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Our Story


The Mary Nelson Youth Center has been making a difference in the lives of children and families since 2000. Located at the intersection of community and life, the youth center is a product of Mary Nelson's life-affirming journey that was built on the richness and power of lifelong values that were instilled by her parents. 


The inception of the Mary Nelson Youth Center occurred 16 years ago following the loss of her nephew, Darryl Patterson, to gun violence. Mary was so inspired to create a platform that would provide young people the necessary values and skills needed to become exceptional community leaders. She knew that children in her community were lacking. They were in need of support, encouragement, and commitment to their success. Education was the first step and the alternative to violence. Mary took noticed that many children did not have access to the basic supplies needed to attend school. Nelson's plight became filling that void and hence the creation of the  Mary Nelson Youth Day BBQ which subsequently morphed into the Mary Nelson Youth Foundation.

This one-day event which saw 850 children and parents in its inaugural year of 2002 saw its peak attendance  2019 16,000. Lives have been touched and millions of dollars in school supplies consisting of backpacks, free computers, and toiletries have been distributed to children and families over the past 18 years.  Mary's personal goal is to ignite a movement that would encourage other communities host an event that would demonstrate the same love and support to their youth, and reinforce the fact that EDUCATION is the alternative to violence. 

Five Key Missions


Education-Providing Onsite training as well as direction to educational opportunities of our training partners and local programs 

Health-Providing On site testing, immunizations, Informational Brochures, Informative Meetings

Career-Providing onsite Sessions, Informational Brochures, Setting up Apprentice Programs, Helping entrepreneur learn how to open businesses

Services-Onsite help such as Free Legal Counseling, Food Giveaways, and Advice on dealing with Bill Collectors, Finding Free/Low Cost items such as Furniture/Necessities

Mentorship-Using Volunteers to help break the cycle of poverty by coaching and counseling. OG against Violence, Syracuse Chess, Woman's Group, Church Men's and Woman's Groups 

Our Staff

We go above and beyond to provide our youth an empowering environment where they can fully embrace their identity and gain all the skills they need to be leaders tomorrow.

Our goals is to shape the way they live their lives and teach them the fundamentals of social responsibility, healthy living and cultural acceptance. 

Mary Nelson, President /CEO

Robert Nelson, Vice President

Bill Denham El (Volunteer Program Director)

Rhonda Davis (Volunteer Outreach Worker)

Kelly Maurer Maher (After School Program Teacher)

Curious to find out more about us and how you can get involved? Browse our website and get in touch with us today