The OCP Blog

Featured Volunteer of the Month: Damon Ayers

“What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt- it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.” – Hal Boyle

When you first lay eyes on our featured volunteer of the month Mr. Damon Ayers, his physical appearance will give you the sense that he’s the type who cannot be broken. Until now, his life has been full of adverse experiences and traumatic events. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in the early 70s, an environment where one had to be tough to survive, Mr. Damon Ayers did not have it easy. Growing up not knowing who his biological father was, our featured volunteer lived with his mother searching for a father figure to fill the void.

Living in a period where most African American communities were full of members with low-income status, our featured volunteer of the month found himself in a space where it was sustainable to be around illegal substances, or to generate revenues from illegal scams. Criminal activities and traumatic experiences, at the urging of his stepfather ignited habits, in Mr. Damon Ayers, which he later on used as he moved out of his mother’s home and went to live with his grandparents.  “Everybody always loved to see somebody who was driving nice cars, and wearing the most expensive clothing… It was the way to gain respect and respect is what we strived to gain…,” Mr. Damon Ayers said. When I asked Mr. Ayers how he would describe his childhood compared to the one he has gifted his kids and grandchildren, he looked and me and said that “my childhood went fast.” While he was working and making money, unfortunately for our featured volunteer, his compensation did not go toward productive investment. From age 15 to 19, Mr. Damon Ayers was in and out of jail.

He always wanted to work for a meaningful cause, but his environment and his so-called mentors had their own agenda for him. Without healthy community, he spent more than another decade incarcerated.

Since December, though, Mr. Damon Ayers has invested himself in a different way of living and building healthy community. When he first walked into Our Community Place (OCP), he felt this loving, compassionate energy that shook his foundation. He felt new possibilities to communicate, open up and share life experiences; he released some of what was going on inside, which allowed him to grow. He has gained a new sense of self-worth. He would love others to access such a safe and non-judgmental space. As he participates in activities and learning and work opportunities– for example at the Friday Lunch Restaurant – he and others recognize his capacities and contributions. Everybody loves Mr. Damon Ayers. The river seems to be finding its way.

Leons Kabongo

Programming & Activities Coordinator