Overcoming troubled youth and creating a brighter future is not easy to do. It is especially difficult when substance abuse and an unstable home environment are present.
Kenny Avila, 20, is a graduate of PRIDE Industries Youth Services Program, and a former foster youth. PRIDE’s Youth Services Program provides support and guidance for teens in the foster care system. PRIDE’s program help teens and young adults overcome obstacles to employment while helping them pave the way to self-sufficiency.
Kenny came from a broken family and fractured past. His introduction to drugs began at the age of seven when a friend got him high on marijuana. He became more immersed in drugs in middle school as the result of peer pressure. By the age of 14, he was using drugs frequently. He also began drinking with friends. For two years, he got high every single day until the age of 16. Smoking marijuana and drinking became part of his lifestyle and led him to get involved with the wrong crowd.
His young life was spiraling out of control. By 16, Kenny had been in and out of jail repeatedly. He fought and began stealing to support his habit. He violated probation repeatedly. Running out of options and feeling defeated, his father talked to Kenny’s probation officer. Soon after, Kenny entered Koinonia Homes for Teens, a highly structured, professional inpatient substance abuse treatment facility for adolescents.
At Koinonia, Kenny had an awakening. “I think it was my first weekend at Koinonia that I went to church.” The experience changed his life forever. “After that, everything began to change,” Kenny recalls. Slowly, Kenny began to see the world in a different light. The more he learned, the more he was able to make positive changes. “I gave my life to Jesus.” His newfound faith and devotion also made an impact on his family. The transformation was all around him, which helped with his recovery process.
Part of the recovery program at Koinonia involves educational classes that are taught by PRIDE Industries Youth Services counselors. Classes cover topics including money management, healthy relationships, setting boundaries, drug awareness and vocational readiness. Kenny learned valuable lessons and skills through these classes. “It was as if I were a baby learning all over again,” Kenny says. “By learning what was unhealthy for me, I began to change.”
Change does not always come easily; there were some difficult moments during Kenny’s road to recovery. One evening during his stay at Koinonia, he received word that one of his younger sisters was going to be a teen mom in a few months. Kenny felt tremendous guilt for his sister’s choices, fearing that he had set a bad example. Through this event, he realized what tremendous impact his choices had on others. If he chose a better path – he could help others to do the same.
Life was different now; the call and his newfound devotion confirmed this choice. He now had a purpose and was determined to share it with the world. He completed the rehabilitation program and excelled. “It was definitely a challenge; it was one of the hardest things I have ever done so far in my life,” Kenny says. “But, it helped me greatly.”
In an effort to improve his outcome, Kenny interned at PRIDE Industries and received hands-on vocational training. Soon after, he was recruited to work at PRIDE’s William Jessup University custodial contract. Later, Kenny enrolled at William Jessup University (WJU).
In a few weeks, Kenny will be starting his junior year. He is majoring in Bible and Theology. As a WJU student, Kenny has the opportunity to help others outside of his immediate circle. Through the university’s Missions Program, Kenny has participated in missionary work abroad. This summer, he traveled to Romania with a group of WJU students working with orphanages in Romanian communities. This is Kenny’s second summer with this effort.
Kenny is passionate about supporting other youth. He uses his story to help and serve others. “I like to work with kids – youth – because I know they are at a vulnerable time,” Kenny says. “My younger years were tough. I know I am not the only one who has struggled. I want to use my story to empower and help others.”
Helping others is now his mission in life. Kenny is a full-time student at WJU and on staff at Koinonia Homes for Teens. As a Childcare Counselor, he helps program participants overcome addiction and live a better life. He is paying it forward. Kenny spends time helping the boys with, “everything from teaching them not to be gross at the table to teaching them how to live life respectfully and with integrity.”
What’s next for Kenny? Once he is done with his studies at WJU, he plans to continue studying divinity while working on a Masters or Doctorate. One thing is for sure, “Whether travelling the world and preaching…I just want to serve God.”
Kenny is an inspiration to us all; he knows he is one of the lucky ones who successfully transitioned out of foster care and is now able to live a healthy sober adulthood. As a young adult, Kenny recognizes how lucky he was to be removed from his negative environment. “I would probably be dead, or in prison. I was not doing the right things at all,” Kenny says.
Kenny has overcome a lot in his short 20 years of life. We look forward to following his path and will continue to cheer him on. We wish you the best, Kenny!