Behind the Scenes with Wyatt Cook

Life experience and perspective are gifts we gain with age. We look back and realize the life lessons we’ve learned over the years from the good times and the hardships we faced. Is there a way to share our hard-won experience with those who are struggling with similar life issues?

At Eastside Academy (EA) they’re always looking for adults willing to “share life” with a teen. Many young people are eager to connect with an adult who can help guide them through life’s twists and turns. For the past four years, Wyatt Cook mentored at Eastside Academy. Wyatt is an engineer, a pilot, an Auto Angels participant and long-time BelPres congregant. He has enjoyed his relationship with two EA mentees, with his second one just graduating in June 2018.  “Kids need a consistent adult in their life,” says Wyatt, “someone who will listen, share a relationship, and give them guidance. Ninety percent of being a mentor at EA is just showing up,” he explains, “and when you show up, you build trust and the rest naturally follows.”

Wyatt has attended BelPres for over 20 years and has lived in Bellevue most of his life.  He grew up with a very involved dad who spent considerable time doing activities with the family – from flying to fishing to skiing. He valued their relationship and the time they spent together.  He treasures their times together learning to restore an airplane, fly a plane, re-build a car and boat, as well as taking long, leisurely vacations with the family.

As his children moved into adulthood, Wyatt has spent some of his newfound free time volunteering at BelPres – “paying it forward” through his work with Eastside Academy. He sees less parental engagement in our society today, with families torn between increasing commitments and longer working hours. He feels strongly that kids need an adult in their life to help them through the confusing time of growing up.

As a mentor, he meets for lunch once a week with his mentee, and may take him on an outing 2-3 times a year. Wyatt has taken his mentees to the Museum of Flight and Mariners games.  He sometimes gives advice on education, career, or life choices and at other times just simply listens.  “I try to model a Christian life and be empathetic. But my consistent time with my student is what is most important – just knowing I am going to show up each time,” he explains.

Wyatt and his mentee Josh share an interest in engineering.   “My mentor, Wyatt, is my favorite thing about Eastside Academy,” says Josh. “He’s a pilot and knows a lot about what I want to do in my life. He helps me make plans for my future. We hang out at least once or twice a week, and I’m helping him construct an airplane at his house,” he says.

“As a mentor, your role is not as a friend or a parent, but more of a guiding adult in someone’s life. A rock for a younger person to lean on – an oasis to rest in.  Confidentiality is key. Eastside Academy has an excellent manual that helps you understand your role, and mentors meet quarterly at information meetings,” Wyatt explains.

With just a few years left until retirement from his job as a pilot for American Airlines, Wyatt enjoys the opportunity to mentor at EA and plans to start with a new student next year since Josh has graduated. He encourages others to not let the extreme issues kids are dealing with stop them from mentoring. He reminds us that after all, teens are still kids at heart.

“Wyatt is a fantastic part of the Eastside Academy Mentorship program,” says Anny IIlisoi, EA mentor and alumni coordinator. “He is very committed to his role as a mentor and it shows in his dedication to Josh and the school. Mentors are an incredibly important part of a student’s life at EA. Wyatt is a great example of how mentoring can make a positive impact on students in different areas of their lives,” she says.

Wyatt expects to stay in touch with his mentees in the years ahead. “My highest honor would be for one of them to call me someday in the future to talk – not to solve a problem but just to catch up, see how they are doing, and help them if I can,” says Wyatt.

Wyatt also volunteers for Auto Angels most Saturday mornings, where he can put his engineering expertise to work and where a handful of EA students also volunteer.




Eastside Academy Student of the Month- Jason’s Story

Imagine the helplessness of teens who have found themselves in situations they cannot fix alone: abuse, neglect, addiction, homelessness, spiraling grades, and truancy. We have heard the youth describe their teenage years as a “dark pit of despair.” These youth, who God holds so dear, are in crisis, and we believe that we are called to help.

Eastside Academy is the Christian alternative high school with campuses located at BelPres Church and Overlake Christian Church. We offer teens a chance to turn their lives around through education, treatment, counseling, housing, mentors, and the love of Christ.

We realize – and deeply appreciate – that the blessing of providing for these youth is a partnership. This past Sunday, you heard from a brave student who is only able to attend Eastside Academy because he is offered a scholarship and safe housing at our Re:New Housing Program. Eastside Academy is able to bear this cost for all of our students because of the investment you make in these young lives.

Below is the story of another student, Jason (name changed), whose learning needs were not a fit with public school. We were able to provide him with an academic plan and small classes, which has made all the difference. Please take a moment to read about Jason:

“When I was in kindergarten, I came home crying because my teacher told me that I was stupid. I never wanted to go to school again. At a very young age, I started skipping school. I felt like I did not fit in and because of my attendance, I was expelled.

