Myles Williams stands in front of a roomful of mothers and fathers mandated by the court to attend parenting classes. “You have to think of the kids and not yourself,” he says. “Stop making excuses in your life, and start being your best.”
Myles, a parenting instructor with Akoko-Nan Parent Education and Support Group in Pasadena, knows what he is talking about, not from a parent’s perspective, but from a child’s. When he was 14, his parents died. This event catapulted him into a succession of 13 foster care placements, where he met many adults unfit for parenthood. He became homeless at age 18, and lived on Los Angeles’ Skid Row until he was 20. He then discovered Hillsides program for youth formerly in foster care, Youth Moving On (YMO), where his life turned around.
“YMO was the first place that felt like home and also gave me an opportunity to achieve,” said Myles. YMO provided him with an affordable apartment, mental health counseling, life skills training, and workforce education. Through community partnerships, YMO helped Myles find a job as a chef at a Pasadena restaurant, and then as a barista at Starbucks.
Myles also discovered his capacity for leadership. While in the program he was selected to be a peer advocate for other youth, and today he serves on the YMO advisory board, helping to formulate the program’s policies, vision, and future. Seven years after leaving the YMO program, he still returns regularly to inspire other youth to make the most of their futures.
“I have learned my true purpose in life is
helping others,” said Myles. “If you can help someone else get to the top of the mountain, that is true success.”
He also operates under another guiding principle: To give 120 percent to anything he does. Perhaps this explains why he has the energy to work another job, at Sephora, and to attend college, with the ultimate goal of becoming a social worker. And this philosophy may reveal the reason why he pushes the parents in his classes so hard with his unique brand of tough love.
“Too many people give the best of themselves only when it’s easy, however, it’s when you’re challenged that you have to give even more,” he said. “At the end of the day, I am happy with myself, knowing that I gave the best I had to offer, and I want others to experience that same feeling too.”