“Here is home.” With those three simple words, Khalia describes the impact Youth Opportunities has had on her life. Now 25, Khalia came to YOU at the age of 14, and while she now lives in Missouri, U.S.A., in some ways, she never left.
“YOU teaches you to be yourself,” she says. “The programs are designed for young people to express themselves, define themselves, and be themselves.”
For much of her childhood, however, Khalia was expressing herself in ways that were neither healthy nor positive. “Growing up, I was a very angry child,” she says, referring to her early years in Kingston with her hard-working mother. “It was hectic because my mother worked a lot to make ends meet.” Khalia, her mother and sister moved around a lot. All the turmoil and the lack of a father figure took its toll: in grade 7, she was suspended twice for fighting and barely escaped a third suspension for the same reason.
It was at that time that a supervisor took her aside and told her to read Proverbs 15. “That was my given opportunity to do better. I learned not to be the aggressor, to try to walk away, to try to say what I have to say verbally.” The same supervisor taught her another lesson when she was given a cup and some soap and water in order to rinse her mouth out from cussing a teacher.
Khalia then moved on to Excelsior High School, where she was introduced to YOU’s programming. She trained to become a peer counsellor and eventually became president of the peer counselling group. “I started channelling my energy into these activities. I wasn’t so aggressive anymore.” Khalia immersed herself in all that YOU had to offer, from summer camps to job training to weekend workshops. She was also matched with a mentor at the age of 14 and to this day, they are still in touch.
Khalia then took it upon herself to start volunteering at YOU’s offices, working as an administrative assistant to office manager Margarent Denton. After a month, she asked for a paycheque. She got it.
After finishing her studies, Khalia moved to the U.S., where her father lived. She faced some challenges but has recovered and now holds a position with the Army in which she is responsible for the Commander’s property. Her job consists of making sure there is adequate inventory for the base, where she lives with her mother and two children and husband. “I enjoy it,” she says of the job.
And while it took some adjustment, Khalia now enjoys the structured, routine lifestyle of the Army.
YOU prepared her for this, to be sure. “No matter how small YOU seems, it does a lot. It builds self-esteem and self-confidence and boosts you to want to be better.”