My brother and I grew up in a brand new neighborhood in Buena Park in the early 1960’s, and while it was plain and simple, we had both of our hard working parents there with us. We were safe to grow up and make choices about how we could find happiness.

Roman and his brother Kenneth (Sammy Boy) Reyna grew up together in Santa Ana. There were a lot of influences that faced young people in their neighborhood, and a lot of them were bad. They had a lot fewer choices than my brother and I did; we got to participate with our Dad in a great parent-child program in the YMCA called Indian Guides. The time spent with the other families in the group reinforced the kind of caring family experience we enjoyed.

Roman and Sammy Boy had to take care of themselves while their Mother worked two or three jobs – when Dad was there he was selling drugs out of their house. The experience challenged Roman and Sammy Boy to find their own way through a world that seemed a lot less caring than they deserved.

Roman and Sammy Boy were each exposed to the same kind of challenges. With little to help them build strong self images, both boys were tested daily with the lure of another attraction – gang membership. Choosing the safety of this new “family” meant still another big choice – to take risks and compromise their values by falling into a life of crime. For Sammy Boy, this was his path. But Roman got to make a different choice.

Roman didn’t get to take part in an Indian Guides group with his Dad like my brother and I did. However, the YMCA did come to his rescue, enabling him to be part of a community of young people that lived a character-centered life. Roman took the hand that was extended to him and got involved in after school athletic programs offered at no cost to those in need by the YMCA serving his neighborhood.

Today, Roman Reyna is a Director of Youth Development programs for the YMCA of Orange County and is devoting his life to changing young lives for the better – reaching out the same charitable and caring hand to others that so changed his life. Today, Sammy Boy is in prison as a 3 strikes offender.

3 years ago, my friend Greg Arbues extended a hand to me and offered the chance to be a part of the YMCA movement again as a volunteer. As a member of the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Orange County I see my role as helping to create as many Roman Reynas as possible – and to see the thousands of lives changed that more Roman Reynas can make possible. You can click on the following link for a video featuring the story of Roman and Sammy Boy. (Scroll down the page to “Roman’s Story” YMCA Video) – FYI, the video is 8 minutes long, and worth every second).
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There are a lot of people in need in Orange County. Did you know that, nationwide, 25% of school-age kids do not have a supervised activity between 3pm and 6pm on schooldays? Did you know that 50% of high school dropouts in the U.S. come from 15% of the schools? Our most troubled communities are perfect examples of these problems, including Santa Ana where we are 3/4 of the way to raising the $20M we need to build a YMCA facility within 3 miles of 80,000 kids.

YMCA of Orange County – We are currently reaching out to build relationships with new friends, volunteers, and contributors. Your donations go directly to programs supporting at-risk and underserved youth and families including the same after-school programs in high-risk communities that saved Roman. Our mission is to change lives for the better. You can make a big difference.

To make a donation and change lives click on this link. (You do not need to be a YMCA member to make a donation)
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If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or would like more information please just let me know and I’ll get you connected with the right members of the YMCA team.

Thank you for sharing your time. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.