Denise Youngs turned 16 in February, but decided to have a party in the summer with her half-sister, Kendra Smith, who was turning 12. On May 31, relatives and friends came in from as far as North Carolina and across New York State. The party was a happy occasion despite the brief storms that interrupted the festivities throughout the day which may have been a good way to mark the event; A celebration amidst some difficult conditions.
Having a large party for your 16th birthday may not be unusual, but asking your guests to bring donations to a local alcohol and drug outpatient treatment center instead of gifts is certainly unique.
In September of 2007, Denise lost her father, William Youngs. Youngs drown in Arizona where he had been living for several years battling substance abuse, a battle Denise hoped he was winning. He was 37 years old.
“I didn’t see him a lot,” she said. “We would write to each other. In his last letter he said he was planning to come home and go into rehab.”
Youngs’ mother, Darcy Smith, ended her relationship with William before Denise was able to remember them being together, and Denise hadn’t seen her father in seven years, but the impact he made on her life is evident in her tears when she speaks about him.
The party was her way of taking the grief and making something positive from it.
“He would have liked the party,” Youngs said of her father.
The bigger message to the 90 or so guests at the party and those who received the invitation was that there is help for people with substance abuse issues.
The invitation read, “Please, Denise and Kendra are asking that you not bring gifts. However, if you would like to make a donation to the Teen Alcohol and Drug Association they would be honored to deliver all the gracious donations.”
“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Darcy Smith. “The choice was theirs and it was what they wanted to do.”
The $300 they collected during the party will be donated to Farnham Family Services in Oswego.
“We found Farnham through the Red Creek School district,” said Smith. “They were happy to accept the donation and met with us to find out more about Denise and our family.”
Farnham Family Services is a not-for-profit, medically supervised, outpatient drug and alcohol treatment, intervention and prevention clinic. Farnham Executive Director Jeanne Unger was excited by the family’s donation.
“When I met Denise I was struck by her decision,” she said. “Here’s Denise, a beautiful young girl, smiling the whole time we talked with tears running down her face. This is obviously a highly emotional part of her lifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ She really is hoping that this will be something that can help other kids in similar situations which is something we certainly do at Farnham. We help those with substance abuse problems and those who are affected.”
Youngs echoed Unger’s thoughts, saying, “I wanted to do something that would help other kids like me and people like my Dad. I wanted people to know that they are not alone and that there is help.”
Denise’s Mom and Step Father, Mark Smith, were supportive of her decision.
“I think it was a good way to turn her sadness into something happy,” Darcy Smith said. “The party was a good time. It was a celebration, not sad at all.”
Youngs spoke through tears about memories of her and her father skipping rocks and shooting super soaker water guns at birds on the water’s edge in Sackets Harbor when she was younger.
When asked if she thought the celebration helped her get through her loss, Youngs said, “It feels good, but I don’t feel better. I don’t think anything will make it feel better.”
Her Mom responded to her and said, “When you are older, and you can think about things, I think you’ll see this as a good way to help you heal.”
Unger hopes the donation and the gesture can help Farnham provide needed services to the community where government funding has been depleted over the past several years.
“Government funding has decreased and we lost all county funding a few years ago,” Unger said. “We want to be here because we know there is a need in the community for these services. We need to get the word out there that there is help for people in these situations and work to decrease the stigma associated with alcohol and substance abuse. Denise and Kendra’s generous act of asking for donations instead of gifts at their party in memory of Denise’s father is a great example of individuals recognizing the value of our services and programs.”
The stigma affected William Youngs as he remained in Arizona, away from his own family during his struggles.
“Even through everything he was going through, his family was always right here for him,” Darcy Smith said. “People going through that though don’t realize that there are people out there to support them.”
Many of William Youngs’ family came to the party in celebration of his life and his daughter’s future.
Denise said she would even consider volunteering for other events that would help people find out about services offered through FarnhamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ services that could have helped her father.
For now, she will spend her summer at basketball camp, looking for a summer job, taking Driver’s Education classes and keeping her father’s spirit alive by skipping rocks with her uncle at the same shoreline in Sackets Harbor that she used to go to with her father.
Established in 1971, Farnham Family Services is a United Way agency that offers prevention services, school-based student assistance and treatment services to all residents of Oswego and surrounding counties. All services are licensed by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Farnham’s professionally certified staff is comprised of competent and skillful individuals who are continually updated with training through conferences and workshops.
Their offices are located in the cities of Oswego and Fulton and provide comprehensive treatment services – including acupuncture detoxification.
Families or individuals interested in learning more about Farnham Family Services please call (315) 342-4489 or visit them online at www.farnhaminc.org.