A shelter for homeless teens. That’s a quick description of Cocoon House, but not a complete one. At the Everett-based nonprofit’s Butterfly Celebration Tuesday, success stories reached beyond the goal of getting kids off the streets.
The luncheon, in the conference center at Angel of the Winds Arena, was the agency’s 21st annual celebration. Cocoon House originally called its event the Butterfly Graduation. Like a commencement ceremony, young people came forward as their achievements were acknowledged.
Butterfly Award recipients — 22 in all — included teens helped by Cocoon House, but also an Everett family now back together after a mother’s struggle with addiction.
“Success is different for each of our young people,” said Rachel Mathison, the agency’s director of housing. Attending school, working on sobriety, living with parents, and other positive choices all show progress.
Teen moms were among the honorees, all nominated by Cocoon House staff. Butterfly Awards also went to young people who have been through the criminal justice system.
Everett’s Jennifer McCabe, 44, received a standing ovation along with her two daughters, Vanessa Bassi, 16, and 11-year-old Jayla Bassi. The trio shared how Cocoon House provided preventive services during a time of arguments and turmoil in their household.
McCabe shared how, three years ago, she’d been to jail and was about to lose her children when she entered her third substance-abuse treatment facility in two years. By 2016, a successful struggle to stay clean resulted in her children being returned home.
“They went through five different placements,” said McCabe, telling how her kids endured much during her recovery. Reaching out to Cocoon House, they were helped by a case manager who assured them their family adjustments were normal.
Today, Vanessa is a Cascade High School honor student. Encouraged by a Cocoon House music program coordinator, she has recorded six songs. Sister Jayla, who attends Eisenhower Middle School, writes songs and poetry.
And McCabe, who also has a son in the Marine Corps and an older daughter, is a nurse now working at a treatment center. “Don’t lose hope,” she told the crowd.
Valencia Saintilus, 17, held her 10-month-old daughter, Destiny, while accepting a Butterfly Award. Echo Westfall, a Cocoon House staff member, described Valencia as a “super competent mother” who found a safe place at the agency’s Arlington home for pregnant and parenting teens and their babies. Valencia is interested in social justice and perhaps a health care career.
At 24, Butterfly Award recipient Sean Villers credits Cocoon House for helping him reverse course after trouble with the law. “My story, I was a troubled youth,” he told the crowd.
Villers said he was once wanted by the Department of Corrections and on the run. He turned to Cocoon House, where a staff member helped him surrender to police. With those legal troubles behind him, he now has a driver’s license, stable housing, and the hope of going to college.
Kourtney Stuard was at the luncheon with her mother. “We had some issues but worked through them,” said Sherece Stuard. Her 17-year-old daughter had the habits of skipping school and disregarding rules at home. Kourtney spent time living at Cocoon House East, a temporary housing site in Monroe. She’s now back home in Everett with her mom, and consistently attends Marysville Arts & Technology High School.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, Cocoon House CEO from 2011 to 2017, received the agency’s Chrysalis Award. Franklin joined the nonprofit in 2005. She was at the helm as plans were made for the new Colby Avenue Youth Center.
Cocoon House recently broke ground on the project at 3530 Colby Ave., former home of Everett’s Spirit of Grace United Methodist Church. Along with housing for teens and young adults, the center will provide medical and counseling services, better access to transportation, employment readiness and more.
Joe Alonzo, who has been with Cocoon House since 2013, took over as interim CEO when Franklin left the job to run for mayor. “Joe is no longer interim CEO. He is now the CEO of Cocoon House,” Lyle Ryan, the agency’s board chairman, announced Tuesday.
With the leadership torch passed, Alonzo and Franklin shared a moment in front of of the crowd. As he gave her the Chrysalis Award, Alonzo said, “Thank you for helping young people become butterflies.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.