Dedicated to helping incarcerated youth find a better path

Ton Nguyen also encourages young people of all backgrounds to volunteer their time.

Ton Nguyen is one of 12 finalists for the Herald Business Journal’s Emerging Leaders award. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ton Nguyen is one of 12 finalists for the Herald Business Journal’s Emerging Leaders award. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

This is one of 12 finalists for the Herald Business Journal’s Emerging Leaders award, which seeks to highlight and celebrate people who are doing good work in Snohomish County. The winner will be named at an event on April 11. Meet the other finalists.

Name: Ton Nguyen

Age: 30

Profession: Youth Initiatives Manager, Workforce Snohomish

Ton Nguyen doesn’t like to miss his Saturday visits to Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett.

It’s his day off, but he arrives at 7 a.m. to check in with the juvenile inmates.

“I spend time with them talking about life and the dreams that they have,” said Nguyen, Youth Initiatives Manager at Workforce Snohomish.

“I also spend a lot of time playing basketball with them, laughing with them, and letting them know there is someone who cares,” he said.

To his great disappointment, Nguyen recently had to cancel his visits. But he had a good reason: In January, Nguyen was hit by a car in a parking lot.

It’s taken time to heal.

“I’ve never been injured like this,” said Nguyen, who is recovering from a concussion. “I’ve had to learn that it’s OK not being OK.”

Nguyen’s challenges were many, a nominator said: “In his youth he grew up alongside gangs on Casino Road but didn’t let that stop him from dreaming big, graduating from college and dedicating his professional and personal life to supporting youth in our community.”

One of Nguyen’s first opportunities to assist others occurred when he visited Haiti on a church mission.

“I learned what it meant to serve and serve completely,” said Nguyen, who graduated from Edmonds Community College with an associate’s degree. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Washington Bothell.

Nguyen has been president of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement since 2013.

The youth group is affiliated with Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes in Everett.

Said a nominator: “Through this youth group, Ton has been able to motivate students of all ages to volunteer their own time and give back to the community locally and globally. An example of this includes building and establishing a partnership with the Global Peace Foundation and city of Lynnwood to clean up parks, pave gravel roads, and make posters for local elementary schools. At the global scale, Ton has led youth and young adults on mission trips to Haiti to build schools and homes, deliver toys and hygiene items. He has led countless benefit dinners and events to raise money for the countries of Haiti, Vietnam, and even hosted a volleyball tournament for Nepal when they were hit with an earthquake.”

Nguyen also is involved with Housing Hope, Mercy Watch, Cocoon House, and the Union Gospel Mission among other groups.

Nguyen describes himself as fortunate: “Growing up, my family and I were always one paycheck away from being on the streets. I saw how hard my parents had to work and how loyal they were to making sure that we got what we needed regardless of how much they had to work,” Nguyen said.

He’s resumed his Saturday visits to the Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

That includes spending time with “four young people you’ve probably read about in the newspaper,” he said.

“I’ve seen them grow from hating the world to talking about what they want to do with their lives after they serve their sentence,” he said.

In the community they were part of, he said, “they weren’t meant to thrive.”

“I want them to know — I want every kid that comes out of Denney to know — there are places they can go for help.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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