YCAP director saves summer program that helps at-risk youth

YCAP Program Director Debbie Crews has a unique way of connecting with kids of all ages. (Image: WTVC)

Earlier this summer, the Athens YMCA Community Action Program was in extreme danger.

The program that works intensively with at-risk youth had extremely low funding.

That's when its program director rallied the community to save it, helping to raise thousands of dollars in a short amount of time.

In this week's Pay It Forward, Jessica Harthorn surprises the YCAP director who made sure young teens in McMinn County had a safe and supportive environment to depend on.

Debbie Crews has a unique way of connecting with kids of all ages.

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As the director for the YCAP program in Athens, she has seen first hand how one-on-one support can change the direction of a child's life.

That includes a young man from McMinn County who says good behavior has become his top priority.

12-year-old Amareya Jackson is all smiles while learning at the YCAP summer program.

He says his program director Debbie Crews treats him like part of the family.

"I learned that good behavior is everything, and the way we treat people there is how we treat people outside the Y," said Amareya.

Amareya is one of dozens of kids attending the summer program dedicated to giving young, at-risk teens a fresh start, by providing educational, social and spiritual enrichment.

Erica Peden volunteers and says YCAP becomes their second home.

"A lot of us know that grandparents are raising their grand kids at this time. So if grandparents are still working and no one is at home. These children are at home," said Erica.

Erica and Amareya gave us a tour of the program, saying Debbie's commitment helped raise $9,000 in donations in one day. Ultimately, saving the summer program this year.

As we rounded the corner to a classroom, we surprised her in the middle of teaching a course on etiquette.

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"We are here for you, because on behalf of Newschannel 9 and the McMahan Law Firm, we nominated you for the Pay It Forward program, so Amareya has 500 big ones for you!" surprised Erica.

"What? Thank you so much!" said Debbie.

"I nominated you, because you do a wonderful job with the kids, and teens. Besides teachers and librarians and principles and juvenile services, and everyone you can think of, you're honestly the last line of defense outside of the home and school, and I just thank you. You deserve this recognition. So enjoy it!" hugged Erica.

As the class celebrated, we asked Debbie, surrounded by her family, what drives her passion.

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"Just helping them understand that, may be despite circumstances, or maybe the life, the home or things they've had to endure, that they can reach whatever goals they want to reach," said Debbie.

Do you know someone who deserves $500 cash for helping others? Nominate them here!

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