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"I was born into poverty, without much at all. My mother wasn’t responsible and neglected my two younger sisters and me. Our father wasn’t in the picture, and before we knew it we were sleeping in shelters and on the occasional church pew. Eventually, we were removed from our mother's care and put into child safety services. We all got adopted together when I was 5 but the family that adopted us became very abusive toward me. I got isolated from the rest of the house, locked in a basement room and was even fed different food, if I was fed at all.  I developed anger issues and began acting out in school and the punishments become even worse. When I was 12 i was put in foster care and I went from group home to foster home over all over again. During my sophomore year, while living with a foster dad, I received word that BreakDown was having auditions so I tried out for dance and acting. While there I met some amazing and talented people and even received a callback afterwards! I ended up joining the very first North Team but was slow to realize how much my life would be impacted. I got to be a part and experience the positive and supporting atmosphere shared amongst those who called each other family. I finally experienced what a family was like. No matter where it was, through good times, hard times, on stage, offstage, at a retreat or just in my everyday life, I knew I was supported and loved. I stayed on the team for 4 years and through each year I grew more and more alongside those who shared the same beliefs and mindsets as me. I'm now 20 years old and working at the Boys and Girls Club in O'Fallon Missouri as a Youth Development Professional and Triple Play Specialist (physical activity, gym games, dance, exercises). I’m also now a part of an organization called FYI (Foster Youth to Initiative) which helps kids aging out of the system find houses to avoid homelessness. I’ve become a spokesperson for them and was even given an opportunity to share my story so it may help others. I’m looking to start college soon and plan to pursue a degree in Social Services and Business Management. I often look back on my time in BreakDown and it helps push me to take that next steps in life; through any turmoil."

 
JENNA

"Growing up as the middle child of five, it was hard for me to ever feel like I belonged. I desperately searched for approval from peers, my parents, and most of all my teachers. My grades and academic success became my identity and with this came intense anxiety and depression. Yet, no matter how many A's I got, I never felt like I was enough. I couldn't escape the feeling that I would never fit in. Sophomore year, I joined the BreakDown Drama Team. I wasn't expecting this organization to change my life the way it did, but looking back it's exactly what I needed. I was immediately welcomed by the team and, for the first time, had a group of friends I could truly connect with on a meaningful level. Through my time on BreakDown I learned that I am so much more than my resume. My teammates showed me what it means to belong and be myself unapologetically. They taught me practical skills on how to cope better with my mental illness that I still use today as an incoming college freshman. Ultimately, I don't know where I'd be right now if I hadn't joined the team and I'm glad I never have to find out. While I continue to have struggles, as we all do, I am no longer enslaved to my circumstances. I have learned that my worth is not placed in what I achieve, but rather by who I am."

 
MATT

"Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth grade were very lonely years for me. I struggled with finding a friend group that shared the same morals as I did and in turn it left me home alone and isolated. In that isolation I heavily struggled with pornography. It destroyed relationships, my mental health, and my view of women. I used pornography to fill the void of community which i craved so badly. I joined BreakDown STL my sophomore year of high school. BreakDown was the community and friend group I was longing for. I then filled that loneliness with healthy relationships. BreakDown was huge in helping me grow in confidence to talk about my struggles and help others through their own. BreakDown was so instrumental in pointing me to something much greater than my struggles which has given me freedom, faith, and a family of people who love and support me."

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RYLEE
 

"I’ve had a toxic family environment all my life. All three of my siblings and absent father are/were drug addicts & in and out of prison, and my mother has always just been controlled by her multiple mental illnesses. I grew up in a trap house, raising myself and my sister's three children. I eventually moved into my grandparents house in 8th grade, and after being somewhat out of the direct fire of my situation, I was left with all of the trauma weighing me down. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I struggled with self harm, an eating disorder, and constant suicidal thoughts for years. I’ve been admitted twice to mental hospitals for suicidal thoughts and actions. I’ve been through outpatient programs, years of therapy, and tried 7+ different medications. This is the state I was in whenever BreakDown performed at my school. I sobbed the entire performance and instantly wanted to be a part of this team to impact others the way I had been impacted. To be completely honest, my first year on BreakDown was really tough. I had never in my life experienced a healthy, family-type of environment or felt unconditional love until I joined the team. It was very hard for me to feel worthy of accepting it. Slowly throughout the year, I began to let my guard down more and more, taking in all of the lessons and picking up on the community's actions. Then, at our team's winter retreat in February, with my BreakDown family by my side, I completely let go of all my walls I had built up. It wasn’t an instant change, and I still do struggle, but since then I’ve begun putting those lessons I learned all those years in therapy and BreakDown to use because I finally had the motivation and support to do so. After being on the team for two years, I graduated and am attending college. My BreakDown friends are still some of the closest people to me and I’m even roommates in college with one of them! Never in a million years did I think I would even live to be 16, but now here I am, 18 years old with healthy, lifelong friends and a beautiful future ahead of me."

