Living

Have a Heart for Community Youth Services

Although she wasn't financially prepared, Kya Miller was emotionally ready to move away from home at 18.

"I had a lot of issues with my mom. ... Things weren't working out so well," she recalls.

Miller's life could have scattered in a number of directions, but she credits Olympia-based Community Youth Services with helping her stay on the right track.

"Community Youth Services is there for youth who just need an extra push to figure things out," said Miller, 23, of Lacey.

She is one of several young people slated to share their CYS success stories Tuesday during the agency's "Have a Heart for Kids Breakfast & Showcase" at the Worthington Center at Saint Martin's University in Lacey.

The invitation-only event, one of three CYS fundraisers scheduled next week, usually raises between $45,000 and $50,000.

"We need every penny of it because this is unrestricted money," said Susan Alexander, director of fund and resource development. "This is the money that fills in all the gaps. The contracts and the grants are never enough. It's the glue, really, that holds the agency and all the programs together."

Although the breakfast is sold out, community members also can support CYS at two variety-style entertainment shows, coined "A Really Big Shoe Two," scheduled next weekend at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets and sponsorship opportunities still are available for the shows, which will feature Entertainment Explosion, a troupe of singers and dancers who are ages 55 and older. Last year, the event sold out and raised almost $15,000 for CYS and programs that serve homeless students in South Sound schools.

Established in 1970, CYS provides social services to more than 3,000 children, teens, young adults and families each year in Thurston, Mason, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.

Most of the kids CYS serves are homeless. Others fall into the category of high risk or vulnerable youths, Alexander said.

The agency's programs range from street outreach and suicide prevention to therapeutic foster care and family preservation.

"It costs much less to catch it at this stage and teach kids that they're going to need to live self-sufficiently, resulting in fewer responsibilities for the community down the road. ... They really do need and deserve our support. It could have been any one of us under different circumstances," Alexander said.

During Tuesday's breakfast, participants will be asked to open their hearts - and they're checkbooks - to support CYS.

The event's guest speaker will be Lt. Gov. Brad Owen. Several youths, including Miller, also will talk about how CYS changed their lives.

After moving away from her parents' home in Rochester, Miller qualified for CYS's RISE transitional housing program. She lived in a low-income apartment while attending South Puget Sound Community College.

"Community Youth Services helped pay a portion of my rent," she said.

Three years ago, Miller told participants at a Have a Heart breakfast that she wanted to attend Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and pursue a degree in social work.

In December, she graduated from the private college with a bachelor's degree.

"I just finished up an internship at DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) in Tacoma, and now I'm going to be a temporary (employee) there, working in Indian Child Welfare," she said.

"I made it all true."

Lisa Pemberton writes for The Olympian. She can be reached at lpemberton@theolympian.com.

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