Hear from Justice Sun – Centering Youth, Advancing Justice 2020

Content Warning: This story contains brief mentions of abuse and sexual assault, and descriptions of self harm

“A Silver Lining”

By: Justice Sun

Four years ago, I was living with my legal guardians who were chronically abusing me and my two older siblings. They adopted us from foreign countries then by bringing us to the USA. My strength was running out. I had been reporting the abuse we were living daily to Michigan state departments since I was 8 years old. They failed consistently to protect us due to our parent’s positions of power, among other reasons.

We were just three of the many young people that fall through the cracks of the systems every day. As I often do, I wrote. Writing is a passion of mine. I dreamed that one day I would be somebody that does something actionable to make the system less broken. So, another young person did not have to experience the same pain and despair my siblings and I did. The seeds of why I am an Advocate were planted.

I entered the Child Welfare System under WA State Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) when I was a minor. Rosey Thurman, an attorney with TeamChild Spokane, took my case against all odds and obvious complex legal complications. TeamChild helped me save my life by filing a Dependency Petition as the sole petitioner while at the time WA state departments contested to join with the Dependency since my parents in their positions of power were influencing them per usual. During the painful yet successful 10-month litigation, Mrs. Thurman taught me much during the case and listened to me; because of Mrs. Thurman and TeamChild I found my passion for Law. Since the successful litigation of my Dependency Case in my favor, I have entered the WA State DCYF Extended Foster Care Program.

I am going to become an attorney. For now, I am an Expert Consultant Provider in Youth and Young Adult Areas. I am now waiting to earn my J.D. in law and earn my WA State Bar License to practice law to be the voice in court and positive influence on young people in need like TeamChild is for me. Therefore, I am an advocate. Further, since entering Washington State in 2017, I have experienced many more adversities: homelessness once as a youth and three times now as a young adult, the struggles and discrimination that come with being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, several rapes, etc.

This is not about me. This is about the young people and families of now, of yesterday, and of tomorrow. Since becoming an advocate, I have been passionate about engaging with state departments in advocating to improve the quality of services for children, youth, young adults, parents and families that depend on the system so that everyone is proactively and adequately served, protected, respected, and helped as they are needed per individual situation.

I do not like what happened; however; I can say that for living through the pain and despair, I am better equipped to help others who are experiencing abuse in all forms. That is my silver lining. There is always a silver lining – you’ll find it…if you look for it carefully and patiently. The people at TeamChild, especially Rosey Thurman, have supported me, continue to support me, and have helped set me on the path I am today. I share their mission because they showed me that someone cares with no ulterior agenda. These days we need more people like those who I have seen working for TeamChild and we definitely need agencies to use the model TeamChild has laid for serving young people. For me, TeamChild is a large part of my silver lining and I am sincerely and deeply grateful for their services, expertise, and care.

This is the poem I wrote four years ago:

Don’t Look Back

By: Justice Sun

As life hammers,

You down to the ground,

It feeling as though,

You are sitting in space,

Watching the world pass you by,

Day by day.

You only growing older,

By the second.

Your head spinning,

From one direction to the other.

You feeling all hope,

For you is gone.

Sitting playing with a knife,


That ugly thought,

To end life,

That lays before you,

You stand on your two broken feet,

And throw that knife,

Out of bodily reach,

And in return,

Your dreams, 

Are in your reach,

You are who you may not want to be,


Don’t look back,

For the old, you may be crawling,

Closer to the person,

Who is rising to the sky,

Becoming like a tower,

Running to the person,

With an ugly past,

But a star-bright future,

And that is you

TeamChild’s COVID-19 Response

We wanted to let our community and partners know that TeamChild staff have set up remote offices to support our collective efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Staff will generally be working regular office hours (9-5) and are reachable via our phone numbers and email addresses. At this time, we are not having in-person meetings or walk-in client visits in our offices. Clients and partners, or anyone trying to request or refer a young person for services, should reach out via email or phone to our local offices to make arrangements to meet virtually or in a manner that follows CDC recommendations. 

Our staff are in the process of reaching out to current clients and new referrals to set up ways to communicate, to discuss the status of their cases/matters given court and school closures, and to identify any new issues that have come up as a result of the changes we are all experiencing.

