"Why am I so special?" my student asked just minutes before our session ended.
"That's easy. You are special because of your courage and your desire to be healthy. You came here seeking help. You recognize that at just 17 years old that you want something different, something better for yourself and you took the steps to achieve that. You are special because you challenged yourself to live a stronger, healthier and happier life. That separates you from the others who may be unwilling or not ready to change their path. You are special because you want more and I admire that."
He sat with that for about a minute, then pushed himself back from the table and reached out his hand and said, "Thank you. I have never been told that before. Thank you. Same time next week?"
This student comes from an environment riddled with gang activity, domestic violence, molestation, murder, suicide and mental health issues. He has seen it all and says there is still more to tell.
I share the story for a few reasons. I want people to remember that not every teenager chooses to make poor decisions, not every child wakes up wanting to do wrong, be depressed, engage in risky behavior. A lot of kids wake up each day wanting more ... wanting to be rid of their trauma...wanting to be better men and better women...wanting to live a healthy life.
These are the kids the Youth Project has the honor and privilege of working with on a daily basis.
These are the kids that you are impacting when you support our agency.
The Youth Project has been working with teens and their families for fifteen years and in that time we have experienced tremendous heartache, tragedy, sadness, pain, anger and despair. In those same fifteen years we have helped more than 30,000 teens and their families stay sober, stay safe, stay connected, stay alive.
We have made a difference. You have made a difference.
I wish I could share everyone's story with you, as I am confident that you would want to take them all home and protect them from the big bad world - but obviously, that is not our role. Our job is to educate and empower our kids to make healthy choices so they can live better lives. And when life throws these kids an insurmountable curve ball, they will be equipped with appropriate and healthy coping skills and be instilled with the courage to face another day.
As the Executive Director of the Youth Project since 2005, I have never felt more pride and honor in doing the work that we get to do on our school campuses. I am forever changed and inspired by the resiliency of some of the most incredible kids, dealing with some of the most unimaginable situations. I am motivated by them because of their willingness to "do the work" and be the change they want to be.
Each and every one of them is special.
As we enter the holiday season, the staff, board of directors and the students we serve wish to thank you for your ongoing support which allows our mental health services to remain free for all of our teens.
We hope that you stay connected to the Youth Project family in the coming years and continue to be as moved and impressed with the dynamic kids coming out of our program. And if you should find yourself looking for a worthwhile organization to make an end of year donation, please consider the Youth Project.