Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Ga. Celebrates its 60th Anniversary
(WEST CHICAGO, IL/ATLANTA, GA) Nathaniel Thompson of Kennesaw, Ga. never expected to be honored as a “Gold Medalist for Life.” The 33-year-old lives a relatively peaceful life with his wife and children in the West Chicago area now, where he works at Wheaton College as the Wheaton Passage Program Director. His life could have been the exact opposite of what he is experiencing now if not for Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH), a Christian residential program and on-campus school for young men between the ages of 16 and 21 struggling with behavioral problems and issues of discipline, anger and depression.
Paul Anderson, who was declared “the strongest man in the world” after the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games, was a gold medal winner and weightlifting legend. To this day, no one has exceeded or even matched his feat of lifting 6,270 lb. in a back lift. Anderson used his fame to promote youth physical fitness and his devotion to Jesus Christ. While touring the country as a goodwill ambassador, he developed a desire to help young people mired in bad behavior and poor choices who were throwing their lives away. Along with his wife Glenda, who still maintains quite a presence at the Home, the Paul Anderson Youth Home was founded in 1961.
PAYH celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with a specific goal in mind. The organization will be reaching out across the country to let parents and advocates know there is a place to find an alternative to jail for troubled young men and boys who need a second chance.
Thompson is one of six distinguished alumni who are being recognized by the youth home as true success stories, living productive and positive lives and named “Gold Medalists for Life.”
In tandem with the 60th anniversary and award, an awareness campaign encompassing print and digital channels will focus on stories like his, targeting prosecutors, law enforcement, legal aid, social services, parent groups, churches and other organizations who could intervene and keep a troubled boy or young man from prison and put them on track to change their lives.
Growing up in Kennesaw, Ga., Thompson fell in with the wrong crowd late in high school. Obsessive video gaming led to a serious drug problem. He was overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and despair and constantly arguing with his parents. The arguments turned violent, resulting in a stint in jail. Upon release, he attempted suicide. An aunt who worked at Chick-fil-A, a longtime PAYH sponsor, suggested it to him and his parents.
“I knew I needed help,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t very spiritual, but I had recently felt a powerful experience with Jesus Christ,” he added.
Each young man in PAYH’s care receives counseling, academic assistance to complete their education, job training, and substance abuse therapy, if necessary. Still, he had conflicting feelings about church and religion upon arriving at the Home.
“What meant the most to me was in class and in Bible study, learning about God’s grace. That we are loved despite our faults and mistakes. It made hard work mean more, because God’s grace was constant, even if the work wasn’t as perfect as I’d like it to be,” he added.
That turning point led to a desire for self-improvement in addition to what he was learning at the Home. He began reading self-help books and recalls how sitting at the large dining table with the rest of the young men allowed him to learn the art of conversation, asking meaningful questions, and learning by listening to others. Upon graduating in 2008, he returned home to his parents and mended their relationship.
“It was important to capitalize on all the lessons I had learned. It wasn’t easy, we had some critical conversations, but it was worth it,” he said.
The mission of PAYH has remained the same over the years, as has the need for alternatives to prison. “Rather than facing a life of crime, jail time, and poor adjustment, young people need continued support and counseling like the kind that our Home has provided for decades,” said Glenda Anderson. “Our boys who have completed the program are the living example of how this ministry turns lives around and helps make respectful men who are an asset to their communities.”
ABOUT PAUL ANDERSON YOUTH HOME
Founded in 1961 by weightlifting world champion and Olympic gold medalist Paul Anderson and his wife, Glenda, the Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH) is a Christian residential program and on-campus school for young men between the ages of 16 and 21 struggling with behavioral problems and issues of discipline, anger and depression. PAYH is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). In addition to counseling and character development, PAYH offers an accelerated learning program enabling residents to graduate with a high school diploma and technical certifications. To date, over 1,400 young men have attended the program. The Home is located at 1603 McIntosh St. in Vidalia, Ga. To learn more about PAYH, call (912) 537-7237 or visit www.payh.org.