“I think people can be broken in a sense, but there are always ways to fix them.”
This admission from 18-year-old Zachary (Zack) Evans is not one you’d hear from him when he first came to UCAN for therapy in August 2014. Zack’s exposure to abuse as a child left him traumatized, self-destructive and unable to cope with situations in his life. The youngest of four children, Zack didn’t feel like he could turn to his siblings to talk about the internal battles he was facing.
“I hated everyone,” he said, bluntly.
Compounding the abuse, Zack also struggled with his identity and sexuality, which led Zack to practice self-harm, drug use and promiscuity. After being hospitalized, he was recommended for treatment at UCAN.
April Kopp, Zack’s therapist, has been instrumental in helping him learn how to relate better to others and cope with negative feelings. “She is as positive as possible. I think that helps. She is also open to me complaining,” Zack added. He explained that April was the first person with whom he could have an open dialogue to express his feelings and that her constant presence made a major impact in his life.
“I’m more relaxed in certain situations where I used to just go off. I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I can go through something difficult and be upset about it later instead of having to deal with it then and just not get anything done,” he said.
Since coming to UCAN, Zack has also seen an improvement in his relationships with his peers. “People seem to like me more,” he said. In addition to traditional counseling, Zack has been involved with Chicago Adventure Therapy, where he learned kayaking, traveled, developed coaching skills and earned certifications. He has learned to speak to people differently. Through training to coach kayaking, he developed an ability to express enthusiasm and discern what communication methods work best for different audiences.
As a participant in UCAN’s Diermeier Future Leaders Now (DFLN) program and the Youth Advisory Council, Zack developed positive friendships with other young people. In addition to gaining a sense of community, Zack increased his involvement in activities that showcased and built upon his leadership abilities. The Youth Advisory Council also allowed Zack and other council members to voice their opinions to staff about the development of youth programming. “I felt empowered,” he remarked.
Through UCAN’s Positive Relationship Outreach Support for Youth (PROSY) group, Zack was able to get more in touch with the LGBT community. He explained that the group helped him become more comfortable with himself because he met other people who were going through similar experiences.
“For some reason I was uncomfortable opening up to people. Now, whenever I open up to people (at UCAN) they prove me wrong and are pretty chill about it and say I can be whoever I want. That’s really helpful,” he explained.
Zack’s experiences in these programs helped motivate him to seek out membership in student clubs in high school. Using the leadership and public speaking skills acquired through DFLN, he won the election for president of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
All of his impressive growth culminated in a nomination for one of UCAN’s 2016 Youth Leadership Awards. After going through the selection process, Zack was one of five youth selected to receive an educational scholarship. During the annual dinner on June 5, he delivered a touching speech thanking those in the room for their support. Then he paused for one final thought that earned a standing ovation: He said he would like to thank himself most of all for “sticking around” instead of choosing to end his life.
Zack’s long-term plans for the future include working for the FBI’s hostage rescue team. His short-term goals include enjoying being a teenager and having a fresh start moving into early adulthood. He added that he wanted to continue in UCAN’s programs for as long as possible. “What UCAN does when people are broken is help fix the foundation blocks and that’s the only way you can build again. They give you the option to build again. A lot of people don’t do that.”
Follow the link to hear an excerpt from Zack’s speech at the Youth Leadership Awards.
To learn more about the services provided to young people like Zack please click here.