With a voice brimming with enthusiasm and personality, Ace sounds like any other happy-go-lucky 20-year-old living a life filled with possibility.
But Ace’s reality was once frighteningly different. “People I used to look up to were the wrong people. It was pretty much surviving,” he explains. “I was surrounded by abuse, drugs and blackmail at home. I started drugs when I was about 11 years old. My birth dad used to give them to me.”
Ace’s home life was dysfunctional, dangerous and hopeless. “I don’t have any happy memories growing up. I’m just lucky to be alive.”
What followed was a painful collapse into violence and drugs, where school and home became a thing of the past and a life with gangs on the streets and homelessness seemed to be Ace’s future. And it wasn’t long before the hopelessness of his situation started to take over.
“I was 14 when I first ran away. I couldn’t stay at home. I was on the run for about three months. There were times when I would stay up all night, because I was scared for my life. I slept in scaffolding, on couches, I even slept in the synagogue a few times. If I’d have gone to bed on the street, I would have probably been killed. I just felt like there was nothing left. I thought about suicide – how and where to do it.”
It was at that point that Ace was introduced to The Boys Clubhouse by a friend already benefitting from the Hendon-based charity.
“I had heard about Clubhouse, and my friend told me how amazing it was, and that they would help me. And they did. They changed my life.”
Founded by Ari Leaman in 2009, The Boys Clubhouse – which is launching an urgent fundraising appeal this week – is the first Jewish charity established to provide a safe, nurturing and inspiring environment for
disadvantaged young men.
It exists for young Jewish men in crisis, living without hope, who have dropped out of the education system, been physically or sexually abused, are struggling with addiction or have run away from home. Boys whose lives are in a downward spiral.
In the past 12 months alone, The Boys Clubhouse has received almost 200 referrals and provided housing and basic necessities for 52 young men. Around 100 receive long-term support from the charity.
“We’re well-known among the kids out there who might be in trouble and need help,” Ari tells me. “They come to us and ask for help. They know about us through word of mouth, maybe from other boys who we’re already helping. What we offer is security, and from that we can rebuild trust and give the boys hope for
At The Boys Clubhouse, Ari and his team live by the words “belief” and “hope”, because when boys such as Ace come to them, they have no belief in themselves and no faith in their future.
“When we met Ace, it was like finding a wounded and lost puppy. He was confused and hurt, with no sense of direction,” Ari recalls.
But soon, with the help and support provided by Ari and his team of mentors and volunteers, Ace’s life was transformed. And he finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.
“Ari brought me food and clothes and he helped me find a foster home because he knew I needed a healthy environment. I had nothing before this and before Clubhouse.”
This was the first home environment Ace had ever been in that was loving and secure.
“They treated me as if I were one of theirs. Like I was an equal,” he says. It was also the first family environment in which Ace was able to experience a home – with no fighting and no violence.
“The Boys Clubhouse helped me to trust people again. Spending time at my foster home and at the Clubhouse gave me the space and time I needed to recharge and revaluate. I still go to my foster home every Friday for Shabbat.”
As well as helping Ace find a safe and loving home, Ari and his team worked with him to complete his education. “Growing up, I didn’t get much education because of what was happening at home. The Boys Clubhouse set me up with a learning scheme,” he explains.
Through their contacts and networks, the team connect the boys with tutors who provide GCSE skills and courses so they can continue their education.
After attending sessions, Ace was able to achieve qualifications in English and maths, as well as a Level 3 personal trainer certification and completed a counselling course, so he can help boys and young men with a similar story to his own.
Six years on, Ace’s life has completely changed. He is full of hope and determination and speaks of his aspirations of supporting others in dark places.
He says: “Helping other people is like a cure for me.” He is confident, happy, self-sufficient, living in his own flat and working at The Boys Clubhouse every day, running the gym and training other boys in personal fitness.
Now it’s Ace who mentors, inspires and motivates other vulnerable young men. “I want to give back. I feel I can help others so much because of my situation,” he explains.
“My drive is to show other boys anything is possible, even in the worst of circumstances. Clubhouse gave me that opportunity by providing me with certain key skills, as well as giving me hope and trust.
“Clubhouse won’t give up just because you have. We’re there for you, whether you like it or not. I’m always going to be a part of it.”
Ace’s isn’t the only life the charity has transformed. The team has been instrumental in turning around the lives of dozens of young men at its Hendon headquarters and at a Clubhouse in Israel called The Cave.
Within the Clubhouse walls, no one is judged and everyone is welcome. Each case is taken on individually, because, as Ari says: “There is no stereotypical Clubhouse client.”
He explains: “We’re completely guided by the needs of each boy. We’re the end of the line for boys who have dropped out of the system.”
- Details: www.theclubhouse.biz
The Clubhouse is running a 36-hour urgent appeal on Sunday, 27, and Monday, 28 June. To donate, visit: www.charityextra.com/clubhouse
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