Rachel Kittle could be using her law degree, practicing family law.
Instead, the Mukilteo woman founded a mentoring program called Leadership Launch to help at-risk youth get into and succeed at college.
“I left the legal profession and felt this is where I want to leave my mark,” Kittle said.
In choosing this path, Kittle paraphrases civil rights leader Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what Snohomish County needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do it because what Snohomish County needs is more people who have come alive.”
Leadership Launch makes her come alive, because it’s her own story.
“I come from hardship, I come from a low-income family,” Kittle said. “I was one of those at-risk youth.”
The idea behind Leadership Launch is to work with youth who want to make a lasting impact in their communities, but who face personal or financial hardship and need extra support.
She started Leadership Launch in 2014 to mentor five students each year. The mentoring begins in ninth grade and continues through the first year in college. Helping an at-risk student at this point can help change the trajectory of their entire lives.
Kittle points to her own background growing up in Bear Gulch, a rural area outside of Aberdeen.
One of her parents struggled with drugs and alcohol.
Her household was filled with anger and stress. Her family was poor and relied on reduced school lunches, government cheese and powdered milk.
The power to their home was shut off multiple times. No one in her family had gone to college — not grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins.
She could have continued down that path.
“I was very fortunate that I had people in my life who stepped in and showed me another way,” Kittle wrote in her nomination form. “Faith was a key to my transformation, but so were friends, and the families of my friends, and coaches, and teachers and employers.”
She went to Michigan State University and then went to law school at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. She joined a law firm in Salem. She found she had to overcome her background.
“I have had to embrace what I call Bear Gulch Brazen — a little bit of class with a little bit of sass,” Kittle said. “I know I make grammatical mistakes, I sometimes say the sassy thing. I’ve learned that to be professional and to impact community, you don’t have to be perfect.”
After moving to Mukilteo, Kittle, who has two young children, started Leadership Launch. She’s helped create a board of directors, handles all of the day-to-day operations and finds donations.
The mentoring includes coordinating college tours, sporting events and visiting professionals. Students also commit to “Community Passion Projects,” identifying needs in their community and doing something about it.
One student is organizing a mobile dental unit for Casino Road residents in Everett.
Another student is raising money to help young people participate in the Mariner Junior Football program.
Another is organizing a “beautifying” day for middle school girls to help them gain confidence.
“I think sometimes we forget that youth are simple — we are all simple — we all want someone to see us and value us and help us move forward in what we want to do,” Kittle said.