We are coordinating with advocates across the country and in the state to ensure that youth who are incarcerated and detained are safe and protected. We are also coordinating around the loss of access to critical services like school, food, medical care, community support and shelter. In addition to food and shelter, our youth need social support every day to stay connected and safe. It will take intentionality, flexibility, creativity and resources to do this!

We welcome questions and calls from our partners as we all navigate day to day and encounter new or unexpected challenges. Let us know how we can help build a community of support around our children and families. We’re in this together!

“What do you do in times of despair?” Archbishop Desmond Tutu was asked. “You show your humanity.”

Quote from The Age of Overwhelm, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, 2018

Follow us on our social media channels for the most updated information about our collective advocacy efforts, current needs, and relevant news.

Spokane Team in the Community

Britta, Dan and Rosey attended the Spokane County Bar Association Diversity Section’s luncheon on February 28th in support of the Carl Maxey Scholarship Fund. Reverend Walter Kendricks of the Morning Star Baptist Church gave a powerful message to the members of the judiciary and bar in attendance, stressing the essentiality of mercy in the pursuit of justice. Pastor Kendricks founded Spokane Community Against Racism and is a leader in the fight for equity and justice in Spokane. TeamChild is grateful for his leadership and honored to have heard him speak.

Nonprofit Support in the Time of “Social Distancing”

Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, public health officials have advised local organizations to encourage employees to work from home and urged anyone feeling unwell to self-quarantine. This week Washington State banned large gatherings of people. Massive events, like the Emerald City Comic-Con and even South by Southwest in Austin, TX have already opted to postpone or cancel in light of these conditions.

In the nonprofit community, many organizations rely on annual galas, luncheons, and other events to generate a significant portion of their income. Most fundraising events have either been cancelled or moved to “virtual” campaigns through the end of March already, like our Pierce County Open House, and many more organizations have a limited window to decide how to proceed with future events. We’re watching the news closely, following the progress of other nonprofits in similar situations, and hoping we’ll have more (and better!) information by the time we need to make that call for our Seattle luncheon in May. Stay tuned for updates from us in a few weeks.

In the meantime, the potential loss of this event revenue, in addition to dismal financial news, is concerning for many of us, and we are scrambling to adjust in ways that will allow us to maintain our commitments to our clients, our staff, and our missions. Local funders like The Seattle Foundation and The Gates Foundation have joined with corporate partners to pledge additional dollars of support for those on the front lines and those working with communities impacted by the virus thru the Covid-19 Response Fund. We’re grateful for these coordinated efforts, and we also want to encourage everyone who regularly supports our many local nonprofits to consider giving what you can to virtual events and online fundraisers. And if you don’t regularly donate but you can, now’s a great time! 

Here are links to just a few organizations we’ve heard from in the last couple of weeks who are struggling with cancelled or postponed events:

New Beginnings

Painting of mountains, sunrise, a birch tree and the TeamChild logo
This piece and other artwork made by youth will be displayed in our new Pierce County office.

In this artwork by TeamChild youth supporter Felipe C. the mountains represent “overcoming obstacles” and the birch tree and sunrise represent “new beginnings”. Felipe is a talented artist, who is starting college in January with the goal of becoming an architect. He would like to design spaces that serve low income communities to give back to his community.

Thank you, Felipe, for inspiring us with your artwork, passion, and vision!

Supporting Our Vision

Head shot of Donor and Volunteer Photographer Lisa Bontje

Lisa Bontje grew up in Seattle and now lives here with her husband Norm and their high school son Alex, along with their dog and two cats. Their 18 year old son Nate is across the country in college. Lisa and Norm have been active supporters of TeamChild for several years, and we wanted to get to know them better! Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions to share with our community:

When did philanthropy/giving back become important to you?

For the first decade of my career, I didn’t think about philanthropy much at all. But then I started thinking about what was important to me, and I realized it wasn’t what I was doing professionally. So I quit my job, focused on my family and joined an amazing organization called Social Venture Partners (SVP) where I was able to hone some philanthropic skills and consider where I wanted to give back with my time and resources.

Are there other ways that you engage with the organizations you support?

It’s been really great to combine my love of photography with supporting my favorite organizations. My hope is that I can provide them compelling promotional images so they don’t need to spend a lot of money on a professional photographer.  At the same time, I’m able to visit programs in action and see the great work so many organizations are doing in our community. Witnessing so many amazing people making a difference in so many kids’ and families’ lives has been inspirational and humbling.

