It’s been a long road, but this Federal Way nonprofit serving young people of color just made a serious upgrade.
Good Shepherd Youth Outreach has helped young people and their families in South King County since 2008. Through their Empowered Youth Project, the organization helps primarily young men of color develop confidence and critical thinking skills, and reach important milestones like graduation, work experience and post-secondary education.
Louis Guiden, founder and executive director of Good Shepherd, and his team have broadened their efforts in the last few years to fighting food insecurity. Good Shepherd was the West Region winner this year for Chick-fil-A’s True Inspiration award and received a $150,000 check in January to fuel those efforts.
But their weekly Thursday food distribution wraps up on Oct. 27, and Guiden wants to get back to their original mission: Workforce, education and empowerment development for local young people. Since the beginning, Guiden said, he’s wanted a physical space to do it.
After 14 years working in Federal Way, Good Shepherd finally has that space.
Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the United Way of King County, Good Shepherd launched its Community Empowerment Center out of its office at 720 South 333rd St. suite 100 in Federal Way this month. The grant allows them to build the space out, set up a computer lab, hire more staff and independent contractors and build a virtual learning hub for the Empowered Youth Project, Guiden said.
Good Shepherd invited community members to the space for an open house on Friday, Sept. 23, offering a tour of the new facilities and featuring speeches by some of the people who helped make the project a reality.
Their Empowered Youth Project focuses on young men between the ages of 15 and 21. At the new Community Empowerment Center, Good Shepherd will be able to serve them directly.
“[Good Shepherd has] been in Federal Way since 2008, and this is the first time we’ve had our own space,” Guiden said.
But it’s taken that long to get through roadblocks securing funding, and Guiden said it took a lot of honest conversations.
“It was a lot of years of getting United Way and us to have these hard conversations, to trust a Black-led organization,” Guiden said.
Kendrick Glover, a former Kent school district counselor, is the executive director of Glover Empower Mentoring (GEM) based in Kent, which works with young adults up to 24 years old. GEM also partners with Good Shepherd.
“Our work is parallel, but I consider him [Guiden] one of the OGs. He’s been in this work a long time,” Glover said. “Seeing his vision come true, building a space where young people and families can come in … that’s exactly what he’s been talking about for the last umpteen years. So, I’m just glad to be here and support him.”
The thing that excites Glover the most is seeing a young person discover their “Why?”
“When we can get them to understand ‘why,’ then we can prepare them for the next level,” Glover said. “We’re not trying to set goals for young people. We’re trying to have young people set goals for themselves.”
Good Shepherd is conducting outreach for the program, and seeking a few dozen young men interested in enrolling. Good Shepherd is led by those who identify as African American and BIPOC (Black people, Indigenous people and people of color), Guiden said, so they share an ethnic identity with the young people they serve.
They’ll offer weekly classes focused on six areas: Culture and identity, life skills, character, leadership, academic support and entrepreneurship, Guiden said. The young people receive tools for breaking into the work force too, and Good Shepherd also takes them on field trips.
“Some of [them] ain’t been to Boeing, to see a plane built,” he said of the awaiting opportunities. “Some of them ain’t been to Mount Rainier. Some of them ain’t even had Chick-fil-A.”
Good Shepherd will let the young men create their own schedule for using the space, Guiden said. The goal is to let those relationships develop organically rather than be dictated by a strict system.
Too many well-intentioned efforts bring some help to young people, but then run out of steam, Guiden said, so he wants Good Shepherd to be a consistent force in those young people’s lives.
“We are here for [the youth] in this community,” Guiden said. “We hear their cries … we understand the cries, because we got pain too, just like them. We ain’t going away.”
What Guiden’s learned along the way is it’s all about trust — proving to a young person that you won’t “jump out the boat when the water comes in.”
“[He’s saying,] ‘I need to see if you’re really serious about me,” Guiden said. “‘Can you take my pain?’”
NETWORK OF HOPE
The work is personal for both Louis Guiden and his wife Dr. Eboni Guiden, who is the scholar behind much of their work, Louis told the crowd at Good Shepherd’s event on Sept. 23. She witnessed his pain, frustration and trauma when they met in 1999 and encouraged him to put his passion and his story into a book, a documentary or into working with youth. That was the seed God used to spark the fire inside him, Louis said.
He’d come home some nights, frustrated, and tired of the systems of oppression he was encountering.
And Eboni “would take out her book, a little pen, and she’d be writing,” Guiden said.
Through those interviews and notes, Eboni Guiden formed the model and the narrative for their body of work.
Also instrumental to the program is Dr. Judith Berry, an education professional who wrote the Empowered Youth Project strategic plan for their United Way grant. As the chief academic consultant for Good Shepherd, Dr. Berry enhanced the project with her early college model, Guiden said.
Angel Mulivai-Tobin, the program manager and coordinator for their food insecurity program, works with the Good Shepherd programs in schools and serves as a liaison to parents and teachers.
The organization is based in its member’s faith, but they’re not there to preach to the young people, Mulivai-Tobin said: “Our goal is to see our people in the BIPOC community thrive, period.”
But she also wants any local young people who need a safe space to feel welcome at the Community Empowerment Center too.
“They ain’t got to be BIPOC. It’s just that’s what we’re familiar with,” Mulivai-Tobin said. “But here, they can come, get their work done, and just be kids.”
Mulivai-Tobin has three girls in the Federal Way school district — each just starting their first year in elementary, middle and high school, respectively.
“We’re ordinary people helping ordinary people,” she said. “I’m just a parent, a mom [who] wants to help make the change.”
Now that they’ve secured the half-million dollar grant, the countdown is on to put it to use.
“United Way gave us the seed to do it,” Guiden said at the open house. “Let’s get to work. We’ve got two years left.”