Donny Cooper, former UCAN client
Donny Cooper was eight years old when he first came to UCAN's Therapeutic Youth Home. One of six kids at the time, he and his siblings had been removed from their home by the Department of Children & Family Services. Donny spent two years in our Therapeutic Youth Home, running away often, but also appreciating what the home provided him. "It was something I never had before - my own room, my own space," Donny said. "And I didn't have to worry about gangbangers or drugs."
After two years Donny returned home, where he continued to lead a troubled life. His father remained absent (they did not meet until Donny was a grown man). While Donny had been away, his mother had had two more children, adding stress to the home. His grandmother had always told him he was handy, and using this skill, Donny began to pick up odd jobs to make money. However, at the age of 11, Donny also began to sell drugs. He considered joining a gang, but decided not to after he saw a young man get beaten by gang members. Shortly after this, Donny returned to UCAN.
Donny lived in UCAN's Therapeutic Youth Home until the age of 16, and today says that, "[It] changed me big time. In the projects, it's like being a horse with blinders. There was one track: gangs and drugs. UCAN's Therapeutic Youth Home took my blinders off. I didn't have to worry about gangs and drugs - UCAN let me be me. The [Home's] walls pushed me along, carried me to where I needed to be. I knew how to be bad, but I didn't know how to be good. They helped me. All I had to do was ask."
At the age of 16, Donny moved into UCAN's Independent Living Program. During this time, he attended high school, played basketball and worked. After graduation, he met his future wife, with whom he has an 11 year old daughter today. One of his most important messages to his daughter, he says, is that "your grades are your number one priority."
Donny emancipated from the child welfare system at the age of 21, and continued working in a variety of jobs which utilized his handyman skills. He worked in various construction and drywall companies until 2001, when UCAN called about an opening in its Facilities Management department. Donny has worked for UCAN since that time, handling a variety of tasks including remodeling the bathrooms in his old home, UCAN's Therapeutic Youth Home. In his spare time, Donny rehabs homes for private clients.
Currently Donny is working at UCAN Academy and was recently awarded Employee of the Year at UCAN for his dedicated service and commitment to UCAN youth.
"Donny is a perfect example of our vision," says Tom Vanden Berk, UCAN CEO. "Every day, he demonstrates his leadership qualities through his positive attitude, strong work ethic, and his accomplishments. He is a wonderful role model for our young clients."