Kathie Nguyen embraces Eileen & Callie’s Place founder Dr. Natalie Ellington. Celebrate 18!, hosted on July 13, was also the day of Ellington’s birthday. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Kathie Nguyen embraces Eileen & Callie’s Place founder Dr. Natalie Ellington. Celebrate 18!, hosted on July 13, was also the day of Ellington’s birthday. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Countywide birthday party sparks hope for girls aging out of foster care

Celebrate 18! was held by nonprofit Eileen & Callie’s Place on Saturday.

While sitting under a balloon arch surrounded by colorfully wrapped birthday presents, 17-year-old Kathie Nguyen was beaming as she explained this was the first birthday in her lifetime that she actually enjoyed.

Nguyen, along with several other girls from the South King County area, received more than just birthday wishes at Celebrate 18!, a countywide party for girls aging out of the foster care system.

Hosted by Eileen & Callie’s Place, a Kent-based nonprofit organization, Celebrate 18! provided makeovers, new outfits, education and job resources, and more to the birthday girls on Saturday.

The overall idea is to build up the girls’ confidence and support them in the next stage of life after foster care, said Dr. Natalie Ellington, founder of Eileen & Callie’s Place.

“Every one of their stories is different,” Ellington said. “The only thing that’s the same is they’ve all been impacted by a system that’s been broken for a long time.”

Love was found in all the details of the Celebrate 18! event at the Auburn Event and Community Center. When searching for a new outfit, the birthday girls perused racks of shoes, clothes and jewelry designed to mimic a boutique shopping experience. Clothes were available in a broad range of sizes to accommodate all body types.

On-site representatives and resources included King County library cards, voter registration, information on continuing education and career networking.

“We wanted every single thing to say ‘we thought about you,’” Ellington said.

As Nguyen exited the dressing room area at the event to show Ellington her new outfit and heels, volunteers and other attendees cheered and applauded while she struck a few poses.

“I feel like I was actually loved and supported by others,” Nguyen said after the event. “It’s kind of overwhelming because I’ve never had this kind of care and love in my life … I love today.”

Nguyen, now living in a group home in Tacoma, attends high school in Federal Way and has lived in dozens of foster care homes around South King County. She has been in the foster care system since she was 13 years old, after a childhood of sexual abuse began at age 6.

The trauma from her childhood combined with mistreatment at group homes, such as at Iowa’s Clarinda Academy according to the Inlander in 2018, has led to difficulties with self-harming, she said.

Celebrate 18! proved to be the new beginning she needed, Nguyen said.

“I feel like this was a ‘Hey Kathie, new opportunity! Doors opening for you. Step in.’”

Aside from the generous gifts of the day, Nguyen’s favorite part was hearing the advice and personal experiences of five women who are foster care alumni themselves. Hearing these women offer guidance was one of her first experiences of motherly love.

“It helps to know I’m not alone.”

As the party concluded with dinner and birthday dessert, the event’s speakers offered advice they would give their younger selves.

Speakers included Jamerika Haynes, Ms. Evergreen State 2018 and founder of Clever Jam Communications; Barbara Rockey, Treehouse education specialist and Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors candidate; Lisa Barnes, Salvation Army captain and author; Kathy Ohrt, assistant manager of Foster Champs of Maple Valley nonprofit; and Latasha Eaddy Haynes, owner of Tacoma-based Ike and Tash Photography and Motion and youth program manager at Advancing Leadership.

Sometimes comparison leaves a lacking feeling, said Barnes, who lived in 30 to 40 foster care homes during her adolescence.

“We learn to measure ourselves up against others before we really know the value of the measuring stick,” she said. “We see other little girls with more bracelets or more dolls and we feel like their lives are better than ours …”

We are far more than the hurt that has ever happened to us, she told the birthday girls.

You are not alone in your overwhelming anxiety or crippling trauma or searing pain, you just know yours, Barnes said. While every feeling is valid, the bad experiences do not have to be yours forever.

The conversation then opened up for the birthday girls to ask questions about how to navigate life during and after foster care.

One birthday girl’s question brought many to tears.

“How do you let others love you?” she asked. “And how do you love yourself? I’ve never felt love so I don’t know how to let [people] in.”

Don’t hold people responsible if they didn’t do it, Barnes said.

Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to heal, said Rockey.

“Before I could say ‘I love you,’ I would tell people ‘I care for you,’” she said. “Give yourself permission to take your time.”

As a must of every birthday party, each girl blew out a candle on a decorated cupcake after the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.” Although the candle flames went out at the end of the night, the hope for these young girls blazes on.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@federalwaymirror.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.federalwaymirror.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

Hairdressers, makeup artists and nail technicians were available to give each birthday girl a makeover. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Hairdressers, makeup artists and nail technicians were available to give each birthday girl a makeover. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Clothes, shoes and jewelry were neatly placed on display racks to provide the birthday girls with a shopping experience. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Clothes, shoes and jewelry were neatly placed on display racks to provide the birthday girls with a shopping experience. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Kathie Nguyen blows out her birthday candle at Saturday’s Celebrate 18! event. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Kathie Nguyen blows out her birthday candle at Saturday’s Celebrate 18! event. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

More in News

Federal Way Public Schools reveals plan for reopening schools in fall

Depending on state guidelines, students will have a combination of in-person and remote learning days.

The Red Lion Inn at 1 South Grady Way in Renton is being used as temporary site to relocate individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo.
Renton battles King County over temporary shelter at Red Lion Hotel

County officials believe emergency health order will supersede city’s move.

Federal Way teacher pleads not guilty to child rape charges

A Tacoma man pleaded not guilty to three charges of second-degree child… Continue reading

Federal Way’s Pacific Bonsai Museum reopens to the public

Local gardens and exhibits are welcoming guests once again, now with additional safety measures.

Photo courtesy of South Sound News
One woman, two kids injured in serious car crash along Pacific Highway South

A 21-year-old reckless driver may have run a red light and crashed into the victim’s vehicle, police say.

A train route that would shuttle people between Eastern and Western Washington could tie in with the proposed ultra-high-speed rail between B.C. and Portland. Photo courtesy RobertStafford/Pixabay.com
State receives King County to Spokane rail study

It would take about eight and a half hours to reach the Inland Empire from Puget Sound.

Bret Chiafalo. File photo
Supreme Court says state can punish WA faithless electors

Justices: Presidential electors, including Everett man, must keep pledge to back popular vote winner

File photo
Red light, speed zone cameras generate $3.8M for Federal Way

2019 annual report shows 36,789 citations issued for both red light cameras and school zone speed areas throughout the city.

The Chip-In fundraiser hopes to meet the $3 million goal to provide 5,000 laptops to FWPS students.
Former MLB player hopes to raise $3M for 5,000 laptops for FW students

The Chip-In fundraiser site provides 100% of the proceeds to Federal Way Public Schools

Most Read