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YES shelter saves runaway, homeless teens from despair

The Spring Garden teen haven stops runaways from becoming throwaways.

Youth Emergency Services director Tim Massaquoi with Amanda Sinick, a former runaway who found her footing at YES.
Youth Emergency Services director Tim Massaquoi with Amanda Sinick, a former runaway who found her footing at YES.Read moreJONATHAN WILSON / FOR THE DAILY NEWS

AMANDA SINICK returns often to tell her soul-searing story at Youth Emergency Services (YES), the city's biggest shelter for runaway and homeless teens, because she was one of them.

"I spent a lot of time at YES between 13 and 18," Sinick, 19, said during a recent visit to the Spring Garden shelter. "I had to deal with my mother being a drug addict and being abusive to me and my siblings.

"I started running away from home when I was 11 or 12," she said. "I had to steal from stores to feed myself and my two brothers and four sisters."

Sinick remembers being an angry 13-year-old when the city's Department of Human Services separated her from her siblings, sending them to foster care and her to YES on Fairmount Avenue near 16th Street.

"I was fighting kids and staff members," Sinick said. "I was going through a lot of emotions.

"I spent years going between YES, hospitals and lockdown facilities," she said. "Last year, I was homeless in Center City. I slept in LOVE Park, in alleyways. I had no sense of direction."

Sinick said converting to Islam gave her discipline while YES provided food and clothing and prepared her for job interviews.

Sinick works in a supermarket now and lives in her own apartment. After years of chaos, she is finally standing on solid ground.

Tim Massaquoi, a former pro football player who has been the YES director since June, helps teens like Sinick turn around their runaway lives before they become throwaway lives.

"If they're coming here, something went wrong somewhere," he said. "We want them to know that here, you have a warm place to stay, a peaceful place to collect yourself, hit the reset button and think about the next step."

YES offers social workers, medical care and job counseling.

Massaquoi, 32, was a tight end at Michigan in 2004 and 2005 but injuries - a broken wrist, a torn ligament, a torn patellar tendon, a torn groin - sidelined him in college and during two frustrating seasons in the NFL.

Finally, Massaquoi said, "I just didn't want to go under the knife again so I quit."

He returned to Allentown, where he'd enjoyed high school football stardom, and worked as a Nike sales rep.

"I went through a loss of identity, a loss of what I was supposed to be - a football player," Massaquoi said. "I was depressed."

He remembered that in high school, he'd mentored a young student who was struggling with anger, and was able to help him.

Massaquoi realized that life after football could be fulfilling. At YES, it is.

"If you're coming here, somebody somewhere broke trust," Massaquoi said. "You rebuild that trust, and that's where you see change. That's what I love to do."

After a typical 30-day stay in the shelter, "some of the teenagers don't want to leave," he said.

Sinick left but stays in touch with Francine Williams, outreach coordinator ("Me and her talk on a daily basis") and visits.

"I speak to the kids," Sinick said. "I tell them my story. I'm so young and I've been through so much. It's like a shocking thing.

"I believe homelessness can happen to anybody," she said. "The kids ask me how I got through it. And I tell them."

On Twitter: @DanGeringer