There were a couple of times when Travis Rybarski needed a place to stay.
Rybarski, 20, ended up living with an older brother a few years ago after a fight with his father.
A year after that, he was couch surfing after that same brother kicked him out, unable to cope with Rybarski’s trouble with alcohol and failure to graduate from high school in spring 2014.
Life’s better now — Rybarski graduated last winter, is enrolled at Columbia Basin College and working fulltime. A former high school teacher and her husband have adopted him and given him a home.
He knows he could have relied on Kennewick teen homeless shelter My Friends Place if he had ever needed to during the past few years. And that’s why he’s organizing the High Noon rap battle on Aug. 15 at Richland’s Uptown Theatre to support the shelter.
“It just made me feel good that the community had that if I needed it,” Rybarski told the Herald. “In a lot of cities, there’s no answer to that.”
Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Rybarski lived with his mother until he was 2, when a fire destroyed their home. He then lived with his father into his adolescence. However, he says his parents’ relationship had gone toxic.
“I was always being asked to testify in court for one side or the other,” he said.
Rybarski’s older brother became his guardian. But while Rybarski continued to attend school, he became entrenched in the party scene, drinking to excess. The suicide of a good friend in May 2014 further strained him, and he failed to graduate on time from Kennewick’s Phoenix High School.
Rybarski spent part of last summer couch surfing, staying in a different place for a couple of days before moving on. It wasn’t until last August that Phoenix High teacher Jill Mulhausen and her husband, Dan, who had become close to the young man and helped secure a job for him, adopted him after a few weeks of discussion.
“He needed a lot of emotional support,” Jill Mulhausen said. “He kind of asked for parenting.”
Throughout his most troubling times, Rybarski relied on rap music to help him channel his thoughts and feelings. He didn’t begin rapping himself until after he had moved in with his brother.
He became particularly fond of rap battles and started participating, going by the handle Civic. Rap battles are where two rappers take a stage and use freestyle rap to simultaneously boast and put down their competition.
“We just try to tear each other apart with words and make the crowd laugh, and afterward we’re both cool,” Rybarski said. “It helps me take myself less seriously.”
He began organizing charity rap battles last year while still homeless, garnering a couple of hundred dollars after costs, to donate to different causes.
This time, he’s lined up corporate sponsors, hoping to draw a crowd of up to 300 people and generate $1,000 for My Friends Place.
“I enjoy his rap battles,” Jill Mulhausen said. “He’s a pretty intelligent kid, and he tries to say something.”
Officials with the teen shelter said they were impressed with Rybarski’s efforts, especially considering he had never been to My Friends Place himself.
“He’s just thankful and wants to give back, which a lot of kids his age aren’t doing,” said Mark Lee, a member and former president of the shelter’s board of directors.
Rybarski is working on a business degree at CBC, partially thanks to scholarships from Rotary and the Kennewick Education Association, he said.
He thinks he will go into marketing, though he doesn’t deny that his youth makes him prone to changing his mind. Right now, though, he’s just glad to use his passion to help others.
“This is the only time my life has ever been stable,” he said. “I want other kids going through what I did to see they can succeed.”