After spending five months at a Kentucky residential facility and just a few weeks before his release date, Axl was in trouble again, this time for breaking house rules. By age 16, the Lexington youth had been before a judge for altercations at home and in the community, and the final straw, he said, shoplifting “a couple of carts full” of items from Walmart.
Instead of getting more time at the youth facility, Axl said the state’s youth justice system referred him to Lexington, KY Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. for diversion services. YAP is a national nonprofit in more than 100 communities in 33 states and the District of Columbia that provides community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate out-of-home placement and treatment, and neighborhood violence. Axl’s Advocate was Madison “Maddy” Rymer.
“At first, I was like, ‘I have to talk to this person for six months!?’ I thought that was a long time. After meeting my Advocate, going to the groups, and understanding what the program’s for, I was happy to be there,” Axl said.
Now 18, after successfully completing the rehabilitative services he received through YAP, Axl’s record is clean. He has a new outlook on life, new skills for having a good relationship with his family, partner and others, a new name and pronouns (selected since leaving the residential facility), and a new full-time job.
“I’m working at McLane’s (warehouse) making $16 an hour and time and a half for anything over 40 hours a week,” Axl said. I’m thinking about staying and moving up; and I also want to go to college. I just got accepted at Bluegrass Technical College.”
Axl also recently accepted an opportunity to become a YAP Voice Champion, where he will join other former YAP program participants to share his story with local and national youth organizations, prospective program funders, policy makers, and others working to make systems more effective and equitable for young people, especially children of color and LGBTQ youth.
Axl is excited about all the positive changes in his life and credits Rymer for helping him see and nurture his strengths.
“Before Maddy, I believed residential was what I needed,” Axl said. “Maddy supported me through everything; no matter what. She was there when I needed her. She was interested in how I was feeling and was not judgmental.”
YAP Advocates receive training to help young people see and nurture their strengths. Working with Maddy, Axl saw that a personality trait, often viewed by himself and others as stubborn and negative, is one of his many positive attributes.”
“If I know something is right; I’ll argue my point. I stand up for other people, especially at my school, which is an alternative school.”
Axl looks forward to serving as a YAP Voice Champion and sharing his story to make it possible for other young people to have an opportunity to receive community-based youth justice, behavioral health, and/or child welfare services as an alternative to residential placement.