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How Vance Williams went from gang life to being an asset to Wilmington's youth

By Elizabeth Montgomery StarNews StaffPosted Mar 8, 2017 at 12:18 PM
Updated Mar 9, 2017 at 9:19 AM 

Vance Williams, founder of Advance Youth Outreach. 

His past does not define the future for founder of Advance Youth Outreach.

WILMINGTON -- Vance Williams spent his youth as a gang member in Detroit. He uses lessons learned from his past to embolden the future of Wilmington's youth at Advance Youth Outreach.

Founded by Williams in 2015, Advance Youth Outreach is a youth-focused community resource center with an educational curriculum for ages 14 to 28. Guests also have access to Wi-Fi, books, periodicals, computers and a private meeting room.

"There was a point in time where I felt helpless and no one would help me because they felt I was too far gone," Williams said. "People would say 'he's heavy in the gangs and in the streets he's not going to make it till he's 21.'"

Williams grew up in the foster care system of Detroit, without the influence of a father figure. Now, at 37, Williams has created organizations from Detroit to Wilmington specifically for young adults upbringings similar to his.

"Now that I'm an adult, I can look back and see the things that I needed. I can see young people with the same issues and circumstances and help them fill in the gaps," Williams said. "They follow a certain way of life and I had that same way of life, so I can say, 'This is where you start the downwards spiral' and I can stop that."

Before moving to Wilmington, Williams spent a stint in prison for carjacking. When he was released, he started an organization called Shock the Block which showcased talent at middle and elementary schools in Detroit. He then became a lieutenant at a juvenile boot camp.

Williams said Advance Youth Outreach is a safe space for anyone in the Port City to use. Organizations including Moms in Mourning, Soaring as Eagles, the Aljhean Williams Foundation and the Shane Simpson Foundation use the building to hold meetings. New Hanover High students go to the center after school to use its resources. Williams hopes to be able to add more.

The center runs off of private donations, corporate sponsors and much of Williams' own money, earned by working odd jobs.

"I don't have the big budget or money," Williams said. "If I did I could be more effective, have more freedom to do more things."

He takes it personally to be a positive resource for his community.

"This is not something I like, this is something I love," he said. "Keeping my ears to the streets and the community where it's not hard to reach me, I'm an asset in that way. I have a heart and I'm for real about helping my community."

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About Us

What is AYO?

We are a youth-focused community resource center with educational programs and resources for school ages 6 to young adults age 26. Amenities include:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Access to CRC and building
  • Access to books and periodicals
  • Access to computer stations
  • Private meeting room – must be scheduled in advance
  • Host monthly fun and engaging Youth-centric events
  • Vocational Training courses offered

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(910) 398-2072

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