This story is a first-person account of a partner on the Youth Leadership Council, which you can read more about here.
AUSTIN AMOS, 20, Sevierville, Tenn.:
I’m someone who wants to make a change. My parents divorced when I was 5 so I’ve always had two completely different lives. I grew up living in Alabama, where I was born, while my dad lived in Rhode Island. Between the ages of 5 and 8, I lived in Rhode Island. From ages 8 to 11 I was in Alabama, then I was back in Rhode Island from ages 11 to 14.
I wasn’t happy in either place. My dad worked two jobs; my stepmom wasn’t emotionally available. I have three brothers: 17, 13, 11. My mom’s partner favored my younger brother, who’s 17 now. She would explode verbally; she was bipolar. Some days I would come home to my bedroom door being taken down and the room being empty; she’d take my stuff to her car or her mom’s house.
I had started smoking at 13 in Rhode Island and that led to drugs because my friends were not good friends.
When I was 14, I was living in Rhode Island, skipping school, doing drugs — weed — and not caring about who I was or who I was going to be. My dad and stepmom had two kids together, around ages 5 and 8, and she gave him an ultimatum: them or me. She felt I was a bad influence, which I was at the time. He had to choose.
He chose her and the two kids, and I went to live in Alabama with my mom from the ages of 14 to 17. At this point, I was doing good in school. I had a 3.5 GPA. I was in honors classes and I was working 30 hours a week at a pizza shop.
When I was 17 and in Alabama, I was selling cough suppressant pills and Oxycontin, doing weed and LSD. When my mom found out, I went back to live with my dad, who had left my stepmom and was living with his girlfriend in Tennessee. I was three months from graduation at this time.
My wisdom teeth were growing in at the time, causing me pain. I reached into my bag to get ibuprofen and the science teacher calls the principal and they find my e-cigarettes. I got suspended.
After my suspension, I realized I needed to change. It wasn’t everyone in the world against me; it was me being self-destructive. I stopped smoking weed before graduation in May 2015. I still smoked and vaped. But Friday, Nov. 10, was my last day of smoking. I promised my girlfriend. I met her at Red Lobster, where I was working. She’s been a positive influence. I never had the desire to change. She inspires me to do better.
After graduation, I was working at Adidas. Starbucks was a few doors down. I would always walk by and smell the coffee. A friend worked there and told me to apply, so I did and got the job. I started working in October 2015.
In spring 2016, I enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. My declared major is business with a concentration in retail management.
If it wasn’t for the SCAP program, I wouldn’t have gone to college. Financially I couldn’t have done it. Working at Starbucks has kept me occupied and off the streets. I met good friends who were supportive and not toxic. I got onto the Youth Leadership Council, and now I can try and help others out. I want others to feel needed, accepted and appreciated, which is something I didn’t feel for a long time.
—As told to Bonnie Rochman