Where Are They Now? Employment Success After Zine

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Job Training at Barista, a potential next step after Zine

Job Training at Barista, a potential next step after Zine

So, after they finish your program—then what?

It’s the most common question visitors to the Zine Project ask us and it’s one of the more mysterious.

One way Zine helps out its interns, is by informing and referring them to other more rigorous youth employment programs around Seattle. But the success of these referrals depends largely on the interns’ readiness to step up to the plate of real employment.

"Braxton" Graduates from Orion Center's Barista Program

“Braxton” Graduates from Orion Center’s Barista Program

A youth we’ll call Braxton is one such ready intern. After completing the Zine Project, he climbed up the ladder, completing a more vigorous youth program and, after that, getting into an advanced adult employment program. Here’s his story:

In Zine, Braxton was an enjoyable anomaly. As is often the case with interns, Braxton hadn’t written seriously before getting hired by the Zine Project. He’d even had some struggles with the subject at school. Braxton also hadn’t worked in two years—another commonality among our young people.

But Zine works from people of all walks of life. Ziners don’t have to identify as “artistic” or even as writers. We have an array of techniques that can help people produce writing and, as a prevocational program, adopt an understanding posture towards youth who may not know what professionalism looks like. All youth have to have is a willingness.

Despite his lack of experience in the medium, Braxton came through. He completed work on his zine a week early. And not a moment too soon.

While I’d been working with him on his writing, Kevin, our Employment Specialist, was working with him to get into YouthCare’s Barista Program.

Braxton took applying for Barista lightly at first, whipping out a rough, smudgy application. Kevin, being a vigillant advocate, stopped Braxton and encouraged him to take some more time.

Barista is hard. Youth study for a two week period, and then have five weeks working in an actual café making sandwiches and coffee. But before this, they have to pass through Week 0—a week where the twelve youth that are hired compete for eight spots. To remain competitive, youth candidates have to show up on time and stay focused.

Braxton had been having some attendance issues in Zine. But Kevin and I had been coaching him on this—which meant holding him accountable with a write up and a firm talking to. If he was going to make it through Barista, this wouldn’t fly.

Braxton seemed to take our words to heart. He also responded to Kevin’s advising and together the two worked on creating a polished resume, cover letter and application to represent the wonderful individual Braxton is.

Not only did Braxton get into Barista, he made it through Week Zero and a few weeks later, graduated the program successfully.

"Braxton" and Zine Project Case Manager Kevin

“Braxton” and Zine Project Case Manager Kevin

A week after graduating, Braxton got into FareStart—an adult culinary training program. The program will equip him fully to work in a kitchen. From there, Braxton dreams of getting a job catering or opening his own taco truck. Look out El Camion!

Where youth will take the skills we give them depends on a few things. First off their employability, which in itself is a composite of their mental health and/or chemical dependency status, as well as their housing situation. The Zine Project meets youth who are struggling with these three factors in ways other jobs would not. We do this for the purpose of trying to get them stable while holding them accountable when they don’t show up or don’t communicate.

Luckily, Braxton, by the time he came to us, was housed and sober. Which helps things.

The second thing that youth success depends on is our ability to refer. Talented and informed Case Managers like Kevin are able to steer able-bodied youth on to various programs and counsel them through the hiring and employment process.

Thirdly, and most mysteriously—it takes an indefatigable will and tenacity of the individual to seize what employment opportunities there are.

In this case, Braxton was able to set his sights on what he wanted and go for.

We wish him the best of luck and are proud to be a part of his success.


Mama’s Love

Mamma's Love

The author's family

By “Weelah”

Mama’s love was real—
The only love I’ve known that cured
The pain, the anger, the frustration and the tears.
She always treated us fair
 and most of all, she treated us with care.
Thru everything I faced,
To everyone I was—but to mama
I was never a disgrace.
Just her little baby girl
Who found herself in the wrong place.
Mama’s love never changed.
Even though we cost her sleep and pain,
Mama’s love was still the same.
Mama was always there,
Even when she was sick .
Mama would pray for her kids.
She was the strongest women I knew.
She fought thru our storms and her own.

I love you mama with all my heart.
And there is no one in the world
That would replace mama’s love.

And even though mama died,
mama’s love will always be in my heart.

Lesson of the Week: Setting–Places of Safety and Belonging

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Usually in the first week of zine, I ask ziners to write about a place—a place they feel or felt safe.

