Stephen’s Story

April 18, 2023

Stephen in 1999 with Portland Impact youth internship crew (front row, grey Oregon sweatshirt)

Stephen didn’t realize it at the time, but getting caught shoplifting gloves would change his life.

In 1999, at 15 years old, Stephen found himself in the juvenile justice system after attempting to steal winter gloves. He was referred to Impact NW for diversion services (then known as Portland Impact). Impact NW staff shared information about their upcoming summer youth internship program based in SE Portland near his home. Stephen applied and was accepted into the program. His internship activities included landscaping services for seniors in the community, as well as work in community supported agriculture. Stephen returned the next summer as a program leader and brought his little brother along for the experience. As a teenager, Stephen couldn’t fully appreciate what this opportunity would mean for him in the long run. He completed his hours and moved on.

With work experience to add to his resume; he was able to land a job at a local restaurant. He felt great about making his own money. This work experience gave him the confidence to dream bigger and want more. He was the first in his family to go to college.  Despite the difficulties, he earned his graduate degree in Social Work from the University of Washington.

“I can honestly say that my experience with Portland Impact saved my life and put me on the path to a career of public service.”

Stephen and his family, today

Today, Stephen has a family that includes two young children. He works for the City of Seattle as senior planner helping Seattle Youth Employment Program and manages $20MIL in youth development and youth behavioral health investment. He’s on the other side now, helping make sure high quality youth programs receive adequate funding to change the lives of other young people in need.

Of his experience with Impact NW, Stephen had this to say:

“The real value of that [program] was that I was able to experience myself in a valuable role with full support for one of the first times in my life. I went from criminal to leader in 1 year, and that was due to the supportive staff; seeing and experiencing the impacts of my actions helping seniors living on their own; and being part of a team working on positive good. This had a huge impact that took years to germinate. I knew the experience was positive at the time, but the seed continued to grow, and the influence of that experience continued to expand and influence my decisions.

I had many many more setbacks in my life, but this opportunity served as a framework of what was possible for me and for the world, and I have come back to that life lesson many times. And that deep remembering has helped me be of service in my field, and to my life.”