How Do You Measure Success? This Is Zach’s Story

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Four years ago I received a message from a young man who was looking for help and housing. So, similar to how many youth start working with Project Legacy, I called him, we talked, and I asked if he would write to me and tell me about himself. The letter arrived that night, via Facebook:

“Well Karen, I'm 20 years old, I moved from Chicago by myself when I was 16 to live here in Rochester with my sister who took me in because back at home (Chicago) it wasn't safe. I was bullied as a kid and everything that's going on out there could either have me in bad situations or sad to say...dead. I’ve been trying everything I can to avoid going back to my mother's house because the living conditions aren't ideal. I went to a very good high school in Chicago, Kenwood Academy, and was interested in becoming a massage therapist. During my stay in Rochester I made some bad choices, like deciding to drink alcoholic beverages and going to parties thinking that would land me friends because I was new to the area and everything. It worked, but in the long run it only caused problems, like only caring about what my friends think and trying to make a good image for myself. As I got older and wiser I realized that I was headed down a bad road, I had to learn to accept who I was and learn to be comfortable with myself cause I was trying to fit in. A year ago me and a friend got our own apt. I was doing good. Stable to live and food to eat. But eventually we ended up losing our apt due to noise complaints. Also, I lost my job yesterday because of transportation issues, so all of this hitting me at one time is overwhelming. But staying strong and keeping my head up is something I'm good at. Praying keeps me sane and having hope is always a great thing. Because I had to work to provide shelter for myself I had to drop out of school. I've had full time jobs and missed out on school because of that. The life I thought was the life for me isn't because I know I'm better than this. Those same people I was trying to impress are no longer by my side and I felt I lived a lie because that was somebody I'm not. If I could start over I would. My goals were to finish school and get into my career, but I drifted elsewhere and can't go back in time. But now I see what's best for me just wish I seen it sooner.”

This is how Zach started working with Project Legacy back in 2014.

After receiving this message, Zach attended one of Project Legacy’s Circle groups. He was interested, engaged and excited — but then we stopped hearing from him. A few days later, we learned Zach was at the Adult Detention Center after being picked up on an outstanding warrant. Because he was homeless, he was being held until his release date.

When I went to visit him, I saw the relief on his eyes. He just needed a chance. Needed someone to believe in him. Needed someone to give him an opportunity to leave this life. So we gave him that chance, and Zach was no longer homeless. He came to live with me. Carrying all of his possessions, he was ready for a new chapter — a chance at a new future.

Here’s what’s happened in the four years since:

Zach completed treatment. He enrolled at Hawthorne Adult Education, and seven months later, he graduated with his GED. He got his driver’s permit and then his license.  Project Legacy bought him a phone and paid the bill until he was able to pay it himself. He got a job at Costco and then at the Rochester Athletic Club.

As soon as he had a stable home and transportation, job attendance wasn’t a problem. Soon, he was recruited into another position.  He enrolled in college. Project Legacy paid for eye exams, contacts and glasses. He had dental work for the first time in many years. We helped him get medical insurance.  With a membership at the RAC, he focused on his health for the first time in years. He decided that he needed to replace the activity of drinking and parties with something positive so he made the goal of learning to play basketball. He wrote an essay about how he had always been the last to be chosen for the team but now he was the team captain. And with his savings and improved credit score, he bought a beautiful car from a local car dealership.

The face that had been bloated from alcohol changed into that of a handsome young man with chiseled features and bright, shining eyes.   


“I used to always be looking over my shoulder. I never knew what was going to happen next.  Now, I lay my head down at night without a care in the world. I can sleep and I wake up every morning and thank God for all he’s given me.”

Last April, Zach enrolled in a construction program through Workforce Development. He attended class every day from 7am-3:30pm for six weeks.  The day before he graduated, he was hired for a union job as a carpenter. Now, six months later, he has a pension plan, company health insurance – and a career he loves and is proud of.

Someone asked me once, “What’s Project Legacy’s success rate?” I told them we don’t have successes or failures — we have people who are ready and people who aren’t. Zach was ready, and thankfully, we were there when he was.

So how do you measure success?

At Project Legacy, we can measure outcomes — grades, graduation, employment, sobriety, following the law. And by those measures, Zach would be a success.  But in my heart — and in Zach’s — we also consider the things you can’t measure: He has a home, a purpose, and a family who loves him.

Zach often joins me when I visit the Juvenile Detention Center to meet with youth. He’s become passionate about speaking with the younger boys who remind him of himself. He’s able to offer counsel to them because where they are now is where he once was — but he’s walked through the flames to the other side. He knows the challenges, the dangers and what it takes to emerge.  

During every interaction, I watch with pride. The pride of a mother looking at the son she loves, at this young man who came to us looking for something better.

Today, Zach has found his ‘something better,’ and now he’s reaching back — extending his hand and offering a way out to the young boys who look at him with awe and admiration.

His why is our why.

Project Legacy exists because of donors just like you. Please consider becoming a Legacy Partner today and join others paving the way for a better future for our youth.

Karen Edmonds