By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Cocoon House has a long tradition of celebrating progress.
In 21 years, the agency that started with one shelter for homeless teens in Everett has helped about 12,000 young people, said Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin.
“I really admire these kids, what they’re able to accomplish,” Franklin said in a video shown at Thursday’s Cocoon House Butterfly Graduation.
Thirty-three young people received silver, gold or platinum awards at the fundraising luncheon at Everett’s Comcast Arena conference center. They had finished school or a training program, kept a job or stable housing, maintained sobriety or made strides toward other goals.
The agency operates shelters and transitional housing in Everett, Arlington and Monroe, helping young people who have known abuse or neglect, family turmoil, drug problems or school failure. From the cruel realities of street life, they find better ways to live.
Some honored at Thursday’s lunch are still kids.
Guy Cadwallader Jr., 16, a gold award recipient, was featured in The Herald last November as an artist selected to paint a wall in a county administration building. Once in trouble for graffiti vandalism, Cadwallader was helped by art teacher Henri Wilson and the Promising Artists in Recovery program. It’s part of Reclaiming Futures of Snohomish County, which helps young people in the juvenile court system.
Cadwallader, who lived at Cocoon House a short time, said he finished a drug court program, has been in school, and now works at a fast-food restaurant.
Two platinum award winners, Charlee Burgan and Dominick Juarez, are now adults with responsibilities helping other teens find their way.
Burgan, 23, takes care of her 17-year-old brother, and helped raise another brother who is now in the Army in Afghanistan.
Burgan said her mother had a drug addiction that left her unable to care for the children. Burgan and her siblings lived with their father until she was 15. She said she left home after a violent incident with her father. He committed suicide last year, she said.
Burgan lived two years at Cocoon House, attended high school and earned a GED.
At 20, rather than see her brothers go into foster care or stay with relatives, she took them in, receiving child support from her father. She now lives in Renton, cares for her teenage brother who gets support from Social Security, and is studying to become a veterinary assistant.
“All my life it’s kind of been, ‘Either you’re going to survive this or you’re not. This is what’s going on. How do I do it efficiently and well?’” Burgan said.
“It’s just incredible,” said Crystal DeCoursey, who was briefly married to Burgan’s father a decade ago.
DeCoursey traveled from her home in Richland for Thursday’s ceremony. Although she hadn’t seen her former stepdaughter since Charlee was 12, the two recently reconnected through Facebook.
Juarez, 20, volunteers every Friday at Cocoon House’s U-Turn, a drop-in center for teens on Broadway in Everett. He didn’t live at Cocoon House, but said that through volunteering he learned “you can do anything, be anything, and gain the confidence to take on the world.”
Along with being a Cocoon House peer mentor, he attends Everett Community College, works two jobs, and in 2012 was awarded a Spirit of Snohomish County youth award from United Way of Snohomish County.
In a few months, he’ll be at the University of Washington for six weeks attending the Summer Medical Dental Education Program. A program for minority college students, it offers exposure to subjects related to medical careers.
Burgan said she sometimes mentions that she lived two years in a homeless shelter, and the response is often “Oh, that’s so horrible.”
“No, the people at Cocoon House changed my life,” she said. “It’s one reason I am able to fight as hard as I do, not just to survive but thrive. I learned that at Cocoon.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Cocoon House
Cocoon House is an Everett-based nonprofit agency serving homeless and at-risk teens and young adults at several sites in Snohomish County. Information: www.cocoonhouse.org/index.