Cocoon House graduates emerge in Everett ceremony

Thank you.

Again and again, someone — a teenager, a local leader, even our state’s first lady — came to the podium at Thursday’s 18th annual Cocoon House Butterfly Graduation and expressed gratitude.

Trudi Inslee, the wife of Gov. Jay Inslee, told the crowd at the fundraising luncheon that she was there to “thank everybody in this room.”

“Without you, these things don’t happen,” she said.

Cocoon House, an Everett-based nonprofit agency, helps teens and young adults through its emergency shelters, long-term housing, street outreach, case management and homeless prevention services.

Its leaders thanked donors and sponsors of Thursday’s event, held in the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Everett’s Xfinity Arena.

There were thanks to the Cocoon House staff, and to volunteers. Most of all, there were thanks from young people who have been helped — thanks for a place to call home.

It’s called a Butterfly Graduation, but rather than award diplomas or degrees the ceremony honors progress made by young people who have struggled with homelessness, family strife, substance abuse and other issues.

Thirty-five teens and young adults walked to the podium to cheers as they accepted Silver, Gold or Platinum Butterfly Awards, given in recognition of school achievement, progress in substance-abuse treatment, employment or maintaining stable housing.

“Cocoon House helped me find myself,” said one young man, removing his ball cap to accept his award.

“Without Cocoon House, I wouldn’t have graduated early,” said a young woman who plans to attend Western Washington University.

“I want to thank Cocoon House for everything they’ve done for me,” said Mia, a teen who said being homeless made her feel sad at school. “I’d go home to Cocoon House and feel I’m part of a family.”

Tanya Burgess, a former Cocoon House resident, now serves on its board of directors. Her story was featured in a video shown at the luncheon. She works at an Everett medical office and is continuing her education to become a physician assistant.

Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin thanked the agency’s longtime board member, Lyle Ryan, and his wife, P.J. Ryan, for their 15 years of service. The Ryans were honored with the agency’s Chrysalis Award.

Adam Cornell, a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor, shared the trials of his early years. With his birth parents involved in illegal drugs, he and his younger siblings were placed in foster care. He was eventually adopted, but there were other setbacks.

“I can tell you about the chaos, fear and uncertainty of not having a home,” Cornell said. “Those struggles are not what define me. People who stood with me made me who I am. Cocoon House is standing with young people in this community.”

Inslee said she worked in support of the Washington Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act, signed recently by the governor. It will create an office of homeless youth programs in the state Department of Commerce, with a goal of preventing homelessness through access to services.

It’s meant to help teens like Ashley Danielson, who was honored with a Cocoon House platinum award.

Marty Shaw, the agency’s lead housing case manager, said Ashley had been living with her mother in cars and motels. “She attended school every day, but had to find new places to live, week after week,” he said. When she came to Cocoon House for help, she lacked self-confidence, he said. But as she approached her 18th birthday, Ashley persevered.

“Eighteen is a cliff for most of our youth,” Shaw said. It’s an age when many kids lose all financial support.

Ashley approached that cliff with “courage, consistency and integrity,” Shaw said. She applied for housing and hundreds of jobs. Employment was elusive, but she found work.

Now, she has had a job for nearly a year. After graduation in June, she’ll work full time. Ashley has her own place, too, and much gratitude for Cocoon House.

Inslee said she loves the notion of a cocoon, and seeing “young people grow into butterflies.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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