Today, Hasan “Haas” Williams is a dynamic 24-year-old leader who empowers young men and women in foster and residential care to advocate for themselves and become independent, productive adults.

But he didn’t start out that way. He had to overcome tremendous obstacles.

At 13, Haas came to Pleasantville Cottage School, JCCA’s residential treatment center in Westchester for youth with emotional or behavioral challenges. He explains, “Home wasn’t any fun. I was always in trouble and had a thing for fighting… I had to be ready for the gang violence I began to participate in, along with many youth from my neighborhood.”

At Pleasantville Cottage School, Haas soon came to “see what being a man could mean. For the first time in my life I felt the very real bonds between me and the staff. I felt like they were my family. There was always at least one staff member who saw my potential, had faith in me and pushed me to be a better person. He made me have hope and the desire to get out of my situation … once I did, I decided I would help others do the same.”

At Pleasantville, Haas began to study in earnest and participated in intramural football and soccer. He became interested in writing essays and music, a practice he continues today. He was a member of the first generation of JCCA’s Youth Advisory Council, providing an important jump start into advocacy.

In 2014, Haas co-founded and became Project Coordinator of FACE (Fostering Advocacy, Change and Empowerment), which empowers youth who are in foster or residential care to advocate for themselves and become healthy and vibrant adults. He is also a junior at John Jay College, majoring in Justice Studies.

Haas has returned to the Pleasantville Campus to lead residents in eight weeks of Youth Advocacy workshops to help youth tell their personal stories, develop a vision of what they want to achieve and assist them in advocating for what they need personally and legislatively.

Stephen Johnston, JCCA’s Director of Youth Development, remarks, “Advocacy is an important skill for our young people. They are intelligent and have a voice, but sometimes don’t understand the right way to express themselves, which causes confusion and fear. I was excited to engage Hassan in teaching this curriculum to our kids—he’s a shining example of how advocacy can empower youth in positive ways.”

Haas adds, “I wanted to give back to kids, I have been in their shoes and can give them a vision of what’s possible. I want them to learn that even though it may be painful, it feels good to grow.”

Haas continues to grow himself. After graduation from John Jay, he hopes to attend law school and eventually enter politics. First stop: New York City Council!