‘People here really care about what they do’: Getting to know Northshore Youth and Family Services

The nonprofit was formed in 1971 and has been making a difference in Bothell ever since.

When asked if she has any particularly fond memories related to her job as clinical director of Northshore Youth and Family Services (NYFS), Sarah Landrum didn’t have to think very long before coming up with an answer.

“Every day,” she said with a laugh.

NYFS, a nonprofit organization based in Bothell, has been providing myriad services to the public at large for almost 50 years. Though resources have expanded and its personnel has evolved, the organization’s commitment to its community and its dedication to providing high-quality services as accessible as they are affordable has remained consistent.

The nonprofit was started in 1971 by two therapists who were concerned about teens getting into trouble and having their records negatively affected as a result. Additionally wanting to reduce the recidivism rate in the city, they started a small counseling agency to help at-risk youth, which soon included a newly developed suicide hotline feature.

“Back in the day, they would carry around pagers all the time and take calls as needed,” executive director Debbie Farrar said about the hotline.

NYFS also started offering mental health counseling.

Almost five decades later, NYFS’s reach is expansive and thorough. In addition to mental health counseling, which is its largest amenity, it also offers substance use counseling, parenting classes and a program called Healthy Start Northshore, which provides services to first-time, 24-or-younger parents in need of support. The organization also offers focused services such as juvenile rehabilitation administration, a juvenile intervention program and school support programs. Currently, NYFS is partnered with the Northshore and Skykomish School Districts.

“People who work here want to work here,” Landrum said. “We’re not paid the big bucks — we just help people who need help.”

Facing challenges

Although NYFS’ dedication to Bothell and the surrounding community has never wavered, it’s had to weather through several challenging obstacles. Farrar, who first connected with the organization 20 years ago as a grad-school intern, remembers the 2008 financial crisis as taking a major toll. Everyone on staff had to take pay cuts and saw their benefits affected. Yet its 20 employees — including Farrar — stayed on, and eventually did see the nonprofit’s balance restored.

“That’s what’s really cool about this place,” Landrum noted. “People here really care about what they do.”

Farrar said the climate not just nationally but also locally has been difficult to contend with recently. Due to the increased political and cultural contentions around the country, Farrar has seen an increase in depression, anxiety and hopelessness, exacerbated by grand-scale issues like homelessness, mass shootings and the opioid epidemic. While these issues are having an impact across the states, she said that they’re also affecting residents of Bothell, a city that is also seeing a great deal of growth.

“I think sometimes in the past Bothell has been kind of separate,” Farrar said. “They have their issues, but it’s manageable. Now with the explosion of downtown and the city council, we’ve just seen an increase in need of the services.”

It can be difficult to remain intact when both offering numerous free services and trying to accommodate increased needs — which is why donations and community support of fundraising events are all the more vital. NYFS is having one on April 18, 2020 called Northshore’s Night Out.

Making a difference

Farrar knows firsthand what a difference a resource like NYFS can make.

“It’s really important to me to give to the community,” she said. “I started counseling myself when I was 16. Had it not been for someone who would accept a sliding fee and was willing to work with me, I would have been lost.”

She added that a lot of her dedication to this field of work stems from wanting to give back to what she herself had taken years ago.

Farrar has seen the organization have an effect on its patrons in tangible ways. She invoked recent examples from a recent April fundraiser, at which a couple of clients opted to speak. One of them, who had been involved with the agency for 12-15 years, talked about how in part due to NYFS, she was able to work through her issues and was eventually able to get off the public assistance she once depended on and garner a job.

“That’s one person, but that one person represents a hundred other people,” Farrar said.

The other client who spoke at the fundraiser, who’d been making use of the nonprofit’s resources for about a decade, shared that they had recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in social work, about to embark on a counseling career.

“That kind of stuff is rewarding to hear,” Farrar said.

Through its 30-year-old internship program, which is catered to graduate students and, as noted by Landrum, can be competitive, prospective counselors have the opportunity to navigate what they want their approach to be.

“When an intern comes on, they’re so ambitious and ready to go,” Landrum said. “And generally they know that they don’t know exactly what they’re doing and are here to learn. It’s really fun to watch them go from being insecure and scared and worried to really coming into their own and becoming their own therapist and developing their own unique style.”

Looking forward

As it approaches its 50-year anniversary, NYFS is thinking about where it would like to go in the ensuing decades. While wanting to expand is a given, Farrar is conscientious that, with diversity increasing in Bothell, it’s important that services are not only more specifically catered to its clients but also that NYFS employees reflect the diverse population they’re trying to help.

Landrum would like to see an increase in services as well as more social avenues, like support groups. She noted that she wants people to still get help from NYFS regardless of if they’re making use of counseling directly.

“Anytime you get that social support, it really helps people mentally and emotionally,” Landrum said.

Always consistent will be NYFS’ devotion to its clients, and anyone who might need support in the future.

“We’re trying to support all we can and still stay afloat,” Farrar said. “We give out a lot of free services. We don’t refuse anyone, really, ever.”

To donate to Northshore Youth and Family Services, go to bit.ly/32W6LYS. For more information about services, go to bit.ly/2Nk7pJb.