“I was bullied a lot as a kid. As I got older, I became angry, unhappy, and uncomfortable in my skin. I started to believe what kids said about me: that I was stupid, my opinions didn’t mater, I didn’t deserve to be happy or have anything good in my life. I started hanging out with bad kids and making bad decisions.

The decision to go to AYC altered the course of my life. I was used to being misjudged by adults. I was used to people deciding I didn’t have anything to say that was worth listening to. But at AYC, it was different.They didn’t care how we dressed or talked, they weren’t scared of us.They welcomed us with open arms. And for the first time in a long time, I had a place where I felt safe and calm.

We were always welcome at AYC. They were interested in what I had to say. They let me know they were concerned about me and the choices I was making, but they didn’t lecture me or tell me what to do. They told me that it mattered to them what happened to me. I think I really started to trust them when they started to walk their talk.

You see, when the AYC staff learned that my group of friends and I stayed out late to avoid going home, they kept AYC open late for us. When they learned that we often skipped meals, they made us dinner. I spent many evenings at AYC and the thing I remember most is talking. It felt so good to get things off my chest without being teased. I don’t think I ever told them I actually appreciated hearing an adult’s perspective.

In high school, things got worse at home and school. I grew angry and withdrawn, except at AYC. AYC was a place where I could drop my guard.They saw something special in me and helped me discover it for myself.Today I am proud to be the person I am. I love my career in the army and the guys in my unit look up to me for advice and direction. AYC offers kids the opportunity to develop self-confidence and practice the social skills they need to grow up into happy and productive adults.

If AYC wasn’t there for me, I don’t know where I’d be right now. It was a safe place for me when I needed it.And with your help, it will continue to be there for every kid and family who needs it.”