Charity Spotlight: Susan Youngsman

by | May 8, 2018 | Charity Spotlight

One Transformative, Eye-Opening Summer

What does it take to change the trajectory of a life?

Susan and her cousin in Holland

Susan Youngsman remembers the moment her eyes began to open to the world. When she was 12, a cousin came from Holland to Mount Vernon, Washington to stay with her family. Susan promised her cousin she would save money and travel to Holland in 3 years to attend her wedding. The summer she spent in Holland at 15 changed her life. Susan’s narrow worldview, coming from a religious, conservative upbringing, was challenged as she developed a friendship with another cousin who was an atheist, a socialist and one of the kindest people Susan had ever met.

“For the first time, I saw how people could look at the world through a completely different lens than how I’d been raised to see things. I was challenged to become more educated by Dutch relatives who knew more about my country than I did. I became incredibly curious about what else I could learn from others’ perspectives, and it ignited in me a burning desire to travel,” explained Susan.

At 16, she convinced her parents to let her move to Seattle to attend Lakeside School, a rigorous private high school (paid for by herself through tutoring) where her intellectual curiosity flourished. This led to college scholarship opportunities and eventually a successful career as a financial advisor.

“The teenage years are vulnerable ones, but also filled with immense opportunity,” explained Susan. “I was extremely fortunate to have adults who took an interest in me, who challenged and mentored me and even invited me to live with them while I attended Lakeside. These mentors changed the trajectory of my life.”

The headmaster at Lakeside stressed that students were fortunate to be there and had a duty to give back. That resonated with Susan as she felt deep gratitude for the education she received and the people who helped her grow. Volunteering in schools and mentoring teens, she worked passionately to expose kids and teens to transformative experiences that would inspire them toward realizing their full potential.

As purpose would have it, one day while waiting for an appointment in a bookstore, the book FOREVER CHANGED: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives by Linda Mornell, founder of Summer Search, caught Susan’s eye. Relating to how much a summer experience and mentoring had changed her own life, she devoured the book, eager to learn how this could help low-income teens with few resources.

Susan’s son, Adrian (far right), and several Summer Search students on a 25-day wilderness trip out of Durango, CO last year.

Since then, Susan has become a supporter and promoter of Summer Search, which focuses on providing teens from low-income backgrounds transformative summer experiences and works with students with the potential to succeed, but who face systemic inequities that can disrupt their ability to achieve higher education. Summer Search was founded in 1990, and the Seattle branch was opened in 2003. It initially offered wilderness summer education programs and later expanded to provide students with long-term mentoring provided by trained staff.

“One of the things that strikes me about the Summer Search students and alums is their immense gratitude for the experiences and mentoring they’ve received. Although they are young, maybe in college or newly graduated, they are committed to giving back. They want to inspire others to make pivotal choices that will lead to a happy, fulfilling and prosperous life. I completely relate to their feelings, and their enthusiasm energizes me,” observed Susan.

These days, Susan has a thriving wealth management practice and is a mom herself to two teens, however, she continues to be a devout advocate for Summer Search and teen mentorship.

“I love to have conversations about charitable causes with my clients and enjoy inviting them to the Summer Search annual luncheon,” stated Susan. “Inspiration for a charitable purpose can come from anywhere. All it takes is one transformative experience to ignite lifelong change.”