This can be a challenging prompt for some of them who may be staying in shelter one night, at their aunt’s the next night and who knows where after that. One youth might have spent the night—a mid-winter down pour—huddled up in a Honey Bucket. Another might have found an uncomfortable, but dry, respite in a parking garage.

Many of them have to look to the past for places that resembled normalcy—as exemplified by a youth we’ll call Amelia:

House on 18th St.

Collage by "Amelia"

House on 18th street
an excerpt from Amelia’s Confessions of a Broken Heart

No matter how the day went, I could always go to this place and feel warmth. After 7 years of being away, it was still home… and to this day even though no one in my family lives there— it is still my home. A home that has history as you peel back the layers of paint in each room.  Memories in every square inch of the property.

That house built who I am today. The tree in the front yard was planted the day I was born and my first cat is buried beneath it. The little back bedroom was once my mother’s but was later occupied by me.

This house reminds me of a time when my family was happy. I still to this day catch myself sitting across the street, day dreaming about the happy past. This house was a HOME. A place where I remember my mom at her best. The front yard had tall beautiful flowers, soft green grass and kids playing. The tree house was the place Madison, Cody and I would spend long summer days. Warm laughter from within the home.  A safe place I wish was still mine.

In Zine, we value the longing we often find in youth writing. We consider it a healthy way to mourn. And having experienced upheavals in which they may or may not have had a choice, they often haven’t had a space to process what they’ve lost and how that loss affects them.

Ideally, though, we don’t want to leave them with a feeling of loss.

Part two of my lesson on setting comes with an invitation to think of a place in which they find strength.

To get their minds going, we read an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street in which the narrator finds empowerment through the image of three small trees growing outside her less-than-ideal home:

            “Let one forget his reason for being, they’d all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around the other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.
            When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then I look at the trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be.”

            This passage serves as a model for a lot of things our writers could emulate—internal rhyme, lyricism. But also how to find an image of power in our often drab surroundings.

            After reading this passage, a youth we’ll call Jamison wrote his own version:

An excerpt from Jamison’s zine Unhinged 

     I sit under them listening to them share secrets in the wind. On some nights you can hear them, and feel the call, and I wish other people could hear it but sweet songs make beasts of men with chainsaw grins.

One tree for body, one tree for mind, and one tree for spirit. Their tendrils my divine intercessor for things I could never know but always feel.  I lust for that knowledge like their roots lust for water. I need the inspiration as much as they need Sol’s kiss. And the trees feel like they are part of me and I can take comfort in laying prostrate, letting my soul root in the ground that’s there but not quite there;  my own little quantum Eden…

            These trees are my teachers and my brothers, and are we not our brothers’ keepers?  In a million different realities in a million different moments I exist in them all, if only for a second. And I swear I can hear them saying,

“Don’t forget us when we’re gone.”

Jamison arrives at a place of belonging where not only his body, but his soul can take root.

This is a very different picture from the listless transience he experienced on the streets—full of hostility, violence and estrangement.

A few short weeks after writing this, this young man got into housing.

Many factors led to him getting there—a strong will and a good case manager. But it could also be said that the writing he did in the Zine Project provided an opportunity for him to envision an alternate sense of place in which he could find peace.

We mourn, we imagine, we move on.

Seattle Teen Writing Project Spotlight: Pongo Publishing

by Zine Instructor Shaun

Everybody’s got to start somewhere and for me that start was Pongo.

Pongo Publishing is a Seattle Non-profit dedicated to writing poetry with youth in institutional settings, specifically King County Juvenile Detention Center and Western State Psychiatric’s CSTC (Child Study and Treatment Center).

Check out this powerful video to hear more about how they use writing to engage youth in trouble:


 As a poetry mentor with Pongo, you get to be that person who cares.

Before Pongo, I was just an odd ball Psych./ English Major. After three years with Pongo, I was ready to launch my own version at The Zine Project.

Pongo enriches its mentors with great approaches and techniques for producing writing with youth who may or may not have written creatively before. I used them at CSTC and I use them everyday at Zine to help young people create writing about their feelings and narratives.

To find out how to volunteer with the Zine Project, check out our volunteer page.

To learn more about Pongo, their method and how to get involved, visit their website at pongoteenwriting.org.

Life for Me


Hi readers

This is something I wrote to start my zine out with. This is how I view life and I hope that when others read this, they will feel the same way I do about how precious life is. I hope you all enjoy!

