Sunday, April 17, 2022
Gray’s parents separated a few years ago and she had certain needs but didn’t know how to express herself.
“I went into Moxy when I was 12,” Gray told Gov. Steve Sisolak on April 11. “My brother passed away due to suicide, and I found him. A friend brought me to Moxy. My parents split up. It was my dad and my stepmom. I took time for myself, and I had no one to talk to.”
But with the help of the Minden-based nonprofit’s Executive Director Coleen Lawrence, who put a proper restorative justice model to work and added some extra compassion, Gray has gone from being about two years behind in school to about a week behind. She left the public school system where she describes having bounced around from Pioneer and Douglas High schools where she felt she wasn’t receiving enough help to focusing better by being homeschooled.
On Monday, Lawrence and Gray shared Moxy Up’s key role in the community with Sisolak in a visit in his office, discussing its current impact on Douglas and Mineral. Gray talked about her message, describing what the organization has done for her and how it helps others like her.
“I was still troubled,” Gray told Sisolak. “I had been through detention. Now I’m clean. It’s been about a year now. … I didn’t want to feel what I was feeling. … Now I feel I’m safe. (Lawrence) really helps me a lot.”
Gray is considered a brand ambassador for Moxy Up, which serves youth ages 13 to 25 needing crisis respite or mental health services. Some simply need basic services and don’t have anywhere else to turn throughout the day and call on Lawrence. The organization accepts every child of all abilities through social media or any other means in need of assistance 24 hours a day.
“If you help families be healthier, you will have healthy communities,” Lawrence told Sisolak. “People ask me, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘What do you need?’ and we figure it out. We have mental health needs, crisis respite. We have Top Ramen, we provide snacks and chips for these kids. I’m the largest supporter of Top Ramen in the valley. We do everything for these kids.”
Lawrence and her volunteers happily will provide timeouts, when students just need brief periods of time to watch television or take breaks from their personal, social or academic challenges or to help make them feel safe. Lawrence said she works closely with Douglas County School District and makes sure children do not end up in an institutional system.
Sisolak asked about Moxy Up’s success rates as students come through the organization’s doors. Lawrence, who has worked as a health care consultant, said it has not measured its success, but based on conversations from others, most are asking how she’s able to accomplish what she’s doing. One priority is to establish an immediate connection with everyone entering on a daily basis.
“There’s not this magic formula,” she said. “There’s only one of me, right? You have to make sure you have people who care about kids. If (Alicy’s) dating somebody, if she’s doing her homework, how she’s doing it, she can text me. I’m on her Snapchats. I have kids who can Snapchat me in the middle of the night.”
Lawrence described one student who reached out to her in the middle of the night asking her to review her Snapchat story out of concern it was inappropriate, and Lawrence responded she might get in trouble with her parents. Lawrence immediately reviewed what turned out to be a survey asking whether she should select Vans or Converse shoes.
“And I wrote back, ‘Well, Vans, duh!’ ” Lawrence said. “She said, ‘Dang it, you blew my survey.’ It’s about connection, it’s understanding.”
Sisolak thanked Gray as a brand ambassador for starting her work so young.
“At your age and background, you can make a connection I certainly couldn’t make because of life experiences and their situation,” he said.
He also thanked Lawrence and asked her about funding, to which she replied Moxy Up is privately funded.
“We literally put our life into it,” she said.
“I give you all the credit in the world,” Sisolak said.
But the nonprofit’s needs are beginning to grow now, seeing an average of 10 youth per day and 300 per month. Donations are accepted and are applied to bus passes for youth to travel to Moxy Up’s location at 1616 U.S. 395 in Minden, healthy snacks, educational supplies, job skills and certifications or medical, behavioral and peer support services.
Last year, it received part of a $3.97 million grant from the CARES Act focused on increasing behavioral health services for certified community clinics providing mental health, substance abuse, job development and family services. The effort was done in conjunction with Chicanos Por La Causa Nevada based in North Las Vegas.
Moxy Up is able to employ for the first time an adult mentor and part-time youth mentor, having to run on an all-volunteer basis otherwise.
It’s also been focusing on its kindness campaigns and purchasing supplies to go into schools to raise awareness with students about compassion and deter young people’s attention from bullying.
Lawrence told the Appeal after speaking with Sisolak that Moxy Up also has an AmeriCorps program for which it needs donations upfront. The group also has a strict policy on volunteers, who are checked through the Federal Bureau of Investigations as some are special-needs youth.
“It’s your kids, and I want to make sure they’re highly guarded,” she said.
She said she’s grateful for the community support.
“We speak to thousands of kids at a time,” she said. “We’re a very unique organization. I don’t keep any salary for myself, and our community is really nice in the fact that I’ll put a thing up and say, ‘Hey, we need Top Ramen’ or ‘Hey, we need more water, do your Costco trips,’ and they help.”
Gray said she encourages local youth to consider getting the help they need through Moxy Up.
“I’ve never sat down with someone who felt like they actually cared (until meeting Lawrence),” Gray said. “And that’s what this place is all about. That’s really important to me. I’d tell them that kids nowadays, they just want to be cool … but really taking care of yourself is more important than impressing someone.”
For more information, visit Moxy Up’s website at https://moxyupmentoring.com.
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