It was a celebration, not a traditional graduation, at Comcast Arena's Edward D. Hansen Conference Center in Everett on Tuesday. The teens and young adults being recognized were all once homeless or at serious risk of other dangers.
Some celebrated school attendance or stable employment. Some had earned high school diplomas. Some are already in college. One young woman, who wore an Army uniform to the event, has served in Iraq.
They're all in different stages on their journeys, but all are in a better place since coming to Cocoon House. Tuesday's event was the organization's annual Butterfly Celebration.
Founded 20 years ago as a shelter for homeless teens, the Everett-based nonprofit agency has grown to include a shelter and the U-Turn drop-in center in Everett, smaller shelters in Arlington and Monroe, seminars that strengthen teen-parent relationships, and many other resources.
"We all have a spirit that can rise above challenges," Sarri Gilman, founder of Cocoon House, told honorees Tuesday. Gilman was executive director of Cocoon house for its first decade. A licensed therapist, Gilman also writes a column for The Herald's Good Life section.
"You can be an inspiration in this world," she said. "Lead an inspiring life and help others along the way."
Jason Nunez, 21, is on his way to doing just that. Nunez, of Everett, was one of 33 recipients of a Silver Butterfly Award on Tuesday. He said he earned it by "sustaining a job, staying clean, and personal improvement from where I was years ago."
As he walked across the stage, Nunez carried his son, Qwayden, who'll turn 2 in August. Jason's mother, Margaret Nunez of Marysville, has temporary custody of Qwayden. She was in the audience to proudly applaud her son.
"He's a very intelligent young man. He can apply himself to anything and be successful," she said.
She has cared for Qwayden since November. Jason Nunez works full-time for a window company and is moving toward being able to raise his son independently. When he was growing up, his father wasn't in his life.
Margaret Nunez, 48, said her son is passionate about the little boy. "It tickles me, he's not afraid to change diapers. He loves his son," she said.
In her own son, she sees a real reversal from the behavior of his teens, when he wouldn't follow her rules at home. He ended up couch-surfing, staying with friends, smoking pot and spending time on the street.
Nunez, who left school but earned his GED certificate at 17, said influences he found at the Cocoon House U-Turn Resource Center were life-changing. The drop-in center recently moved to a larger facility at 1601 Broadway in Everett.
"They had people to talk to you, and they would listen," he said.
He still visits the U-Turn center on days off. "I go there for a parents group, help out, clean up and talk to youth when I can," he said.
His story of being saved from the streets was one of many told at Tuesday's celebration, where winners were introduced by Cocoon House Chief Executive Lee Trevithick.
Anika Covington, 19, was one of three Platinum Butterfly Award winners. A 2010 graduate of Kamiak High School, Covington said Tuesday was her third anniversary of being drug-free -- with the help of Cocoon House. She is also the winner of a $1,000 scholarship from the Assistance League of Everett given in the name of the late David Kastle, who was an attorney who died in 2005 and was a longtime volunteer who provided legal services to needy clients.
"I'm starting college this fall," Covington said. She plans to attend Everett Community College. Like Nunez, she lends a hand to Cocoon House as a peer mentor.
Now adults with their feet on the ground, Covington and Nunez reach kids with lessons they learned not so long ago.
"There's no reason I shouldn't give back to the place that helped me tremendously," Nunez said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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