New Image Youth Center is a place in the Parramore neighborhood of Orlando where kids can come to learn the benefits of working together and to take a more positive approach to their surroundings. Overcoming obstacles, real or imagined, helps to bring these youth closer to taking those steps that may be necessary to laying the foundation for a more fulfilling life.
And someone outside of this neighborhood, who had to overcome obstacles of his own, came to speak with and encourage some of the kids at the center last week.
Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman and mountain climber, was faced with a decision – a decision that saved his life but also changed the course of his life. Millions of people from around the world are aware of Ralston's story from the movie "127 Hours.” In 2003, he survived a climbing accident in Utah only by amputating his own right hand. Using a dull multi-tool, Ralston cut his hand off above the wrist in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder that had trapped him there for five days and seven hours. After he freed himself, he had to rappel down a 65 feet sheer cliff face to reach safety.
More than 45 Parramore children and teenagers gathered to listen to Ralston's message. He doesn't let the accident or the amputated arm stop him from following his passion and now part of his life's mission is to uplift others. "I think our boulders give us the opportunity to reach our potential in our life," Ralston explained.
Shanta Barton-Stubbs, Director of the youth center, and Brad Mason, founder of Just Keep Pouring, an Orlando non-profit organization dedicated to developing leadership programs for kids across the country, put together a goal setting program for the center's kids. When they learned that Ralston was going to be in town for another event, Mason asked if he would be available to visit the center.
Ralston quickly accepted this opportunity to share his story with these disadvantaged, but hope-filled, inner city kids.
“It’s incredible to think that 73 percent of this neighborhood’s children are living in poverty,” Ralston said, “or that the median household income is less than $14,000. The Parramore area is clearly struggling, but the Center is like a ray of sunshine for the people here.” Ralston was deeply impressed with the kids he met and talked with.
“Each child I spoke with had a remarkable sense of hope,” Ralston said. “They shared their dreams and ambitions with me. I don’t think they’re going to let anything get in the way of having bright futures. Yes, they’ll face hurdles as I have, but overcoming life’s challenges is what makes each of us special.”
Ralston explained what was going through Ralston's mind once he made the decision to amputate his hand. Ralston began the process, but he didn't cry and he wasn't sad. He knew there was still a risk he would bleed to death, but at least he wasn't going to die right in that spot where he had been trapped for nearly 6 days.
From that point his life changed forever. Mason asked Ralston how his accident impacted the goals he had before the accident. “He said it impacted how he approached things day-to-day,” Mason explained. Aron defined himself through his independence. Immediately following his accident, he was extrememly depedent on others, but after a lot of hard work through the rehabilitation process, he didn't let the amputation of an arm change or get in the was of his goals.”
Barton-Stubbs said "Hearing Aron’s story made our youth realize what he's gone through, and it clearly gave them hope and inspiration. Ten-year-old Steven Morrisant said it best when he yelled to Aron’s departing car ‘We love you! You’re our hero!’”
Since 2004, the New Image Youth Center – a nonprofit organization located in the Parramore area within Orlando, Fla. – has been lifting up the disadvantaged community by providing innovative youth programs. The Center is helping to end the cycle of poverty in Orlando’s toughest neighborhood through education, mentoring and positive activities. To learn more about the Center, visit www.newimageyouth.org or call 321-388-1627.
“Thanks to Aron,” Barton-Stubbs said, “it was a really positive week at the New Image Youth Center.”