In middle school, I switched to another school and that was the worst experience of my life. I did not know anyone. No one was very nice. I just could not make any friends because I thought they would think I was weird. No one talked to me in all the years that I spent in that school. Of course, I started skipping again and got horrible grades. There were times when I would feel so bad about myself, that if I could, I would have ended my life.

At the end of middle school, the principal recommended that I attend Eastside Academy. After a few tours of the campus, I could not believe that this was a real thing! I knew instantly that this is where I would be for all four years of high school.

I had skipped school my whole life, so I got back into the bad habit even at EA. The teachers helped me get out of that habit. I cannot think of one thing that has not improved in my life because of this school. My attendance is now the best it has ever been. My teachers help me finish things in class and I get to stay after school to finish my homework with my teachers.

I just want to say that, if it were not for this school, my life would be a mess. Every penny that goes to this school makes my life better. I really appreciate this place from the bottom of my heart.”

We just completed our second quarter and Jason received the award for Perfect Attendance. THANK YOU for walking alongside Jason and other students like him. Our doors are always open, so please stop by and visit any time.

If you feel called to mentor an Eastside Academy student, please contact Get Connected.
For more information on Eastside Academy events or programs you can go to EA’s website or you may contact Elyse Nicholson, director of Development for Eastside Academy.


Back to School, Back to Whole

I recently posted an entry to my Facebook page: “Back to school task 1,573,826…hair braided…” Getting your kids, and let’s be honest ourselves, prepared to return to school after summer can be a monumental task. I am a mom of many, and several of my own cherubs have special needs. Already, in the month of August, I have been in perpetual meetings and conversations with talented school professionals, mental health professionals, and support teams. As a result, I have become all the more grateful for the ministry I get to be a part of at Eastside Academy.

Through my own parenting journey, I have recognized that accessing services for a child with special needs can be overwhelming and time consuming. For the courageous and beautiful families we serve at Eastside Academy, we have tried to eliminate some of that struggle. As a wholistic school, our goal is to address as many needs as possible in one place.  While we are a high school, we have recognized that challenges outside of the classroom can frequently interrupt progress IN the classroom. Thus, our students are provided with mental health care, recovery services, and a mentor, all in one location. In addition, we have eliminated what is notably one of the most frustrating tasks for parents/caregivers/guardians everywhere…school supply shopping. (I feel like there should be looming music playing every time those words are uttered. Ugh.) Every one of our students are provided with the school supplies needed to enter their classes; if a child needs one, we also supply backpacks. While this may seem insignificant, as a mom I can tell you, if I could eliminate this task in my own family, I would be singing the hallelujah chorus!

And honestly, that is how we try to approach everything at Eastside Academy: How would we want our own children to be treated? What support would I want or need walking through the situations our students and families face? While we are not perfect, this is definitely the heart to our approach.

I have shared with our team before that no one walks through the doors of Eastside Academy for the first time without having experienced some type of hurt or loss. Students and families come here because something didn’t work out the way they had hoped and dreamed. Our goal is to remind them, or sometimes tell them for the first time, they do not have to carry this heavy burden alone. We have a God who sees every need and has equipped His people to respond. By wrapping our arms around the educational, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical needs of our students, we desire to model the love we have each been shown through our Savior. A love that knows no boundaries. A love that makes sacrifices while speaking truth. A love that pursues, forgives, and seeks redemption and reconciliation for all.

I am amazed that even after 10 years of working here, that there are still so many times this ministry just takes my breath away. We are so grateful for the support and investment that this community puts into our students, families, and the work that God is accomplishing at Eastside Academy. Could we ask you to join us in prayer for the precious lives that will walk through our doors this year? Additionally, Eastside Academy’s Dinner and Live Auction is being held on October 22, at the Meydenbauer Center. We invite you to join us as we work to provide everything from backpacks to counseling to housing for our amazing students.

If you would like more information about enrolling a child, getting involved with this work, or attending our auction, please contact us at 425-452-9920 or visit our website at


Eastside Academy Student of the Month: Marcus’ Story

(Nan’s note: I just got this Student of the month update, and I thought it was worth sharing. Marcus (name changed) is a neat guy. Enjoy his story!)

Before EA I went to Juanita High School. I was doing ok, but most of my grades were C’s and D’s. I didn’t like the school. I was really quiet and no one talked to me because it was a gigantic school. Because of my lack of friends and lack of people to relate with, I became depressed.

I heard about EA through an older student who used to go here. I was planning on doing online school after my sophomore year but my friend told me about Eastside Academy. So, I came to the open house and right away decided to come. It felt different here.

The schedules at EA work much better for me. I like how the classes are led and broken down so that I can learn well. My favorite class right now is English. I love the book we are reading and what we are learning. I also like the field trips we take because I learn a lot.

