Despondent Seattle teen found a future through film; now he’s giving back

The Southeast Asian Young Men’s group helped Vannady Keo find himself and put him on a path to higher education and a life of helping others. It’s part of Asian Counseling and Referral Service, which benefits from readers’ donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.

When Vannady Keo left his mother’s Kent home after his freshman year of high school to live with his father in Seattle, he could not have foreseen the importance of the decision.

As a freshman at Kentlake High School, Keo was struggling with depression, not doing well at school and at odds with his Cambodian-born parents.

“I was just a typical American kid. My parents wanted me to have Cambodian roots, so those were some things we argued about,” Keo said. “In school I always had a lot of friends. I would always try and hide my depression by hanging out with them, being the cool kid, the class clown.”

Moving in with his father was an attempt at a fresh start, even if Keo wasn’t sure how it would play out. That new beginning happened shortly after the start of his sophomore year at Franklin High School. Keo received a pass to leave class and report to Room 205. He thought he was in trouble, given his academic effort up to that point.

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Keo wasn’t in trouble. He was about to be saved. The then-15-year-old found a group of other students sitting in a circle with Joseph Mills who runs the Southeast Asian Young Men’s group (SEAYM) at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). He wasn’t sure what he was getting into but decided to take a seat and listen. He was amazed to find other teenagers struggling with the same issues he grappled with: isolation, depression and a disconnect with their immigrant and refugee parents.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I thought I was the only one.’ I just decided to open up that one day, and I opened up and told them my problems; we were just conversing about it and I don’t know, it was really enlightening, and it made me feel not so alone.”

Asian Counseling and Referral Service

ACRS provides a wide range of multilingual…

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