The Zone youth center offers mental health services in relaxed setting

PADUCAH — Childhood homelessness, drug-abuse and mental health and behavioral issues are some of the problems facing children in our community and issues some are trying to tackle head-on.

McCracken County has the largest percentage of homeless in the state. In just one of our school systems, at least 150 students are impacted by homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says in Kentucky, 33 percent of high school students say they’ve used marijuana and 5 percent say they’ve used cocaine. When it comes to mental health and behavior, 29 percent of high school students say they feel sad or hopeless.

A young man we spoke with found himself in that spot when he was 14 years old. There’s a place in our community that is helping him and others to head in a better direction.

He’s all smiles and laughter now, but 16 year-old Aubrey Bellamy says he hasn’t always been that way.

“I was like 14. I was stealing cars. That’s literally what I got in trouble for — stealing cars and assault,” Bellamy says.

Bellamy says he was in and out of jail with his most recent incarceration happening over the summer.

“I just felt like I didn’t care anymore. I just felt like eff the world, because I felt like nobody cared about me, so why should I care about them?” Bellamy says.

That jail visit led him to The Zone in Paducah. It’s a drop-in center for youth in need.

The man who runs The Zone is sober today after battling alcohol addiction and behavioral issues in his younger years. Gerron Lawson says his recovery is what led him here.

“Right then and there, I made my decision that whenever I got out of treatment, I was going to devote my life to giving back, and what better way to give back than to help other people out with your lived experience?” Lawson says.

On track to get back into school next semester, Bellamy says he has a friend who he hopes will visit The Zone and get help, just like he did.

“Like, I just want to tell him to keep his head up. Because you’re always going to have a struggle in life, but you have to keep your head up because that’s what’s going to get you through things,” Bellamy says.

He credits The Zone with helping him turn his life around. It’s ultimately a place built to tackle some of the issues our young people face every day.

The Zone Youth Drop-In Center is operated by Four Rivers Behavioral Health. It is nonprofit, and students ages 15 to 25 can go there for help at no cost.

It’s at 1620 Kentucky Ave. in Paducah. Drop-in hours are from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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