This is one of a collection of stories about philanthropy in Snohomish County.
EVERETT — A bunch of teens descended on a kitchen one recent afternoon. There’s nothing unusual about that after-school scene, except these kids weren’t at home or in a friend’s house. They were at Cocoon House.
Starting in 1991 when it opened as an eight-bed emergency shelter, the Everett-based nonprofit has grown to serve teens who are homeless or at-risk at several sites around Snohomish County. Cocoon House operates shelters and temporary housing in Everett and Monroe, a home for pregnant teens and young moms in Arlington, and a drop-in center on Everett’s Broadway.
After more than 25 years, the agency has new leadership and is poised to take a big step.
Joe Alonzo, 38, has taken over as interim CEO of Cocoon House. He was hired nearly five years ago to oversee Cocoon House programs, and a year-and-a-half ago became the agency’s chief operations officer.
“There’s a hope and energy around young people,” said Alonzo, who grew up in Medford, Oregon. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Oregon State University, and earned a master of business administration at City University.
With her successful run for Everett mayor, Cassie Franklin recently stepped down as Cocoon House CEO. Also an Everett City Council member, Franklin’s title at Cocoon House is currently CEO emeritus. She started with the nonprofit in 2005.
Cocoon House has acquired the former Spirit of Grace United Methodist Church building at 3530 Colby Avenue in Everett, and has been working on a $13.7 million capital campaign. The old church will be torn down, with the goal of building a comprehensive youth center on the property. That facility would nearly double Cocoon House’s housing capacity.
The vision for the three-level complex on Colby includes second-floor dorm-style housing units for up to 20 teens ages 15-18; top-floor apartment housing for 20 young adults ages 18-24; and on the main floor a full-service day center offering meals, chemical dependency and mental health counseling, showers and more. Rent for the apartments would be based on income, Alonzo said.
Plans for the Colby site also include a computer lab, classrooms, room for employment training, a garden and spaces for recreation.
“We hope to break ground at the end of January 2018, but it could push back into February,” said Julio Cortes, Cocoon House public relations manager.
Cortes said architects did an extensive review of the old church and found it wasn’t suited to the agency’s needs. “We are honoring the memory of the church by salvaging some of the interior architecture and using it in the new construction, notably some of the stained glass, light fixtures and some of the interior wood designs,” he said.
Eventually, if the center on Colby is built as planned, Cocoon House would close its headquarters in what was once a motel on Everett’s Pine Street, which now has 20 housing units and an administrative office. It also would close the Cocoon House Outreach Center at 1421 Broadway.
The Broadway building and the property at 2929 Pine St. will be sold, Alonzo said. Another provider of low-income housing, perhaps Peoria Home, is expected to take over the Pine Street site, Alonzo said.
A family-style house on Everett’s Cedar Street would stay open as a Cocoon House shelter for younger kids, ages 12-14. The shelter for youth in Monroe along with the long-term home for pregnant teens, teen moms and their babies in Arlington would also remain as Cocoon House facilities.
Fund-raising for the Colby project hit a snag earlier this year. At the end of the longest legislative session in state history, lawmakers failed to pass a capital budget that contained many allocations, among them $1 million for Cocoon House. Franklin said in July that another $1 million for the project was included in the 2016 state capital budget. Already committed to the fund-raising campaign, along with contributions from individuals, businesses and other entities, is $2,750,000 from the state Housing Trust Fund.
The impasse over the $4 billion capital budget was caused by lawmakers’ disagreement over how to address a state Supreme Court decision concerning water rights. Other local projects affected by the capital budget bottleneck include a new science building at Edmonds Community College, a pocket park in Arlington, a new civic center in Lake Stevens, and a new senior center on the Edmonds waterfront.
Alonzo expects the capital budget issue to be resolved in early 2018, if not sooner.
As fund-raising for the center on Colby continues, teens are being helped by Cocoon House every day. Alonzo said the agency houses about 350 young people each year, and logs thousands of visits at the Broadway drop-in facility.
An outreach team meets kids on the streets, in schools and through partner agencies. At its housing sites, teens get help engaging with school and preparing for employment. Homelessness prevention efforts include Cocoon House’s intensive WayOUT Seminars to bolster teen-parent communication, and Project SAFE support groups for parents.
At the Pine Street complex recently, kids headed to the kitchen through a cheery community room. It was decorated with hand-drawn artwork. A comfortable couch and a long table for family-style meals added to the welcoming ambience. On the sofa was a guitar, ready for someone to strum a tune.
Residents’ rooms open onto a courtyard where teens have planted a garden. There’s a peach tree that kids bought years ago at a farmers’ market. Cortes opened the door to one empty room, which had two beds. Freshly painted, it was being prepared for another teenager in need.
“The average stay is 16 months,” Cortes said. “Rooms don’t stay empty for long.”
In an interview last summer, Franklin said she cried when she saw designs for the Colby building. “Think about the kids that need this center desperately,” she said. Many kids coming to Cocoon House have experienced trauma and “need to heal,” she said.
“They’ll have access to a full-service day center on the main floor, and housing right upstairs. When they turn 18, they won’t be kicked to the curb,” Franklin said. “It’s what we’ve been dreaming about for many, many years.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cocoon House, an Everett-based nonprofit, provides shelter, outreach and homelessness prevention programs for homeless and at-risk young people. Facilities include two sites in Everett offering short-term and long-term housing; a home with temporary housing in Monroe; a home in Arlington for pregnant teens and young moms and their babies; and an outreach center on Broadway in Everett.
Information and how to help: www.cocoonhouse.org