What causes/organizations spark your passion?

For me specifically, anything that helps kids sparks my passion. Some local organizations I love are Child Care Resources, College Possible, Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, Treehouse, Team Read and of course TeamChild!

What made you want to get involved with TeamChild?

TeamChild’s direct legal services resonate with me. Teens can make impulsive decisions (we know, we have teenage sons!). I’ve heard many stories told by youth served by TeamChild who were facing what seemed like insurmountable obstacles in their lives. These youth often feel hopeless in dire circumstances. TeamChild’s legal advice and representation helps youth get back on track with education, stable and safe housing, and even support for health and well-being.

One particular young woman’s story sticks with me. Skyla, a former client from Spokane, told her personal story at the Inaugural TeamChild Luncheon this year. Skyla’s TeamChild Attorney, Rosey, worked with her to help elevate Skyla’s own voice in a time of crisis. Skyla’s bravery in facing the situation and coming out the other side a poised and successful young woman was an inspiration to me.

Color photo of Spokane TeamChild attorney Rosey and her former client Skyla

Huge thanks to Lisa for her support as a donor and volunteer photographer! Her photo of Skyla and Rosey at our luncheon is pictured here, and you can find more of her work at https://www.lisabontjephotography.com/

“I felt like I was more than a case.”

Former TeamChild client Jazzmine Lindsey shares her experiences working with TeamChild in Spokane, WA. The team there included Rosey Thurman, Dan Ophardt, and Katherine Fowler.

How would you describe the role that TeamChild has played in your life?

Headshot of former client Jazzmine

You guys were a huge help with learning how to be an adult. From financial decisions to emotional support—I cried on Katherine’s voicemail more than once.

I was a client for maybe 10 years. My first legal hurdles were being suspended and expelled from school starting when I was 12. Rosey got me back into school. I moved around a lot. My dad was in Texas and my mom was in Michigan. I found myself back in Washington and alone. My living situation was not ideal. I went to JRA for robbery, and because my parents weren’t around I needed Rosey’s help to facilitate my release and get back into the community. I got back into school, but I still didn’t have family support. I needed to work more, so we went through the process of emancipation. That was kind of a “Catch-22,” because you need to prove you can support yourself, so you need to be working more, but you can’t work more until you get emancipated. You need to live somewhere, but no one will rent to you.

By the time I was 17 I was working 40 hours/week, going to school, and getting my GED. I decided I was going to college, and Rosey helped me get my documents together. She was there to help me open my first bank account and get my first apartment. She helped the bank recognize my emancipation so I could cash my check and pay my rent.

Being emancipated prepared me for adulthood, but it was so much harder than I expected. I could have done the emancipation and filled out the forms, but TeamChild had such a role in supporting me. You guys were my village. It was everything after the paperwork that really mattered.

What are some things you’re proud of that you’ve accomplished since working with TeamChild?

I have gotten my GED and my Associates degree, and I’m now a senior majoring in biochem and minoring in teaching. I’m a parent of 2 kids. I’m proud of the fact that TeamChild has let me become aware of myself. I’m an advocate for myself. I speak for myself. If I feel like I’m being treated unfairly I will speak up. I am smart. I matter. I know my resources and my dignity and respect matter.

Your support is critical to upholding the rights of young people like Jazzmine. Join us in pursuing a vision of power and unconditional belonging for Washington’s youth—a future in which all young people have the opportunity to succeed.

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State v. B.O.J.: Meeting the Needs of Youth in Community, Not in Juvenile Prisons – by Attorney Sara Zier and Amicus Committee

 “Long-term incarceration is not a panacea for safety or treatment. In fact, it can inhibit those very goals.”

TeamChild uses multiple strategies to advocate for youth and system transformation.  A team of TeamChild staff and volunteers fields requests for us to sign onto or write amicus curiae or friend of the court briefs in cases where TeamChild’s expertise and perspective can shed light on an issue that an appellate court is considering. Earlier this year, we filed an amicus brief in State v. B.O.J which raised the question of whether an exceptionally long period of incarceration should be imposed for low level nonviolent offenses to address unmet treatment needs.

