Lexington, Kentucky – While living in Dallas, Emily’s mother died when she was only 13 years-old. Her grandmother, who was in town visiting on vacation at the time, took Emily back to Kentucky to live with her.
“My grandma raised me practically from when I was a little girl,” said Emily. “I have a good relationship with her.”
Back in Kentucky and around new surroundings, things weren’t going so smoothly for Emily. She wasn’t going to school, had bad grades and was unable to express herself. By age 17 she was referred to the court system for truancy. The state’s youth justice system referred her to Lexington, KY Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. At YAP she was connected with Delaney Harris and Ashley Randall.
“Delaney Harris was my Advocate,” Emily said. “She helped me a lot. I had a lot of baggage from when my mom passed away. She helped me with talks and helped me with school. She gave me the motivation to go to school and work.”
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. Since Harris and YAP entered Emily’s life, she’s now re-enrolled in school and is a rising senior.
“Emily and I had both lost our mothers at a young age and there were multiple occasions where Emily would message me just to offer her love and support,” said Harris who oversees the nonprofit’s School Based Mentoring Program in Fayette County, Kentucky. “Emily was one of the most mature and respectful youths I have ever met. Her kindness and empowerment toward other youths were one of the many things I admired most about Emily.”
The bond they shared over losing their mothers made talking to Harris easy for Emily. She felt she had someone who understood her and she felt free to be honest. Emily said Harris took her out and spent time with her which helped provide a distraction and change of scenery from things she dealt with at home.
Emily is no longer in the program and has accepted an opportunity to become a YAP Voice Champion, where she 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.
“Sharing my story is important to me,” said Emily, now 18. “I was going through so many things at that time. I was a different person than who I am now. I want my voice to be heard. I want other kids to know that things do get better.”
Emily also developed a relationship with Randall who serves as Kentucky YAP’s Program Director for the Alternatives to Detention, Prevention/Diversion, and School Based Mentoring Programs.
“Emily is an absolute gem. I have always been amazed at her maturity and ability to carry herself in a sophisticated and elegant manner,” Randall said. “One would never know all that she has been through and overcome just by looking at her because she carries herself so well and always has a smile on her face.”
Emily has since moved to Virginia and now lives with her aunt and uncle but still keeps in contact with Randall and Harris consistently.
“Though I was so lucky to have been Emily’s Advocate, she taught me more than I ever did her and I can’t wait to see what great things she does in her life and for her community,” Harris added.