top of page


ja'quan youth justice_edited.jpg

I should’ve stayed home that night.


I should have listened to the voice in my head that said, “this is a bad idea.” But I didn’t, and as a result I found myself sitting in a jail cell at the age of 24, thinking about my choices. 

I was incredibly lucky. I had people who believed in me, who advocated for me. And because of them, I had the opportunity to serve my time at the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester (YSOW), an alternative to incarceration in Mount Vernon.

My five and a half months at YSOW opened my eyes to a lot of things I’d never tried and never thought about. During that time I got to experience many “firsts.” I played golf, went on my first hike, and flew a drone. But most importantly, I got to focus on myself. On my decision making and my priorities. My time at the shelter gave me the perspective to see a pattern of bad choices, and helped me see how each choice impacted the long term.


Now that I have a second chance, I make much better decisions. I think three times before I go do something. I don’t want to go back to where I’ve been. Now I think, how can this decision benefit me in the long term?


At its core, YSOW is all about second chances. Walking through the front door at the residential building on 8th street, you can feel the love and support. Next door, at the outreach center, former residents and young people from the community come to be with their chosen family. As one young woman put it, “Ms. Carol tells me every day - ‘We’re here for you, we love and support you.’ I don’t even hear that from my family.”


Shortly before my release in July I was approached about a job. I was released on a Wednesday. The following Monday, I walked through the doors of the shelter as a member of the YSOW staff. The response from the other residents, whom I'd come to know as brothers, was amazing. A few have even said to me, “If you can do this, maybe I could too.” I love coming to work. I wake up every morning inspired and ready. 


I wouldn’t change what I’ve been through, it made me who I am. And taught me valuable lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Before, I wasn't taking advantage of opportunities like I should have. But now, any opportunity I get, I take it, I rush to it. If I see someone that needs help, I'm going to help them because I know where I’ve been and I don’t want them to go through all that.


As you think about your year-end giving, please consider making a donation to YSOW. There are countless young people, just like me, who deserve a second chance in life. 

Your support could make all the difference.



Ja’Quan Wallace

bottom of page