A teen homeless shelter in Everett held a graduation ceremony Tuesday to celebrate youth who have gotten off the streets and on the road to a better life.
Among the many stories told at the annual Cocoon House awards ceremony came one that is uniquely American.
"I came here for an education, to have a family," said Tracy Nakayiza, 17. "I came here for opportunity."
Nakayiza was adopted from war-torn Uganda by an Everett family when she was just 9 years old. By the time she was 15, it was clear things weren't working out with her adoptive parents. They planned to send her back to Africa.
But Nakayiza wasn't willing to give up her American dream.
"Will I become this successful lawyer or will I be selling mangoes in the market?" she asked herself.
Nakayiza couch surfed for about a year.
She desperately needed a stable place to sleep so she could stay in school, but her options had run out – until she discovered Cocoon House.
The organization has helped more than 30,000 Snohomish County youth work their way out of homelessness over the past 26 years.
Now it's Nakayiza's turn.
After a year at Cocoon House Nakayiza is back on track to graduate high school. She has a job and when she turns 18 in next week she will file to become an American citizen.
"At first I worried I'd spend the rest of my life in a sleeping bag on the streets," said Nakayiza. "I mean, it has been a lot of hard work, but I'm not gonna be homeless. I'm so happy!"
Cocoon House is trying to build a new facility to nearly double the number of beds it can provide for homeless youth. They hope to open their doors in January 2019.