Danette King was 12 years old the first time she ran away from home, where she says she was abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
King lived with friends and in shelters before returning home a month later. “I went back home because I think I just grew tired of running, but things did not get better,” she said.
King said the abuse continued for another year at her mother’s “volatile household.” King was finally removed from the home by The Department of Children and Family Services. With no family members able to take her in, King was placed in foster care where she said her emotional scars weren’t addressed.
“I was placed in several homes where some of the same problems I faced with my mother persisted. At the time, I needed acknowledgment and love,” King said. “I just was not getting it.”
King spent the next 10 years bouncing from foster homes to homeless shelters and her pediatric physician’s office. She had eight children during this span (one of her kids died as an infant). She also spent time on the streets.
King’s experiences as a kid motivated her to launch her own program to help youth. Young Creative Minds, a nonprofit the 34-year-old started in 2007, is run out of the apartment she shares with her husband of two years, Brian King.
“Because of my experiences as a ward of the state, I knew the plight of many children in similar situations,” she said. “They just want to have the opportunity to express themselves and pursue their talents but are unable to because they are not given the proper encouragement.”
The program currently helps 24 teens from Austin. The kids meet three times a week to talk about personal matters. Through the program, they’re involved in community projects, such as cleaning the streets, and also attend church, which is a requirement.
Patricia Banks, 13, has been a member for a year. The eighth grader at Nash Elementary School said she was encouraged to join after hearing about it through a relative.
“I love school, but I wanted a place that I could go where I could be challenged after school. At YMC, I can receive the mentoring and skill-training to better prepare me for my classes,” said Banks, who plans to attend Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, a private Catholic school in Austin, this fall.
King said the organization has become “like an extended family,” and that the kids have a say in the types of projects they do.
“For example, one of the kids was asking why the Austin community did not have a town spelling bee. She reasoned that the students would be motivated and inspired to get involved in learning if they were all encouraged to participate. I thought it was a terrific idea.”
From that, King was inspired to launch the West Side Beat the Streets Spelling Bee, a three-day spelling competition in April at Ronald McNair Academy, 4820 W. Walton. Austin students from grade school to high school can compete in the competition.
As a nonprofit organization, King, who worked as a financial-aide adviser before finding her true calling through her nonprofit, admits that trying to fund her organization has been a tremendous challenge.
“I have received assistance from The Westside Health Authority, which contributed a $6,000 grant to help fund the program, but it is largely paid by me and my husband.”