When teens walk through the doors of the Española YMCA Teen Center, they are accepted for who they are. Mark was no different. A few months after losing his dad to a drug overdose, Mark arrived with his sister, a brother and their friend. He was a tough young man. At 13 years of age, he had already been jumped into a gang, and he thought he was the man- not only at home, but he tried to push his weight around the Teen Center, as well. Teen Center staff kindly but firmly let him know that it was unacceptable to push his weight around with anyone. The Teen Center slowly gained his respect. He was searching for direction and guidance, and he had found it there. Mark’s mother was going through her own struggle with heroin, and trying to raise her three children after losing her husband. Many nights, staff members stayed late waiting for a responsible adult to come pick up the kids. They gave the kids food, and at times collected donations of clothes and other items for them. The older sister acted as “mom,” and at 14, she did the best she could. Y staff counseled and referred them for assistance. The kids were faithful members, and after a few months, Mark actually began participating in the classes. Surprisingly, he really enjoyed the cooking and baking class. He said he was learning to cook so he could feed his brother and sister when his mom was passed out, or was not at home. He faced many struggles. At the age of 15, he became a teen dad, yet one of the best dads staff had ever seen. His daughter was born with a heart condition and had to undergo a number of surgeries. Mark came back to the Center with questions on how to get his GED, and for help in looking for work. The Teen Center connected him with resources. Even though Mark took a lot longer than he wanted due to life situations, he graduated in May 2017, with his GED from Northern New Mexico College. Staff celebrated this occasion with Mark.
United Way of Northern New Mexico supports the YMCA’s Española Teen Center through the Community Action Fund. “We have seen the benefits of having a safe place for teenagers to go after school, especially for the kids that have an unfortunate situation at home,” says Kristy Ortega, Executive Director of the United Way of Northern New Mexico. “Ben and his staff have turned numerous lives around before it was too late, and have been a help
to those who needed guidance. This is a critical need they are filling for teens in Rio Arriba.”
United Way of Northern New Mexico works with non-profits throughout the year to stay up to date with the needs of Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties. There are times non-profits are connected to help one another and help provide better services to the communities. In
March, United Way opens their Community Action Fund Grant process where non-profits have an opportunity to get resources for addressing the most critical in our community.