Thrive City offers at-risk kids life skills

It started as a mini-course, a way to help at-risk teens at Scriber Lake High School see positive possibilities beyond their struggles. Today, Thrive City is a fledgling nonprofit, but that goal hasn’t changed.

“I developed this curriculum, taking kids through the process of going from failing to thriving,” said Sarah Philley, a paraeducator at Scriber. She has taught the short course at the Edmonds district’s alternative high school since 2009. “We want to get the word out about what we’re doing,” Philley said Tuesday.

Thrive City will host an informational kick-off event at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Plaza Room above the Edmonds Library. The goal of the gathering, which includes a light dinner, is to build community support as the nonprofit settles into its new home, a building at 111 Durbin Drive next to the library in Edmonds.

“Everybody interested can come. We’d love to partner with local businesses that care about youth in the community,” said Philley, adding that event organizers hope to raise $10,000. Speakers will include students who have taken the course at Scriber, volunteers and sponsors. There will be participant awards and a raffle drawing.

Philley, 35, said she was once an at-risk student at an alternative high school. She has worked at Scriber since 2002. She said she started the community-based short course — a five-day curriculum called “Experiencing Seattle: From Failing to Thriving” — because she saw a need to help kids develop “skills to work, and to cope with life.”

Field trips and chances for teens to be creative are major components of the program. Since 2009, it has been run wholly by volunteers, helped by private sponsors and donors. “We haven’t received any grant funding,” Philley said.

Now as a nonprofit with a home outside the school, Thrive City aims to expand into an after-school program that will serve more Edmonds district teens. Since its start, more than 80 alternative high school students have taken the short course. Philley’s vision is to expand the five-day curriculum into a seven-week “From Failing to Thriving” program that could be offered, 3-7 p.m., four times during each school year.

The basics wouldn’t change. Philley described the five steps teens explore in the course:

“Rock bottom, seeing beyond the struggling and getting ourselves out of that place.”

“Receiving help, and humbling ourselves to asking for help. Sometimes people are afraid to do that, it might be a sign of weakness.”

“Growing strong from our challenges, from the things we’ve experienced.”

“Becoming a contributor.”

“And turning around and giving back.”

In their look at the notion of “rock bottom,” Philley said students have heard from Edmonds police officers. “Our actions have consequences,” she said. Teens also hear about consequences from Amy Perusse, a graduation success coordinator in the Everett School District who has worked with kids in detention at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. Perusse serves on Thrive City’s board of directors. Each step is paired with what Philley calls a “city theme.”

On the topic of receiving help, kids have visited a mixed martial arts gym, and talked about nonviolent ways to channel aggression.

Music and creativity come into play when students get to the “growing stronger from challenges” step. Teens write poetry, often related to their lives. With the help of a hip-hop artist, they get to visit a recording studio and turn their poetry into songs.

They have also toured art museums, and visited a Whidbey Island glassblowing studio where the artist is a former alternative high school student.

For their “giving back” step, kids usually visit a partner organization, often spending the day at the YMCA.

“What we’re really trying to do is break down a big gap for a population that may feel marginalized in the community,” Philley said. “Failure doesn’t need to define us.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Thrive City event in Edmonds

Thrive City, a new nonprofit serving at-risk teens in the Edmonds School District, will host an informational kick-off event at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Plaza Room above the Edmonds Library, 650 Main St., Edmonds. RSVP requested (not required) at

Before the event, 4-5:30 Wednesday two Thrive City sites will be open to visitors. The Thrive City office is at 111 Durbin Drive, Edmonds, and the Thrive City Garden Project is just up the hill on Spruce Street.

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