Seattle nonprofit tries to turn around low graduation rate of foster kids in Washington

SEATTLE -- Just over 41% of children in foster care in Washington graduate from high school, according to recent state statistics. But a nonprofit in Seattle hopes to increase that rate to give kids a better life.

One recent graduate went through the program after being in foster care for her whole life. Now she’s urging others in foster care to get their diploma.

“Walking across the stage for me is like one of the happiest moments of my life,” recent graduate Jordan Barrett said. “A lot of people told me I would never be able to do it.”

But for Jordan, she did.

There was a time, though, that she thought she would never walk across this stage to receive her diploma.

“At a moment, I didn't even believe in myself. I didn't think that I’d be able to graduate. I was, like, forget this, I’m just going to get my GED,” she said.

Jordan’s story, by the odds, would be insurmountable for most.

“When I was born, I was born with cocaine in my system. My mom, she was a really big drug addict, so I was taken from there and put into foster care,” Jordan said.

Her whole life in foster care. Staying in one home after another. Little to no sense of security or consistency.

“I was angry and depressed a lot back when I was younger and I really didn’t know how to cope with it. I would take a lot of the anger out on the foster parents,” Jordan said.

That anger led to running away a lot, she said. But when she got older, Jordan came to a realization.

“Not having something, not having money, not having clothes or shoes, it was hard for me. I just told myself that I can`t do this no more. I'm going to have to work for this, for myself," Barrett said.

At 16, she was staying at a state-run shelter and not sure where her life was going. That's when she met a night staff member there who got to know Jordan.

“Over the weeks, him and his wife were thinking of becoming foster parents because he wanted to help children,” said Jordan.

After months of legal red tape, Jordan finally got to live with that family -- a family that loves her and that she loves back. Her faith grew, too.

“Last year, my best friend and his parents got me into church and I started having a relationship with God and it kind of brought me back into who I am today,” said Jordan.

But with that settled, the hard work was only beginning.

That's where a Seattle-based no-profit called Treehouse comes in. They focus on primarily providing academic support. Treehouse also provides funding for activities, school fees and even providing a free store for clothes, toys and school supplies.

But more importantly, it gave Jordan the support she needed to graduate. This time, the support came from Treehouse education specialist Merissa Humes.

"I just try to get familiar with the young people, just have open conversations. Like, how's it going? What are your plans? How are your classes going?” said Humes.

Simple conversations that many of us who have families take for granted. But for foster kids, it is simple talks like those that can be life-changing.

“Some cases are harder than others and some youth have been in situations where they were the adult from birth. They were raising themselves and now they're going into a structured environment where we are telling them to thrive. So that's counter-intuitive as well,” said Humes.

Which is why Treehouse believes getting to foster kids is so important. Treehouse works as an advocate for these kids in the school, getting to know and talk to the child's teachers and principal. Even talking about daily life tasks, to major life events.

“But it’s more so, what do you want to do? What are your goals? What steps do you want to take to get there, and how can I support you on that journey?” said Humes.

Treehouse takes a holistic approach to foster care, instead of just thinking of each child as a number in a case folder.

“She helped me with, like, what’s going on with my family, stuff like that. Like if I had any issues with family, school, work, friends. She was just there to talk with me,” said Jordan.

And the results show that this approach works. While foster kids in Washington graduate under 50% in five years, if they are supported by Treehouse that number increases to 89%.

“I think for it to be a successful as possible, we all need to be talking. We all need to be on the same page for the betterment of the youth,” said Humes.

For Jordan, though, she wants other foster kids to not be discouraged over their situation. She said the key is to have faith and push through the pain to make a new life.

“I’m doing all of this hard work right now, but I know when I get older, I know I’m going to have a blessed life and I’m going to do well and I’m going to be successful,” said Jordan.

If you are interested in helping Treehouse, you can go on their website, WWW.TREEHOUSEFORKIDS.ORG.

As for Jordan, she is working for Door-Dash, supporting herself. She begins classes at the University of Washington in Tacoma in the fall.