you have them taken away from you,” said Bryant, now 16.
With the help of Treehouse, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping foster children, and a foster family who adopted him and his three youngest siblings, Bryant is now able to be a kid and finished his freshman year with a 3.5 grade-point average. He plans to be the first of his siblings to graduate from high school, then college — something he never considered even two years ago.
Treehouse is one of 12 organizations that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. The nonprofit supports more than 8,000 youth in foster care each year with programs that help them graduate from high school and get clothes, toys, school supplies and prom dresses/suits they need to be regular kids, and provides important childhood experiences, such as help paying for driver’s education or summer camps.
Treehouse for Kids
Treehouse supports some 8,000 foster children each year by providing services to help them graduate from high school, get clothing, attend summer camp and take driver’s ed. It is dedicated to closing the achievement gap between foster children and their peers, and has set a goal that foster youth in King County will graduate from high school at the same rate (79 percent) as their peers by 2017.
“I finally feel like I found a place in the world rather than feeling like I’m always going to be moving around,” Bryant said about the help he has received from his new parents and Treehouse. “I have someone to talk to and a stable home I can live in, and develop friends.”
It wasn’t an easy path. It took months of being on the run, breaking his leg, being placed with a foster family for more than a year that didn’t end up working out, missing almost two full years of school and then failing eighth grade for Bryant’s life to finally be at a place where he was happy.
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make. Click here to donate to Fund For The Needy.
There are things he doesn’t remember about hard times with his parents and being on the run. He explains it like time blending together, “like my brain kind of blocks it out because they are such bad memories,” he said.
But he isn’t letting his past get in the way of his future and wants to be a good role model for his little brothers and sisters. Bryant said he knows high school is important and, especially after missing so much and not trying in eighth grade, he is giving it everything he has.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Treehouse can do with your donation:
$25: school activity fee for a foster child
$50: college-application fee
$100: head-to-toe outfit
When he moved in with Aly Vander Stoep and Megan Karch, his adoptive parents, he was partnered with one of Treehouse’s education specialists, Roland Pablo, as part of the nonprofit’s graduation-success program.
Treehouse is dedicated to closing the achievement gap between foster children and their peers and has set a goal that foster youth in King County will graduate from high school at the same rate (79 percent) as their peers by 2017.
Pablo helps students set personal goals, because if the students set a goal for themselves, they’ll actually take steps to reach that goal, he said. Bryant’s goal was to get A’s and B’s on his way to the larger goal of graduating from college.
“He doesn’t want to just pass high school, he wants to kill it,” Pablo said. “A’s and B’s is a tough goal, especially for someone who has been out of school for one or two years. That just shows how smart he is, his drive and his ability to learn so quick.”
When Bryant started his freshman year at West Seattle High School, Pablo said they focused on organization and learning how to navigate the school system. Any time Bryant had a missing assignment, it usually had been done and stuffed into his backpack, Pablo said. One focus area was simply keeping his backpack organized with folders for each class.
He then taught Bryant “teachers are people, too,” and how he could ask them about a missing assignment or a grade he was not happy with to see what he could do to fix it.
Even though Bryant was adopted this past December, Treehouse is still there to support him in high school. He meets with Pablo every Monday for 20 to 40 minutes. They make a homework plan and talk about any issues Bryant is having. Bryant wants to be a pastry chef and hopes to get a job at a restaurant soon. He is now working as a courtesy clerk at Metropolitan Market.
Since moving in with his new parents, Bryant says he loves being part of the family and being able to be a kid as well as having some independence. He started playing Ultimate Frisbee last year and is now the captain of his junior-varsity team.
He took driver’s education last year with support from Treehouse’s Little Wishes program. If he takes his driving test before the end of December, he will be able to drive his friends around over the summer, he said.
His newfound independence comes after his siblings, though. He said he knows they are too young to understand, but he wants them to learn to read and always do their homework when they get to school age. He wants them to participate in sports and be social, but also to take life seriously.
On nights when he can, each sibling picks out a book and the four of them sit together while Bryant reads aloud. The oldest, who is 5 and learning to read, will follow along by pointing to the words Bryant is reading.
Even though he and the youngest are 13 years apart and it is not demanded of him, Bryant says he likes to do it.
“It is part of being a good role model for them,” he said, continuing that he doesn’t want them to drop out of high school like their four oldest brothers did.
“I want them to do well in school, too.”