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Finding his people

Andrew in the school yard with his mom, Shannon

After moving to a new community with my family last year, my nine-year-old son Andrew didn’t have an easy transition. He has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette Syndrome, so he gets frustrated easily and has trouble controlling his impulses. Getting bullied on the bus home from school a lot contributed to him feeling like he didn’t belong. We needed help finding a way for Andrew to feel safe at school.

I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it. It was frustrating. My husband and I both work, so we’re often unable to pick Andrew up when he’s done at school. It’s expensive to do before- and after-school care. I remember looking into programs and it was going to be $80 or $90 a week. We couldn’t afford that. We talked to the school a few times about the trouble he was having, and we talked to Andrew about what he could try to do in this situation, but we still felt kind of stuck. Because Andrew is a very independent child, he took matters into his own hands.

Some kids at school told him about a United Way-supported after-school program that gave them an opportunity to play with other kids and make new friends. Andrew was determined to get into the program. He wanted to belong and play with other kids his age. My husband called the agency and explained the situation. They immediately let him in.

Having a safe space really helped Andrew adjust. He often worries about people liking him, and when you don’t know anybody and you’re getting picked on, that only amplifies those thoughts. I want him to be happy in his world and find his people, because everybody needs people. He’s made friends. Seeing friendly faces throughout the day makes him feel like he’s a part of his community.

He’s less frustrated and overwhelmed. Now, if he gets into trouble with another kid or has broken the rules, the school works collaboratively with us to solve the issue. The program has given him more confidence and made him feel like, “I’m ok here”.

The program is free, which has been really helpful because there have been periods where things have been tight. Saving money translates into other things—I can buy extra fruit or meat, things that seem to be expensive right now. Or we can do an activity that Andrew loves. So many more communities need this option. We don’t have to worry about where Andrew is and if he’s ok—he’s not on the bus getting bullied.

Now, Andrew wants to help others like him. He’s always been a nurturing kid and is starting to look at leadership programs at the after-school program so that he can help younger kids. It gives him a sense of responsibility and purpose.