Joy Nelson was 13 when her life changed forever. As an eighth grader at Howard Middle School, Joy was not allowed to participate in most extra curricular activities.
“To say that I had some behavioral issues is an understatement,” Joy said.
But joining the Youth Achievers Program, a YMCA program that provides at-risk youth with opportunities to explore a world outside of their own, gave Joy a shot at turning her life around.
Joy’s transformation began after meeting Dr. Ben Carson on a Youth Achievers field trip to Orlando.
“I was impressed with his speech, but what impressed me the most was that he looked like me,” Joy said. “The top brain surgeon in the world was African American; I could do anything.”
After meeting Dr. Carson, she read his book, Gifted Hands, in which Joy found a solution for her anger issues.
Now, at age 28, Joy is about to embark on an MBA program and will be launching a consulting and life coaching business. Prior to this, Joy worked two full-time jobs: She was as a full-time graduate student, a youth minister and a mentor to six women.
“My future is bright, and I’m excited about what’s to come and the life I will be able to reach,” Joy says. “I know for certain that without the Achievers program I would not have experienced my past success or be prepared for my future success.”
Since starting as a pilot program in 1997, the Youth Achievers program at Howard Middle School has impacted more than 2,000 youth. Led by Narvella Haynes, the program meets middle school children where they are, both academically and emotionally, to push students past their comfort zones into a greater destiny. Funded by the YMCA Scholarship program and JCPenney, the Achievers program combines group work with guest speakers and field trips to give kids the support, focus and motivation they need to be successful in life.
“This is an amazing program that has changed the lives of so many kids over the years,” said Ben Marciano, Marion County YMCA Executive Director. “The Y is about developing our future leaders, and that’s exactly what this program does.”
It is because of programs like these that the Marion County Y is ranked in the top one percent of Y’s across the nation. The Y takes on the responsibility of making a stronger, more connected community in spirit, mind and body, and the impact reaches thousands of people each year.
Can you imagine Marion County without the Y—without Youth Achievers?
Joy Nelson can’t.