Collage By:Weelah

 Life is not something to be taken advantage of.  We only have one life, so live it— don’t waste it. No matter what your situation is. Life is not a bitch, the people around you that are making your life difficult, are a bitch. The hard situation is there to make you, not break you and the decisions you make is what makes your life.

      Look at me— I’m a young, homeless female struggling  everyday to find myself and thru all of this, I choose to keep my head up high, my faith strong, and my hopes up. That is my decision and life couldn’t be any better. I may be considered “homeless”, but I have someone to pull me up when I am down and I have people to point me to my destination when I get lost and most importantly, I have people that love me even when I feel like I don’t love myself.

      So cherish your life. Every moment you live is yours. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look at what you got, not what you don’t have because that tends to bring you down and it makes life a lot more difficult than it has to be. So Live. Love. Learn & laugh off the bullshit.

Zine Graduations: A Cause to Celebrate

Ziners preparing to read from their zines

Ziners prepare to read from their zines at Zine Graduation.

   A sense of completion after a job well done is important to all of us. After four years of school, we celebrate with a graduation. After finishing a project, we might have a nice dinner. These celebrations cement our accomplishments into our personal narratives and provide us with concrete examples for how we are capable individuals.

      Many of the youth we work with don’t feel that way. They may not have many examples of success in their backgrounds. Some never finished high school. For some, Zine is their first real job. Some  may have had successes, but no one there to acknowledge them. For one young woman, she made it through high school but on graduation day, when her name was called, no one was there to cheer for her. She got a ride home and a trip to Burger King.

     Without acknowledgement, it’s hard for us to feel like what we do matters.

     That’s why we have Zine Graduations. Ziner Reading from her Zine

      After working and writing and learning for eight weeks, Ziners have done a lot of work. They’ve hammered out poems, tightened sentence grammar, and rendered their points of view on paper. With personal zines and their group zine produced and ready to share with their world, there’s cause to celebrate and gather.

     A small gathering of family members, friends, and service providers assemble at a church across the alley from UDYC. The Ziners enter and get an applause.

     In front of the gathering—usually numbering from around ten to fifteen—each Ziner introduces themselves and shares a poem or two.

     “I was nervous at first,” said one youth we call Darren. “But it got easier as I started talking.”

     These are youth largely without public speaking experience sharing writing that more often than not contains tales of neglect, addiction, and illness. Poems of gratitude and confession are common. So are pieces containing love and anger, strength and weakness, cynicism and hope. There are tears. There’s often laughter. And with whatever emotion they’re projecting, the youth are not alone. They are often surprised to find others empathizing and validating their experiences.

     “I was surprised by what I shared—I feel like they all got something out of it,” said James.

     “I haven’t shared my writing before. Mainly because I was embarrassed by it,” admitted Darren.

      “I enjoyed it. I liked talking and showing them something new,” James added.

      “It was very informal. That made it easy,” said Jack.

       Ziners signing zines After their reading, the youth break up and set up shop. Each youth gets his or her own station from which to sell their zines. Guests can meet each Ziner, ask them questions and buy zines—a highlight for one young man.

     “Some lady was like ‘I really liked your writing. Can you sign your Zine for me?’ It was awesome.”

     That lady was Karen Ko—a Neighborhood District Coordinator with the City of Seattle. A few weeks later, Karen got that same Zine group a reading in front of the mayor (click here to read more). Awesome indeed.

     After the last word is read and zine sold, we take the Ziners out to lunch.

    “I feel good. I really do,” said Darren. “I’ve completed something I can feel relatively proud of.”

    “It’s a real comfortable feeling,” said Jacob.

     “Having completing something long term—which I don’t do very often—I feel pretty damn good too,” said Jack.

     Jack did notice as she was reading her Zine that she had some grammar errors. “The work’s never finished,” she commented.

     And she’s right. Graduations are often called Commencements—literally a new beginning. Graduations celebrate the end of one effort and signal the beginning of another.

     For two out of four of the last graduating Zine Group, this new effort was a paid position elsewhere. For the others, this new effort was a job search. For us, it meant getting ready for another group of young writers.

     The work is perpetual. It renews like seasons. But so too renews the hope of accomplishment. And with Zine as a notch on their belt and a bullet point on their resume, that hope is all the more palpable.

     By now, a new group of Ziners is ready. They graduate next Friday, March 16th at  and their success would be magnified by anyone able to attend. Email me at shaunm@ccsww.org if you’re interested and I can send you more information.