The Trail Youth gives teens a place to hang out and fills them with positive affirmations. Messages like “you are valued,” “you are important,” and “you are enough,” are on every cup of coffee, which the teens receive for free. The positive messages also are featured on merchandise and will appear on the bags of coffee beans for sale as well.
The space also functions as a regular coffee shop. Adults can come to the shop and buy coffee from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., then the space is open for youth-only hours until 5 p.m. During that 2-5 p.m. window, adults can still get coffee to go.
When customers buy a cup of coffee, that supports a free cup of coffee for a teen in need. Frequently, business people can be spotted at the shop doing work during the day, and of course drinking coffee.
“Buy a cup, give a cup. If they’re purchasing a cup, that’s allowing us to give a free cup to a kid,” said Kristen Zuray, the organization’s executive director and co-founder.
She said things have been going well since the shop opened in 2018.
Affirmations on a cup can go a long way. Zuray said the group has seen a difference with their regulars — the kids are growing and flourishing.
She said the goal has always been to, “remove all labels from youth, to restore their value and purpose, and help them reach their potential.” She said negative societal labels can lead to anxiety and depression, which are just a few of the many issues that some youth are struggling with today.
Four new internship programs are available through the North Bend nonprofit this year. Teens had a choice to join the barista team, the marketing team, the podcasting team or the coffee roasting team.
The organization focuses on youth ages 13-19, or in middle and high schools.
The internships are unpaid positions, providing the kids with job experience in different categories. They are building their resumes and their skill sets.
Each barista team intern, for example, is learning more than just customer service and making coffee. They also help with cleaning, stocking, keeping inventory, running cost analysis, and shop keeping, among other responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the coffee roasting option provides hands-on experience as well, and the marketing team gets to work on actual promotions.
The podcasting team is a great outlet for the teens to express themselves, Zuray said. The adults help with the skills and techniques involved, like writing and interviewing, but the rest is chosen by the kids. The adults do not review anything the kids say.
“They get to give their opinions. It’s all their thoughts. They choose the topics,” she said.
Podcasts were created previously by Trail Youth’s youth board, and this year’s new podcasting team just launched their new series called, “Coffee Break with Trail Youth.”
The show streams live in the form of Facebook videos and can be watched on Trail Youth’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/thetrailyouth/.
The first episode aired in December and Zuray said the plan is to have one episode air the first week of each month.
Interestingly, Zuray said some of their core values have clearly been echoed by Trail Youth podcasters. They’re now sharing with the world some of what they’ve learned in their time with The Trail Youth, telling their audience things like “We want you to remember you are valued.”
“They’re hearing it. It’s humbling and amazing to watch,” she said. “They’re sharing it now. It’s a part of them.”
Zuray said she’s proud to see the kids grow through the opportunities.
“They get to build confidence, build skills, and build a resume,” she said.
The internships run the duration of the school year, September through June. The interns sign a contract to be on the job for the nine-month run. The internships, and all the programs for youth at The Trail Youth, are free.
Zuray said they’ve always aimed to have free programs for kids and breakdown any barriers for those who may not be able to afford getting a cup of coffee with the other teens. They welcome everyone.
She said it’s up to the kids how involved they want to get. Some just hang out, some want to help the community, and some need some support. One of their offerings is a mentorship program where kids get paired up with a mentor who meets up with them once a week for various activities.
“It’s designed for all youth, whatever stage they’re at,” she said.
Zuray said they have about 125 kids that regularly access the coffee house, and so far they have served nearly 8,000 free drinks to teens since they started.
It all began in about 2013 when she her husband Josh met a group of young adults, age 20-25, who were homeless and doing drugs on the Rainier Trail in Issaquah. When they saw words like “worthless” and “society’s trash” carved into the trees, they set out to make a difference and help the young people know their value.
“We wanted to show them someone in the community valued them and they cared,” Zuray said.
So they started bringing them coffee and donuts on the trail. Word quickly spread, and soon more and more people were coming to the trail, which became cleaner and safer for families. The Trail Youth became an official nonprofit in 2014.
Zuray said they got a call asking if they could come to the Snoqualmie Trail in North Bend and help struggling teens in the Valley. It made perfect sense, she said, and was where they were raising their own family.
After some time of taking coffee and donuts to the trail, the conversations deepened and more relationships were built. It became apparent they needed a space to be inside, and so they sought to open a coffee home.
The group received a 2017 grant from Best Starts for Kids (BSK) and also was selected to be on Mike Rowe’s Facebook show, “Returning the Favor,” which flipped the space to become the renovated coffee home in just two weeks.
The coffee shop has been operating since 2018, and business has been good. Zuray said they are fulfilling a need in the community that people may not be aware of.
Tonya Guinn — co-founder, program director and advisor to the marketing team — shared some U.S. Census American Community Survey data from 2013-2017 that showed 13 percent of the population of North Bend to be living in poverty. Additionally, the school district reported 80 youth experiencing housing instability in the 2016-17 school year.
The organization still performs weekly outreach, bringing coffee to young people who may need a touch of hope. They also attend and run a booth at some community events.
Guinn and Zuray are available to speak at events, having already done so at several occasions including church events and a middle school career day.
The Trail Youth’s bags of coffee beans should start to go on sale this month, and the group already is using its own coffee in the coffee house.
Trail Youth’s annual fundraiser event will take place April 4 at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge golf club. The goal is to raise a needed $60,000 for the nonprofit to continue its programming when the BSK grant runs out at the end of 2020.
More information about Trail Youth can be found online at trailyouth.com.