Noticing that junk food was being provided to the homeless in her community, Ayiana Day decided to find a way to offer healthy and balanced meals to those in need.
What started as a small project to provide fresh food to the homeless has grown into YaYa’s YES!, an initiative the 17-year-old Bowling Green, Kentucky teen offers by serving dozens of homecooked meals each week. Discovering that a greater need existed in the community beyond serving healthy food, Ayiana also provides essentials including personal care items and clothing. Committed to the belief that community is family, Ayiana, who is autistic and faces ongoing health issues, is overcoming her own personal challenges and inspiring others to extend inclusivity and friendship to hundreds within her community.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Imagine being homeless and feeling like you’re nothing. Helping people look and feel their best inspires my volunteerism. I love making sure they are well-fed and have clothes and personal care items.
What does the name YaYa’s YES! mean?
My brothers couldn’t pronounce my name when we were younger, so they called me YaYa. YaYa’s YES! means that we are supporting friends that come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Our community is all one big family, and we all have challenges that we can help each other cope with.
Describe your role with YaYa’s YES!
As the founder of YaYa’s YES!, I cook the meals we serve each week in our kitchen, my mom will assist me with the cooking. In addition to feeding people weekly, we provide them with essentials including personal care items, clothing, blankets, snacks, and more. I use my pocket money to buy things and we also receive donations from people to help purchase items. I recruit volunteers to help us with these weekly events.
Your volunteerism with the homeless is personal for you. Explain.
Our adversity connects us. In addition to being autistic, I had a stroke and developed seizures earlier this year. I am overcoming my own challenges in order to make sure the homeless in my community get a good meal and the things they need to maintain some level of normalcy. Me and the homeless community, we’ve both gone through challenges and we’re both working to get through to the other side.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
This one gentleman named Chris, he’s been one of our regulars to feed. He comes every week and no matter what, he always shows up with a smile. He’s always super excited to see us. We always do our little dance moves together when he arrives, it’s fun.
What’s a saying you live your life by?
I can do it.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
The connections you make with these people we are feeding. I’m proud that I’m able to help people in need because I don’t like a lot of attention, I like to fly under the radar. I know I’m helping people and the effort doesn’t have to be all about me.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve come more out of my shell. I never used to be able to go up to people and ask if they wanted food. I have autism and am socially awkward. Serving others has helped me be more outcoming and be welcoming.
When you’re not busy with school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
I love to travel. Sports is also one of my big things, I’ve done sports with Special Olympics for a long time. I really enjoy the friends I have. I also horseback ride.
How can readers help?
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