NORTH BEND - It can feel like ages ago that when we needed to meet face-to-face with friends or family, the neighborhood coffee shop would be the go-to in order to reconnect.
With stay home orders in place for most counties in Washington, if a coffee shop is open, it's most likely only for to-go, drive thru or mobile orders.
Connecting with people, specifically with teenagers and young adults, is the key for The Trail Youth Coffee Home in North Bend.
Even with the pandemic the shop continues to reach out to teens as best they can in providing job skills and mentoring.
Even before you step inside The Trail Youth, you are labeled- but in a good way.
"In the coffee shop you'll see labels, you are beautiful, you are bold," said executive director Kristen Zuray.
These labels are all over the shop, from the A-boards outside, to a big lighted "Hope" sign from the window.
"We just turned this place into a positive environment," said Zuray.
It's that positive affirmation that is the backbone for why The Trail Youth Coffee Home exists.
Even the name 'coffee home' has meaning.
"Because a lot of the kids, they might be couch surfing or coming from homes that are really difficult to return to after school, so we wanted it to be a home based environment," said Zuray.
For those that intern, work, or are customers, it's important to feel that affirmation themselves.
"But then to go an pay it forward, and then pass it on to the next person because never know what they're struggling with," said Zuray.
The idea behind The Trail Youth began in 2013, when Kristen and others visited teenagers struggling with homelessness, drug abuse, and prostitution living along the Rainier Trail in Issaquah.
They would hand out doughnuts and have them make specialized coffee drinks, she said.
"We wanted to make them feel valued and loved," said Zuray. "We sat down with them, and said what about a coffee shop? And the kids just started pouring out their stories to me about how they needed a safe place to hang out after school."
About two years ago, that idea of a coffee shop became a reality with the opening of their location in North Bend. The mission grew.
The Trail Youth provides job training for teenagers aged 13-19.
"They can join the marketing team to learn how to market a business," Zuray said. "They can join a podcasting team to really learn how to develop stories and research and learn how to put their voice into practice, and also learn how to roast coffee."
If a teenager is struggling, there is a mentorship program for kids who need extra support.
"We’ve had kids come in with anxiety, they go through our program, they have the confidence now, and then they get the job at Starbucks," Zuray said.
With the pandemic, anxiety remains a big problem, according to Zuray. Teenagers are struggling with drug abuse, depression and suicide.
Typically, a mentor would be able to sit down with a teenager at the shop. But with stay home orders in effect, staff of the non-profit are forced to connect with kids via Zoom.
There is hope however with the purchase of a coffee trailer. They hope to go back to their roots, and go back out to the community and reach out to the kids.
"Last week, we lost a kid to an overdose," Zuray said. "And because of that, this mobile trailer isn’t just a dream, it has to happen. Because the fear is growing rates of suicide. The fear is growing rates of overdoses."
For those that work at The Trail Youth like Ben Rogers it's like a second home.
"I still very much like working here and just being able to bring happiness to the people of the valley," Ben Rogers said.
Rogers is using his time not only learning coffee making skills, but also learning interpersonal skills.
"Not everyone is good with speaking with people, so this a job that I would think is a good fit for people wanting to learn how to speak with others," he said.
Nicholas Ademek has been interning and learning how to roast coffee beans for the past seven months. He also sees the benefits first hand.
"Before I started here, I wasn’t as social as I am now. I’m still not. But it helped me a lot," he said. "It’s really special to see all of the kids here change. Just having this place all day and after school. It’s really awesome."
The reality is that the pandemic has affected the non-profit.
"It’s slow. I don’t know if we’ll reach out goal of it being self sustainable but we’ll see," said Zuray.
Despite that, it is not stopping them from spreading love and positivity, one coffee cup at a time.
"Life may kick you down and keep you down, but you have to try and get back up, even if you need to ask for help. Because it’s not weak to ask for help," said Rogers.
The Trail Youth Coffee Home is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-3pm. For more information, visit www.trailyouth.com.