Each and every young person that comes through the doors of YouthZone is unique and special.  Five years ago, a young boy named Billy, at the urging of a school counselor, came to YouthZone in search of a mentor.  Billy knew he needed someone to help guide him through some difficult times, and he was persistent in making sure he was matched with a mentor through the Pals program.  For the past five years, Billy has not only worked with fabulous mentors, but he has shown tremendous perseverance during difficult times, often speaking up for himself when others were silent.

“I’ve truly never seen a young person who was a better advocate for himself than Billy,” said Patty Schaffner, Director of the Pals Mentoring program.  “From the day he was referred to YouthZone, Billy has shown a level of maturity that most kids his age simply don’t possess.  As we were searching for the right mentor for Billy, he continued to call us and inquire about when he’d have a mentor.  He has always been secure in speaking up for himself, which is a quality that has helped him during some rather unfortunate situations.”

Billy has not had an easy childhood, to say the least.  Like many kids that YouthZone works with, his home life has been less than ideal due to a parent with mental illness.

“Unfortunately, it’s a scenario that we see often,” said Courtney Dunn, a court case manager at YouthZone who recently began working with Billy after he faced a minor in possession charge.  “For kids like Billy, dealing with a parent who suffers from untreated mental illness often means they’re living in an environment of mistrust, disrespect and emotional turmoil. Fortunately for Billy, because of his ability to be an advocate for himself, he’s been able to recognize that his home life is less than ideal and do something about it. “

After his recent minor in possession charge, Billy took immediate ownership of the situation and accepted responsibility for his mistake. When kids go through the court system, there are typically fees incurred that are most often paid by their parents.  In Billy’s case, he knows exactly how much his court and YouthZone related fees are, and he’s been working hard to make restitution.  He has kept track of all of expenses and has been paying his fees from the money he earns at one of his two part-time jobs.

Recognizing that continuing to live with his mother was not a healthy environment for him to be in, Billy also understood that continuing to run away from home and “couch surf” among friends was not a viable solution either.  Working with the Department of Human Services, Billy is now working towards becoming self-sufficient.  He is living with a good friend and his family, and he is thriving at school.  He also continues to receive counseling from YouthZone’s Senior Clinical Therapist, Kerri Cheney.

By speaking up for himself and by being his own advocate, Billy was able to seek out the services and guidance he needed to turn a very bad situation around.  Not only is he on the road to a positive future, but his mother is seeking the help she needs for her own mental illness.

At YouthZone, we are here to speak up for the children who can’t do so for themselves.  However, when we see a young person like Billy, who is resilient, bright and aware of the life he deserves, we can’t help but be proud of him and excited for his future.