Everett center for teens needing refuge grows

The place was quiet. The couches were empty. Nobody was playing video games or grabbing a snack.

Soon, they would come.

“We get about 25 to 35 a day,” Julio Cortes* said. “Some days are slow, but some days 40 kids come here.”

Cortes, 26, is an outreach supervisor at Cocoon House U-Turn Drop-In Center. The center on Broadway in Everett is a refuge from street life. Teens and young adults, ages 13 to 20, show up with needs that could tug at the hardest heart.

They show up hungry. They show up dirty, lonely or cold. They show up with prospects for bright futures dimmed by drugs, school failures, or run-ins with the law. They might be sick or homeless.

“I just listen. I don’t say, ‘I know how you’re feeling,’ because I don’t,” Cortes said.

Visitors find more than a compassionate listener. The center’s offerings include medical services, counseling, education and job help, housing referrals, as well as food, socks and hygiene packets.

This home on the street will soon have a new place of its own.

Now in a leased building at 1601 Broadway, the U-Turn Drop-In Center is moving north a couple blocks sometime this fall to a larger space at 1421 Broadway.

“We’re definitely very excited,” said Jen Chwalibog, director of development and community relations for Cocoon House. The nonprofit organization runs shelters and other services for homeless and at-risk teens and young adults in Everett, Monroe and Arlington.

The agency had hoped to buy its current home, Chwalibog said, but the price was too high. Looking for a similar space, it found the former home of Old West Mortgage at 1421 Broadway. It was available for an affordable $286,000. “The building was in foreclosure. It was bank-owned,” she said.

The two-story building will more than double the size of the U-Turn center. Offices upstairs will house the Cocoon House outreach team, a staff member from WorkSource to help with employment, and a full-time drug and alcohol treatment coordinator from Catholic Community Services.

Plans call for a shower and a full kitchen — U-Turn now has just a refrigerator and microwave.

Cocoon House recently was awarded a $100,000 human services grant from the Seattle-based Washington Women’s Foundation. Chwalibog said $50,000 of the grant will be used to help buy and renovate the new building. The agency also got a $63,000 grant from the city of Everett last year, and may receive another $60,000 from the city this year.

Other support for the building includes $50,000 from the Howarth Trust and $25,000 from the Norcliffe Foundation.

Some staff from the downtown Everett Cocoon Complex, which can house 16 teens, have moved to the new building. “This frees up four additional rooms,” Chwalibog said. Fewer teens at the complex will now have roommates, she said.

Loretta Morris, Cocoon House’s director of outreach programs and U-Turn director, said that in 2011 the U-turn center served 426 young people, and had 3,362 contacts for help. When it first opened, between April 2005 and December 2006, 190 were served.

“U-Turn is different than a Boys &Girls Club or a YMCA,” Morris said. “We deal with a street culture. There are the rare cases, kids with supportive families who for whatever reasons seek support from the street. Most do not have healthy supports at home. They are joining gangs or being sexually exploited.”

And most have a history of drug or alcohol use. At the U-Turn center, the key to helping some kids is what Morris calls “harm reduction.” It’s convincing a teen to “do a little bit less” of a harmful act. “That’s where we see changes,” she said.

At the U-Turn center’s current home, Cortes said it feels like a family when kids come in off the street and play board games. “I try not to preach to them. I talk to them at their level,” he said. “It’s stealth mentorship. I’m like a big brother.”

Peer mentors, kids who have been helped by U-Turn and do well, also play a role. “One of them is going off to college. That’s a big deal,” Cortes said.

“We have an open door,” Cortes said. “They don’t have to do anything but be kids.”

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

U-Turn center moving

The Cocoon House U-Turn Drop-In Center, now at 1601 Broadway in Everett, will move this fall to another building at 1421 Broadway in Everett.

The center serves at-risk teens and young adults, ages 13-20. Hours are 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For information about Cocoon House programs, go to www.cocoonhouse.org.

* Correction, July 10, 2012: Julio Cortes’ first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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