Because of EA I have higher and better grades. I know when my grades drop because we have to go to Study Tables if they get lower than 85%. Having that extra help is great because you just can’t get an F. I have been here for almost two years and EA has helped me make friends and be social with people.

If it wasn’t for EA I don’t think I would have a job because EA friends have helped me find one. I think I would still be struggling and in more isolation and not doing well in school. After Eastside Academy I plan on graduating and going to an art school to study Fine Art.

Marcus asks for prayer that he make it through the end of senior year.

Finding home and a hope: Jared’s Eastside Academy Story

Jared had always struggled with school, and as a result, he simply didn’t attend. His home was filled with so much dysfunction that he was never taught the most basic of life-skills.  He arrived at Eastside Academy scared and unsure of his desire to stay.  A small Christian school seemed daunting: there might be no place to hide.   And then, almost as soon as he started, he found out that Eastside Academy hosts a two-day fall retreat for all of their students, he was really unsure of what lay ahead. However, he quickly learned that this retreat provided him with opportunities he had never dreamed of.

They were going to l10408809_10152713425601445_6823308324329766019_net him ride a motorcycle for the first time?   The staff were willing to jump in and get shot up playing paintball alongside the students?  (Guess who won?)   Each person got hoisted into a crazy ropes course and cheered each other along.   Students formed teams and performed ski
ts by a fire pit late at night.  And then, a “chaplain” talked about Jesus in a different way.  Jesus…present in Jared’s suffering.  Jesus…a steady voice in the darkness.  Jared began to realize for the first time that he was surrounded by people who deeply value him and want him to succeed.  He found a place where he could be himself.

Eastside Academy serves teens that other programs cannot or will not serve and serves them in a unique way.  They provide youth with an education, addiction recovery, mental health counseling, housing, mentors, and alumni support. Twice a year, all students are taken on retreats in order for them to build relationships, have new experiences, get to know one another, and hear about Jesus.  Eastside Academy partners with the community to serve at-risk youth, through events such as their upcoming Dinner and Live Auction being held October 17, at the Meydenbauer Center.  Additionally, they are looking for volunteers serve as mentors to these students, providing youth with healthy relationships that can be life-changing. For students like Jared, being paired with a mentor can make the all the difference.

If you feel called to mentor an Eastside Academy student, please contact Get Connected.
For more information on Eastside Academy events or programs, please contact Elyse Nicholson, director of Development for Eastside Academy.



Eastside Academy Seniors: Isaac

Over the last few weeks, BelPres Missions has been sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this month. Isaac’s story concludes our series.

Eastside Academy Senior: Isaac

Before Eastside Academy, I didn’t have much purpose.  I was a drug addict who didn’t think he could get his diploma.  I went through gangs, drugs, and thugs.  I did a lot of damage and was dealt a lot of damage.  Since coming to Eastside Academy, I have a purpose.  I love people.  I have family and friends.  I love myself.  I am happy and strong without hate in my heart.  Soon, I’ll finally have that diploma!  I’ve achieved what once seemed impossible to me.

After graduation, I plan to move back to Melbourne, Australia.  I’m going to serve the world of recovery there and help my friends and strangers get clean and achieve happiness.  My goals are to get married, have a family, share recovery, and start a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to help people get clean.


Eastside Academy Seniors: Sasha’s Story

Over the last few weeks, BelPres Missions has been sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this month. Here is Sasha’s story.

Before EA I was going to a local high school in Seattle. I was a very depressed person. I didn’t like anyone; I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and most of all I hated myself. I was doing okay in school but when a close friend of mine passed away it was different and I was just depressed. The middle of my junior year my parents started looking at different schools that would be more fitting for me. They found EA online and we decided to give it a try.

My time at EA has been shaky and I have had my ups and downs. It’s a small school and it feels different and people know each other. I like how tight we are and when someone’s not doing well we always want to cheer each other up.  My favorite class is Pre-Calculus. I never thought I was good in math, but when I came to EA I felt like I had a chance. I felt encouraged to do a harder class and was challenging by my teachers. Now I can work one on one with my Math teacher and I love Math class. I disliked my recovery class at first because we had to share our feelings but now I see that it’s helpful to know each other and to be able to support our friends.

Being vulnerable and open is helping me let people in and has helped me be more accepting of myself. I now take my classes more seriously and I have all A’s! Having smaller classes and more time with teachers is helping me get good grades.  I now enjoy my time in class.

I’m graduating in a few weeks and I’ve applied to Bellevue College. After that I plan to go to law school because I want to be a lawyer. I want to help the people that can’t get the help they should.

If it wasn’t for EA I can honestly say that I would be dead. I was very depressed before EA and I didn’t have the help that I needed. Now I have a counselor, Recovery class, and relationships with teachers and classmates that have helped me view myself better.

Prayer requests: I want to pray for all the kids that haven’t had the opportunity to be in a school like EA and pray that they find the help that they need.

