EVERETT — While thumbing through school reports, court cases and social workers’ notes, Garry Larson, now 23, saw he was considered an insufficient student at age 7.
Garry and his siblings, Crystal and Michael Larson, grew up in the foster care system through their middle school years.
“When kids are on survival mode, academics do not come first,” said Garry Larson. “And I think to see the trajectory where I was headed, without the people in my life who helped me, that’s exactly what I was just going to be as a human being — just insufficient.”
The social workers who documented “how many problems I had” were those who would eventually find skills in Garry Larson that he couldn’t yet see.
Today, he is a crisis counselor and on track to get his bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University. Michael Larson, 22, is a Gonzaga alum. Crystal Larson, 20, is an engineering technician for Facebook parent company Meta and attending Edmonds College, on her way to becoming an aerospace engineer. She starts at Wipro Givon, an aerospace company, as a junior engineer later this month.
The siblings are providing three scholarships, ranging from $500 to $1,000, to Everett High School students graduating this year. Black students and students who have been in the foster care system are eligible for the “It Takes a Village” scholarship. It’s a way to pay it forward, Crystal Larson said.
“Paying it forward is not a payment of a debt that is owed,” Garry Larson said. “Rather, it’s an opportunity to pour out of the same cup others poured into.”
Everett High School student leadership advisor Rachelle Waller and his youth group pastor, Casey Price, were among those who poured into Michael Larson’s cup. Waller was the teacher who told him that he was capable and didn’t have to ask permission to do anything — he could go get it.
Crystal Larson said the Everett community uplifted her — “from someone else’s parent on a sports team, to a teacher, a coach, a co-worker, or a boss.”
At Everett High School, the Larsons were leaders.
Crystal Larson was among the first to participate in an apprenticeship program sponsored by Everett High School that would lay the groundwork for her career in aerospace engineering. She was also the captain of the school’s first full women’s wrestling team and competed at state two years in a row.
While serving on ASB, Michael Larson spearheaded an initiative to make everyone feel like they belong.
“That extraordinary act of kindness was done without prompting from teachers or other school leaders, but came from Michael’s desire to reach all students and let them know that Everett High School is a place where all are welcome and all are an important part of the community,” former principal Lance Balla told The Daily Herald in 2017.
Garry Larson’s football teammates gave him “The Most Inspirational” award. He read the team a football poem to pump up the team before playing a rival school.
He was known for his inspirational poetry around Everett High. And in 2016 he was named a student ambassador for a program aiming to prepare low-income students for college.
He said he really knew he built a village after friends stood by his side at his lowest.
In 2017, Garry Larson was incarcerated in the midst of a mental health crisis. Through the county’s therapeutic alternatives to prosecution program, Larson got his charges wiped clean in 2019. He gained access to therapists, a psychologist and “the whole mental health team.” He got a job. He went back to school.
“My friends, all the people who wrote letters telling the judge to give me a chance, all the people who showed up to my court hearings, that really showed me the village,” he said.
The Larsons want to be part of Everett High students’ “village.”
In Snohomish County, about 500 kids enter foster care every year, according to Hand in Hand, a religious outreach program based in Everett. Less than 10% of former foster youth graduate from college, according to a 2014 study. And students of color in foster care are less likely to have a high school diploma than youth in foster care who are non-Hispanic white.
Michael Larson said he and his siblings want to continue to rewrite those statistics.
“I just remember my time in high school. I never had anyone who looked like me or came from the same background that I could look up to,” he said. “And so I think about not even just the money aspect, but also someone who’s going to be in that audience or on that stage about to get the scholarship who see us as African American students who are doing bigger things now. … Because that’s something we never had but something that we may get to give to kids and students who are in school right now.”
The Larson siblings are also hoping their scholarship encourages those with more wealth to invest in Everett High students, and ultimately their community.
Scholarship recipients will be announced this month at Everett High School’s scholarship presentation night.