American YouthWorks is participating in Amplify Austin! This unique day of giving brings the entire community together to support local non-profits working to better the Central Texas area.
Your contributions to American YouthWorks has a profound impact on the young people we serve. Check out Andy’s story to find out how his experience at AYW changed his life for the better.
Andy, 18, is accustomed to the culture of bullying and discrimination that plague school campuses across the world. Growing up transgender in the small town of Elgin, Texas, Andy faced many challenges both in and outside of the classroom. Not only was he feeling uncomfortable in a society that did not understand his gender, but his traditional schooling didn’t provide a safe environment for exploration and growth.
Seeking community, Andy began attending a local LGBTQ group where he met other teens experiencing similar issues. A friend he met there encouraged him to look into American YouthWorks (AYW), where he could find a self-paced and open environment for his schooling. Soon after, Andy joined AYW’s YouthBuild Austin program where he worked to earn his GED and gain job skills building affordable housing for Austin’s homeless population. A new light began to shine through Andy as he fought for what he believed in, and empowered others to do the same. He found that he was no longer struggling to keep his head up and learn, but was able to thrive in a learning community that honored openness and diversity.
Andy also joined AYW’s Youth Ambassador Program where he began to his voice to influence and improve the program. AYW nominated him to join the National Conference of Youth Leaders (COYL). He describes his most inspiring moment during the COYL conference in Washington, D.C., as the time when he met Dorothy Stoneman, founder of YouthBuild USA, and congressional leaders: “To have the opportunity to be surrounded by influential leaders, and to be given the chance to speak to them about some of my concerns that my generation faces, was unbelievable.”
Now serving on the Austin Opportunity Youth Collaborative (AOYC), Andy also became a member of AYW’s Texas Conservation Corps program, exploring the outdoors and serving the community through environmental restoration and trail work. “I grew so much because of my experience in TxCC,” Andy said. “I learned how to camp, fish, cook, and most importantly, I learned how to communicate better. Our crew bonded through hard work, and I really felt like part of a team.” Andy now plans to continue addressing environmental issues as he pursues a college education in Oregon or Colorado. “I didn’t think I would go to college,” he said. “But after receiving so much support and encouragement from my TxCC team members, I changed my mind.”
Andy hopes to build a career as a gender identity specialist helping both schools and corporations facilitate gender conversations. After years of experiencing gender discrimination and bullying, he has chosen to speak up and leave the world a little better for those rising up behind him.