When B.O.J. was 17-years-old, she was in foster care, charged with shoplifting (theft 3), and was sentenced to juvenile prison for up to a year. This sentence was significantly harsher than the standard sentence for shoplifting, which could be diverted altogether or resolved through probation in the community or a maximum of 30 days in detention. The trial court based its decision largely on B.O.J.’s history of running from foster care placements and her need for treatment. Unfortunately, B.O.J. was not alone. Around the same time, several cases came up on appeal – including cases from King and Yakima Counties – involving longer-than usual sentences for youth charged with low-level, non-violent offenses.

Travis Stearns with the Washington Appellate Project, who represented B.O.J. on appeal to the Supreme Court, contacted TeamChild. After meeting with Mr. Stearns, as well as the Juvenile Law Center and ACLU-WA, TeamChild agreed to write a brief about alternatives to incarceration based on our research and day-to-day experience advocating for youth. TeamChild works to help young people get out of the criminal court system and back into their communities, with the education, healthcare, and housing stability they need to thrive. To ensure we elevated youth voice, TeamChild partnered with The Mockingbird Society, an advocacy organization that centers youth who have been impacted by foster care and homelessness. Together, we wrote to the Court and highlighted the benefits of community-based strategies in contrast to the risks of harm of incarceration. We further discussed the structural racism and gender bias within the criminal justice system that result in the disproportionate treatment of youth of color in the court system.

The Court ruled that the longer-than usual sentence was an abuse of discretion and concluded “[a] juvenile does not usually pose a serious, and clear danger to society merely because they need treatment.” The Court cited studies that incarceration does not improve outcomes and can be harmful, noting that, “The idea that detention will be a safe placement is belied by years of research. Prolonged incarceration is not a safe housing option. Risks abound for juveniles in detention, including lasting negative impacts on health, recidivism and homelessness… No matter the intention to keep B.O.J. safe, the reality is that incarceration carries heavy risks.”

The studies cited by B.O.J. and amici offer a cautionary tale against imposing lengthy sentences over standard range dispositions with the hope of improving outcomes for juvenile defendants. In a concurrence, Justice González identified the concerns about race and gender bias in this case and opined that such bias casts doubt on the entire ruling.

You can read the Court’s decision here and our brief here. TeamChild is committed to continuing our individual, systemic and policy advocacy to stand with youth.

Welcome New Staff!

TeamChild is excited to have three new staff members who joined us in August! As we build our team, we are prioritizing lived experience that allows individuals to connect with the young people we work beside. We asked Joshua Gardner (Pierce County Case Support Specialist), Riley Moos (Pierce County Staff Attorney), and Leah VanHoeve (Statewide Investments and Administrative Coordinator) to share their experiences and interests in working for TeamChild on behalf of youth.

Interest in TeamChild

Josh: What interested me in working for TeamChild was the whole youth-driven program and that youth are the clients. They have the primary say on the services that they want.

Riley: During law school I was selected as the QLaw Foundation’s 2018 Sher Kung Summer Fellowship fellow, a partnership between TeamChild and Oasis Youth Center. What I thought was unique about TeamChild was that there was this focus on the youth clients holistically. It wasn’t just focusing on this specific legal aspect of the problem and then sending them somewhere else.

Leah: I want to contribute to something that moves the needle on some of the social issues I have seen throughout my life. TeamChild, in terms of legal advocacy and supporting people who are the most marginalized and also young, and ignored for a variety of reasons, seems incredibly crucial.

Eye-opening experiences working with young people

Josh: I’m surprised, and humbled, that the majority of youth I have worked with in the community are welcoming to me. Coming from the same area, coming back to help – it means something to them. A lot of kids are really welcoming; their eyes get all big and bright. And on the other hand – it’s not surprising, but it’s hard to swallow – a lot of kids have been let down so many times that they don’t trust in the services.

Riley: I have always understood that youth are complex beings. I have been surprised about the way that rules are made for youth.  Things are implemented in their best interest but so often without actually speaking with youth or people who have these lived experiences.

Leah: I have been volunteering with Lambert House over the past year.  As a teenager I didn’t have access to queer spaces like that. Every young person in there is connected to an experience I’ve had. Or even if they’re not, we have a shared sense of identity and community. The stages of queer evolution are moving at light speed for young people and it’s so heartening that so many of those young people see a future where so many of their walls are being torn down around gender and sexuality.

