Rance Austin, 48, grew up in central Columbia.
He was abused from the time he was 5 years old. Austin later sold drugs and recalled gambling in Douglass Park.
“It took me going through a very difficult period in my life where I had to make a change,” he said.
When Austin was 40, he became a pastor. Nine years later, he is still preaching to Columbia’s youth and sponsors workshops and seminars, including those that encourage education and self-esteem for teen girls.
Austin took part in a Community Day of Sharing sponsored by Positive Regional Impact! Diversified Enterprise on Wednesday afternoon. More than 200 Columbia teens attended the event that began at the Armory, with workshops on topics that included college preparation and the development of leadership skills. After the event moved to Douglass Park, with a trash pick-up along the way, students planted flowers and ended with an ice cream social. Students who attended received free school supplies and other necessities, such as soap and underwear.
P.R.I.D.E. and its several partners, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Young Achievers Teen Council, reached out to the teens and their families and registered them for the event. Ellen Wiss, co-founder and vice president of Homkor, a real estate organization, said most of the teens that attended were low-income and/or at-risk. “Probably at least half of them are in public housing,” Wiss said.
Some of the volunteers at Wednesday’s event, like Austin, struggled in their youth and now participate in events like the Community Day of Sharing to positively influence today’s youth.
“It would almost seem that I’m bragging, but I’m a very blessed man,” Austin said. “It’s my responsibility to give back as a man of God.”
Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at MU also contributed to the Community Day of Sharing by giving free haircuts to the students. Secretary Gerald McLemore, 20, wanted to participate because he empathized with the teens.
“Me and my mom, we had to go to events like this one to get free haircuts and to get school supplies,” he said. “I’m here just to help somebody.”