The future seemed hopeless for Kimberly Lattimore's 11- and 12-year-old sons.
Whenever they weren't in detention, they were suspended. They got kicked out of after-school sports, were too much for church groups to handle, and Lattimore was just about at wit's end.
"I was constantly called to the school to try to come up with a plan for them," she said. "It's been really, really hard to try to work with my children."
Then Lattimore brought the two to Joe Smith and the YMCA Community Action Project.
"About two or three weeks after, when I came to pick up my two little boys, one of them had acted out and I was told that Mr. Joe needed to see me. Well, I knew what was going to happen. That was it," she said.
But that wasn't it. Rather than turn the boys away, Smith said he wanted them involved in more after-school programs.
"I left confused because absolutely no one had ever wanted to work with my kids," Lattimore said.
Less than a year later, the two have started behaving, focusing on their schoolwork, and Lattimore was nearly brought to tears Tuesday as she told a room of about 160 regional YMCA volunteers and workers what was written on one of her son's most recent progress reports.
"One of the teachers said he was a pleasure to have in class," she said. "That's what YCAP does. It's been a blessing."
Several attendees Tuesday's annual YMCA meeting to honor top volunteers said stories like Lattimore's motivated them and more than 1,000 others to donate 43,000 hours last year in Chattanooga.
"They're on a mission," said Geoff Young, YMCA board secretary and 2010's volunteer of the year. "They're wonderful people and just real assets to our community."
To get involved with YMCA programs or donate to the Strong Kids Campaign, visit www.YMCAChattanooga.org or call or visit a local YMCA branch.
Young has volunteered in Chattanooga for more than 40 years and was excited to win the award.
"There are so many people who have gone before who have won this award who have done so much for the Y," he said. "To be one of them, it's very humbling."
Young is co-chairman of Strong Kids Campaign, which raises money toward the $1.45 million the YMCA gives in membership and program scholarships annually. Just two weeks in, the three-month program is on target, he said, but with Americans' purse strings pulled tight, fundraising can be difficult.
"It's a struggle in this economy. It's very difficult," he said. "We're confident that we're going to make strides, but we've still got a long way to go."