Personal journeys and doing this work in the Tacoma – Seattle area

Both Josh and Riley grew up in Pierce County, while Leah’s childhood was spent in rural eastern Kentucky.

Josh: We moved a lot because I didn’t have the family support. My father was a victim of PTSD and actually lost his battle and took his own life when my mother was pregnant with me. I’m not even sure if my father knew that she was pregnant. When I was 4 to 5 years old, my mother went away and left me with 4 of my older siblings from the ages of 7 to about 17. We had no parents, no food, no electricity – we had no services. I remember bouncing to certain schools, I don’t even know how I was enrolled into these schools. They were just letting me come and have a place to be warm because I was basically a homeless child for a large majority of my adolescence. But those teachers were really supportive. They always told me, you know, ‘you’re really bright’ and tried to make me feel good. I knew that when I left school I was gonna be hungry again. I was gonna be exposed to violent environments, neglect and abuse. So those things played a large role in my cognitive development, and today have become the core of my empathy for these kids that I work with.

I love being in this community because the relationships have roots. I have seen some of these youth out here who are struggling and also achieving and I’ve known them since they were babies. I know their mothers and went to school with their brothers and fathers and I know their lived experience so I understand their struggles.

Riley: I graduated from White River High School in Buckley. Before that I was in Carbonado Middle School, which was interesting being basically the only person of color in such a small town that had very different values and hobbies and pastimes than I was used to. I took the first chance I could to leave, not that it’s not a great place to be and to raise children, but I wanted to see different perspectives and hear from different people. I decided to go to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma where I was able to explore my own identities and meet people from totally different walks of life.

It’s interesting to live in Tacoma and be surrounded by people like me. It makes the world feel so big. To be surrounded by other people of color, other children of immigrants, and other queer people, it’s just great. I wish that I had had that when I was younger, but I now hold the unique perspective of somebody who did not grow up with that and so I do understand people who are still struggling to find themselves as they get into their twenties.

Leah: I think the access to resources in Seattle is amazing. I think the queer community here is amazing and deep. But I also think that there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of strength that comes with being in a place where you know that your rights aren’t automatically given. Being a part of that fight is something that I’ve always had in me.

Super Powers

Josh: If I could have any super power, I would create equity. I would stand outside and twiddle my little fingers and do 5 jumping jacks and then this magical essence would come out of me and spread all throughout the world, farther than I can see, past the horizon and equity would come. Plants would become greener. Frowns would become smiles. Homeless people sleeping on the side of the street would get up. Misogynistic people in power would sit down. Racism would be defeated, sexism would be defeated, xenophobia, homophobia – all those phobias – maybe not arachnophobia because I don’t know if I can get past that!

Riley and Leah mentioned mind reading as a desirable superpower, both as a means to avoid misunderstanding and as a way to remain inconspicuous.

Leah: It depends on the rules of the universe you are in! If it was a different universe, and there were different rules, I think flight or teleportation would be awesome. But in this universe I think if someone found out you had super powers you would be toast!

Welcome Josh, Riley and Leah – we are so grateful to have you all on board!

TeamChild’s Inaugural Benefit Luncheon a Success!

On May 7th TeamChild supporters gathered at Seattle’s Arctic Club Dome Room for our very first benefit luncheon: Centering Youth, Advancing Justice, where we raised more than $110,000 for TeamChild’s programs.

National best selling author and speaker Debrena Jackson Gandy was our MC for the day. Jakari Brown welcomed the crowd and offered an example of the energy and innovation young people can bring to Seattle’s tech-centered city. TeamChild JR Institutions and Reentry Attorney Damian Davis NoOneElse set the stage for centering youth by sharing some of his own experience as a young person trying to navigate systems that harm young people instead of help them. Dupree Pickett, a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board highlighted the urgency in responding to young people in need of resources.

TeamChild Executive Director Anne Lee reflected on her more than 20 years of work with the organization and introduced former client Skyla Morris, who illustrated the benefits of working with an attorney to help elevate her own voice in a time of crisis. Seattle’s 2018/19 Youth Poet Laureate Azura Mizan Tyabji closed the event with a beautiful poem, tying together key moments from all the speakers.

Thanks to all of the amazing speakers, our sponsors and supporters. Thanks also to Lisa Bontje Photography for capturing the day

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