Seattle’s Urban Family helps youth who need support by building lasting relationships
Photo: Joshua Huston
Shantel and Paul Patu have four children, but their family doesn’t stop there. As their goddaughter explains, “there are at least 30 kids in the community who think of them as their mom and dad.” The Patus’ belief in the power of relationships extends to the nonprofit they founded, Urban Family, which supports youth in South Seattle through youth enrichment programs, school supply drives, gang intervention, youth mentor training and many other projects.
“We built relationships with all these great kids in the neighborhood. We knitted our lives to these kids,” says Paul. “We felt like it was our mission to support them.”
Most of the kids the Patus work with come from extremely socially challenging environments. One of their goddaughters had been in 42 foster homes when they met her. With their support, she got a scholarship to the University of Washington and went on to get her master’s degree. She wants to take over Urban Family one day.
“These kids are amazing. They just need support,” says Paul.
The Patus talk about their own children — Eunyque, 21, Karysma, 17, Jamyn, 15, and Davyn, 13 — with just as much love and pride, and are quick to speak about both their accomplishments and their essential selves.
“Our children are our greatest legacy,” Shantel says. Still, finding the balance between their big family and their immediate one hasn’t always been easy: “Our work consumed us at times, making it hard to love, live, work and sleep.”
But if their work sometimes consumed them, it also saved them. Paul and Shantel were high school sweethearts who came from community-focused families. However, as young adults they succumbed to the negative influences of their neighborhood.
“We were trying to save ourselves, in a way,” says Shantel about their work. “Almost like each heart we touched helped to restore a shard of the pieces of our own brokenness.”
“It’s about building meaningful relationships with kids who feel they don’t deserve them,” says Paul. They’re helping young people restore connection and recover the story of who they are, to help kids to realize there is a place for them in the world. It’s through their connections to youth that the Patus have found their own place.
“We exist for the kids who have been marginalized,” Paul says. “We exist for that underdog kid, you know.”