Non-profit dedicated to supporting foster care children helps student get a big surprise during a mentor session

SEATTLE - More than 10,000 children in Washington are in foster care. Studies show some students fall behind in school because of constant change in their living conditions.

Treehouse, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to providing opportunities for children in foster care in Washington. Directors said they invest in children to help close the achievement gap between them and their peers.

One of the program’s students, Russell Robair, is already getting a head start on his life after high school. Treehouse partnered with Heritage School of Design to offer him a mentorship. The 10th grader spent a day getting hands-on experience to fuel his passion for interior design.

“It’s nice to be able to come to a place like this and talk about it to people who understand,” said Russell.

He said his design inspiration comes from his experiences in foster care.

“To move my room around. I was able to organize everything, make it look very nice and have it really clean,” said Russell.

“With interior design, it’s almost something you’re born with. And I know Russell has talked to me a little bit about the fact that this has been in him for years,” said Stephanie Plymale, CEO of Heritage School of Design.

Studies in Washington show less than half of children in foster care graduate from high school. Treehouse provides unique educational opportunities, so kids don’t become part of the statistic. Plymale said supporting Russell is a dream come true.

“To give him something that I never got is incredibly meaningful to me,” said Plymale. “I myself was a foster child for my entire life. So, I was in and out of several foster homes with absolutely no support. And I had to figure this all out on my own.”

Plymale said Russell was a natural designer. He showed great promise in the industry during his mentor session.

“I didn’t expect to get an opportunity to come here. So, I’m happy. I’m really happy,” said the 10th grader.

The success of his experience is why Treehouse directors said they work tirelessly to help children make the difficult transition from the system to adulthood. For Russell, he may not have always experienced the comforts of home, but with help he’ll soon be designing them.

“Something to look forward to in the future. To get better at it. And maybe have my own company or something with interior design,” said Russell.

Just like Treehouse investing in the future of children, Plymale wanted to do the same.

“You have everything we look for in a student,” she told Russell. “And I just wanted to tell you, we’d like to offer you a full scholarship to school here after you graduate.”

“Can I give you a hug?” said Russell as he reached to embrace Plymale.

“You are going to be amazing. You’re going to be one of my big success stories,” said Plymale.

“Wow. Thank you so much,” said Russell, stunned by the generous offer.

Treehouse serves more than 8,000 students in foster care across Washington each year. The program has more information about eligibility and referrals on its website.