Eastside Academy Seniors: Nick’s Story

Over the next few weeks, BelPres Missions will be sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this June. Here is Nick’s story.

Eastside Academy Senior: Nick


I was eight years old the first time I used drugs, that’s what started my addiction. I heard about Eastside Academy a few years later, and automatically thought I would never attend a school like that. My friends at the time were heavily into drugs, and I never felt they were really my friends unless I had access to drugs. I had a horrible relationship with my family. I disrespected them and was always running away.

During my third stint in treatment my parents enrolled me at Eastside Academy. I was resistant to EA at first and I eventually ended up back in treatment, but then I finally realized that this is the place I want to be. Being at Eastside Academy makes me want to stay sober. I’m always around other people who want to stay sober and we all work on that together. For the first time in my life, I’m excited to go to class every day. I have good relationships with my teachers and see them as my friends. Right now, I’m living in the boys Re:New home. I really like it because the people I live with help me talk out my problems and hold me accountable. I recently talked to a friend about our school, and told him we are like a family here. People around you help you a lot and we all share a common goal to stay sober. He is now enrolled and attending EA.

In the end, it’s entirely my decision whether or not I want to recover from addiction. I am very happy to be attending this school to help me do that.

Eastside Academy Seniors: Ben’s Story

Over the next few weeks, BelPres Missions will be sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this June. Here is Ben’s story.

EA Ben
Eastside Academy Senior: Ben

I have been attending Eastside Academy Overlake since the school opened this past January.  Prior to attending EA, I struggled at my previous high school.  It was overwhelming, large, and didn’t feel like teachers cared about me.  I suffer from social anxiety and depression, and being at such a large high school made my anxiety even worse; eventually I attempted suicide.  I went to Fairfax Hospital for a while, and when I came back my teachers didn’t understand what I went through and I ended up failing some of my classes.  This drove me even deeper into depression.  Soon after my suicide attempt I heard through my Young Life leader about EA opening a new school at Overlake Church, so my mom and I decided to see what it was all about.

From my first admissions meeting, I knew from the bottom of my heart that this place was for me.  Since school started at EA, I’ve felt like the teachers care about me and for the first time I look forward to going to school.  I enjoy the smallness at EA, and how I can relate to others who are in the same boat as me: other students who want to change their lives.  Because EA is a small, closely knit school – I feel like everyone talks to each other and there aren’t cliques and there is commonality among us students.

If someone wants to attend this school, they have to invest in it – they have to want to change their unhealthy life habits.  My favorite subject is Astronomy, I like the big ideas that come along with the science.  After I graduate from high school, I want to attend college and study architecture or masonry.  I like this school, I am college bound.


Eastside Academy Seniors: Abby’s Story

Over the next few weeks, BelPres Missions will be sharing stories of the nine seniors scheduled to graduate from Eastside Academy this June. Here is Abby’s story.

My struggles began after my parents got divorced.  I became really sad and depressed.  My support system had always been my Dad, so when he left, I found myself struggling.

My freshman year of high school, my grades began to slip. I didn’t understand anything I was learning in a big classroom. I was very shy, and was afraid to speak up. I felt dumb. It was horrible, and I just didn’t know how to do well. I didn’t see myself able to graduate from high school, so I just stopped going to school all together.

I heard about Eastside Academy from a friend. I wasn’t sure about it at first, because I needed help academically, and not as much personally. It was hard at first and when I started counseling a lot of my past came out. I thought I was at Eastside Academy for academic help, but when I started to talk to counselors, I realized it was much more than that. I witnessed past abuse, and it helped me to see that a lot of things I went through were bottled up inside.

Last year, I wanted to do Running Start at Bellevue College.  Instead I actually chose to put off Running Start so I could continue with my Recovery Class at EA.  I knew that if I didn’t come to this class, I would stop reaching out to get help.

I plan to start at a community college in Seattle. I will first get my academic requirements completed, and then transfer to a four year university. I’m going to explore my options, but I know I want to do something that uses my art skills.

Behind the Scenes with Andy Taber

Let me introduce you to our behind the scenes volunteer for the month. In a nutshell, he’s a true candidate for “The Apprentice.” He has the street smarts and the education. His specialty? A hammer. “My dad taught me how to use a hammer, and then I went to college to understand the business side of the hammer.” Our church and community have been fortunate to be the recipients of Andy Taber’s talent. (more…)

The Secret Service of Rev. Norm O’Banyon

I can tell you now that I may run out of space while telling you all you need to know about Rev. Norm O’Banyon, this month’s Secret Servant.  But a quote from his wife, Kathy, sums him up pretty well, “He’s the most wonderful man in the world!” Now that’s a supportive spouse! They seem hand in glove and Norm makes it clear that they are a team in everything. (more…)