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From Homeless To UW At Age 16: 'I Can Make It'

caption: Solomon Muche with mentor Elizabeth Stein, who first saw him as he sat in a homeless shelter studying for the SAT.
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Solomon Muche with mentor Elizabeth Stein, who first saw him as he sat in a homeless shelter studying for the SAT.

Solomon Muche and his family came to the U.S. as refugees from Ethiopia in September 2012, when he was 14 years old. That December, his parents could no longer afford their rent and together with Solomon and his three younger brothers and sister, they were evicted.

At StoryCorps, Solomon talks to his mentor — shelter volunteer Elizabeth Stein — about the experience, and how he’s come a long way since then.

SOLOMON: When we walk out we didn’t have any direction where to go, we just walk. I mean it was snowy that day, all the family carrying all our belongings and my mum was crying and crying. That night we slept outside in the street. It was just super cold, really hard. And the next morning the police came over and the police find out there is a shelter in downtown Seattle.

ELIZABETH: So the first time that I saw you Solomon, you were at the shelter in the middle of the playroom and there’s little kids running around you. And you are just slumped over this textbook and I looked at your book and it said SAT prep so it was obvious that you were imagining college in the future.

SOLOMON: My first question was, can you help me to study for SAT? Even though I was in hard situation, studying helps me to forget where I am.

ELIZABETH: Immediately after meeting you I could see how much potential you had and how hopeful you were despite being in really awful circumstances.

SOLOMON: After that, every time I have a question, I email you. And I took my SAT and then I did well.

ELIZABETH: After you had been homeless for eight months, you got news from the shelter.

SOLOMON: Yeah, we hear that we're going to get housing, I was just jumping around, that was really exciting and my mum was really happy. After I got housing, one of the big change was having a space and having time to study. I was like yeah, I can make it, I will just work hard.

ELIZABETH: And then this September you started at the University of Washington.

SOLOMON: Yeah, I was like so happy. That's my dream. My goal is to learn and help people. So thank you so much for your support for me.

ELIZABETH: Solomon, you showed me what dedication and persevering looks like. So thank you.

In 2014, Solomon was admitted to the bioengineering department at the University of Washington at the age of only 16. It was exactly two years since he had arrived in the U.S. with his family.

Solomon and Elizabeth’s conversation was recorded in partnership with Mary’s Place as part of the “Finding Our Way” project, with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. StoryCorps recorded more than 90 interviews for the project in 2014 and 2015. The recordings would not have been possible without partnership with the YWCA of Seattle, King, and Snohomish; Catholic Community Services of Tacoma; Seattle University’s Center for Strategic Communications; and many other organizations. In this collection you will hear from families who have lived through homelessness sharing their experiences in their own words.

To learn how you can help, please visit Seattle University's Project on Family Homeless.

Produced by Eve Claxton for StoryCorps.

Consulting Producer: Dan Collison.

Music "Fives" by Podington Bear. Found using the Free Music Archive.

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