How YouthCare Shows Up for Kindness

As we visit communities across the country and beyond as part of our Channel Kindness Tour, we’re meeting incredible people like Nick Albritton who are lifting up those around them through compassion and tireless hard work. Nick is an amazing young man we met at YouthCare, an organization in Seattle that builds confidence and self-sufficiency for homeless youth by providing a continuum of care that includes outreach, basic services, emergency shelter, housing, counseling, education, and employment training. Below, he shares how his own experiences overcoming trauma with support from caring adults helps inspire his work as a Career Coordinator at the center.

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My father’s brow was furrowed with grief as he reached for the folded wad of cash in his pocket. “This is all I got,” he said to me as he thumbed past a few dollar bills and found his last $20. I cradled the loaf of bread, can of Chef Boyardee, and bottle of sugary soda as we made our way toward the door.

The twisting knot in my stomach was two parts hunger and one part shame. Shame for needing. Shame for not having enough. I was familiar with this feeling, though. My family understood poverty. It was woven into the script I’d been born into: that corporate America was broken. That the business taxes on our family’s old convenience store had run it into the ground. That the system had failed us.

My father had a good work ethic; he rose with the sun and set with it, too. He poured his blood, sweat, and tears into our family’s farm. We were rich in a certain way–with hard work, swimming holes, grassy fields, and animal life. None of the green had faces on it though, and if it did, it didn’t last long.

As I grew into my teens, that shame before dinner had grown with me. My self-image formed around a growing awareness of the binaries that society sets up for us. Rich or poor. Healthy or unhealthy. Normal or abnormal.

I knew at an early age that I was different. That I came from difference.

Being poor was one thing; being transgender was a layer deeper. Rural Texas didn’t create much space for a kid like me and because I had lost my mother in a tragic car accident at a young age, most people just thought I hadn’t been taught how to be a proper woman. It’ll take me a lifetime to heal from those wounds, but I’ll continue to do that healing as the man I am, instead of in a shell of an identity that society tried to impress upon me.

I found myself, at 16, standing in an orchestra audition room. The flute I’d borrowed from my high school was resting inside my sweaty palms. My band director had told me that my talent and skill were enough that I could potentially win a scholarship to a large public university in our state, and he sat with me as I wrote an email requesting information about scholarship auditions. I printed directions at the local library (this was pre-Google maps, and plus, I didn’t have a phone) and had used my grandma’s car to drive two hours east to the university.

I’d decided to play a four-page solo that I’d memorized for a state competition my freshman year. I took one inbreath before striking my first note in front of a panel of professors. The middle section was a blur of muscle memory–just one of the things I loved about playing music. Nothing can exist in that space except for creation. It was freedom in so many ways. I let my final note echo in the room before I exited to the waiting area. I sat picking at the raised red fabric of the chair when a soft voice interrupted my quiet.

“Are you here alone?” a woman said, peering at me kindly. She had short red hair and a gentle smile.

I replied that I was. She asked me how I thought I did, where I was from, how old I was. She offered to buy me a meal and we continued our conversation. Long story short, I got the scholarship, and she offered to take me into her home like one of her own kids. I lived with her and her family for close to a year, and during that time she helped me fill out my FAFSA and drove me back and forth to community college so I could take prerequisite courses.

Moments and connections like these are what changed my life—adults who gave me opportunities, who sat with me and listened, who helped in the small ways they could. There was no quick fix. There is no one-stop shop for unlearning trauma. But kindness helped, and still does.

Flash forward to today. I live far from Texas, specifically, in Seattle. I work with youth ages 18 plus who are experiencing homelessness to gain skills for employment. From interview skills, to resumes, to customer service, to obtaining legal identification or an internship, I help.

There are no quick fixes for the systemic issues that result in youth experiencing homelessness. There’s no denying that these kids have been underserved by a broken system, that people who have never even spoken to them widely regard them as lazy or undeserving.

But every interaction I have with a client reminds me of how many times I myself had to try again, and still do. Of the mistakes that I made in my own youth, out of pain or ignorance or a feeling of unworthiness. These youth deserve adults who give them opportunities. They deserve to be cared about and to have programming offered to them that helps them heal.

So many people in our society operate under the belief that if troubled or at-risk youth just worked harder, they could change their circumstances. But they need opportunities. They need room to make mistakes and to hear that they can come back and try again. They need teachers, counselors, internships, and job opportunities that understand they’re using the tools that they have and the strategies they’ve developed for survival.

If we can instill hope in their lives, if we can give them relief from shame, if we can work to untangle the lies they’ve believed about themselves, we can help change their lives.

I know that I alone can’t fix a broken system, that I alone won’t be the miracle in any kid’s life. But maybe I help them send an email that unlocks a positive fresh start. Maybe that email can get them an audition. Maybe the woman they meet there in the waiting room will become like a mom to them and offer her spare bedroom, rent-free. And maybe that audition will lead to a scholarship offer. And they’ll learn that their bravery to keep trying gets them places. That the kindness of others makes a difference. That the negative things they believe about themselves now won’t always be their truth.

Maybe they’ll see that if they keep showing up, that we as a society—as caring adults and committed social workers—will keep showing up too.