 
ARIANA

Before joining BreakDown STL, I was simply a shy girl who didn’t completely understand her worth. Looking back, I find that I was consumed with unhealthy relationships. I had surrounded myself with people who weren’t interested in championing me and pushing me to meet my potential. I always felt like my friendship with these individuals was placed on the backburner. Because of this, I believed that I lacked importance. Those feelings fostered shyness and a lack of self-confidence. When I joined BreakDown at the age of 15, the attributes that I had obtained showed through. I had very limited conversations and the few that I did have were usually started by the other person. As my time on the team continued, I was continuously poured into. I finally had a community that invested in me, supported me, and showed me a love that I had never experienced outside of my family. Once I was able to recognize the difference between my BreakDown community and the friends that I had, I was able to let go of the people who weren’t treating me in the same way my BreakDown family did. I also gained leadership skills and confidence that I never thought that I would have. Being a member of BreakDown STL continually pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was taught how to love those struggling with the things in our presentations without judging them, be an example of the culture that BreakDown has set in place, and the difference between being a boss and a true servant leader. By the time I graduated high school, that shy girl I once was no longer existed. I became the first drama captain for the North Team, a leader in my school, and a leader at my church. There are no words to express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to be a BreakDown STL Leadership Team member. And I now have the honor of continuing the impact of BreakDown STL as the North Onstage Program Manager.

 
MIRACLE

Hey! I was on the BreakDown Leadership Team for 3 years and those years changed my life for the better. When I first joined the team, I was quiet, insecure, and never quite knew my place anywhere; but BreakDown changed that. They taught me that I have a voice, power, and influence, regardless of my age. They challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, and I’m so grateful they did, and that I said yes even though it was scary. I was given leadership positions and grew so much in my confidence in myself. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be a part of this team, and because of that I’ve continued to come back to serve as an intern for multiple years. I am a stronger and more confident person than I was before I joined this family. BreakDown truly is life changing!

 
ALLEN

The first time I ever saw a Breakdown STL performance was during the second semester of my junior year. I had gone because a good friend of mine had asked me to go. The performance blew me away, I was not expecting to see the hard topics that the performance went over as well as the over acting done by students the same age as me was very well done. Going into my senior year my friend asked me to audition and after weeks of saying no to him, I finally did and I ended up making the team with little to no knowledge of what I was getting myself into. I was selected to be a part of the offstage team and I took the opportunity with excitement looking forward to being a part of an organization that is dedicated to empowering students to positive life choices. Over the next year, I learned and grew a lot in varying areas that every individual should. The many rehearsals, get togethers, leadership retreats, were all orchestrated to get me out of my comfort zone and they did just that. Learning that failure is where we grow the most and seeing every failure as an opportunity to grow in new areas was one of the first lessons I learned being a part of the team. Speaking in front of large crowds becomes second nature when you're doing it so often, the fear of what others think of you becomes irrelevant when you know the "Why?" to what you're doing. Learning to serve and put others before yourself is something that every team member must learn, selflessness was a big obstacle that I had to learn quickly. Counting others more than myself and serving them, treating them with the dignity and the honor that they deserve and humbly putting their needs before mine. Breakdown STL is an organization that will redefine your character. Just as I mentioned in my first statement, Breakdown St. Louis is truly an organization that will educate, equip, and empower you to make positive life choices. Building up leadership abilities in every team member as well as proving that anyone can have an impact on the world.