When Lynn and David Gilkey left prison more than a decade ago after serving time for criminal drug offenses, they both knew they were being given a second chance. They sought to make the most of it by giving back to the Wichita community, mentoring young men and women at risk of falling into the same traps that ensnarled them.
The couple began their work in 2005. David’s program, Brotherhood, focuses on reducing violence and gang activity; Lynn’s, Sisterhood, is dedicated to helping teenage girls establish healthy lifestyle behaviors. They co-founded Rise Up for Youth in 2014, one of many community-focused programs supported by Koch Industries and its partners.
The Gilkeys are still working, but with heavy hearts. Lynn’s son, Ryan, died after an accidental overdose of the synthetic drug K2 last April. Through their own stories of personal tragedy, redemption, and perseverance, they hope to inspire young adults toward lives of meaning and purpose.
To mark Second Chance Month, Koch News spoke with the Gilkeys about their work with Rise Up for Youth, their impact, and the power of second chances:
Having been given a second chance, how has your life been impacted?
Lynn: Just being able to do something positive in the community by helping young people to not make the same mistakes I did. I hope that being given an opportunity to share my story gives others hope that we all deserve a second chance.
David: A second chance for me is not only a second chance on life, but also it gives me a second chance to be a father, and also a second chance to be a son, a brother, and even a husband. The things that I’ve been through in life, that’s not who I am, that’s just something I’ve done.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your work, and how has that changed over the years?
Lynn: Making everybody else know that this work needs to be done.
David: That there are programs like Rise Up for Youth out there, and that they really need to be supported because they are highly needed. We’re equipping these young people with support and coping strategies that teachers don’t have time to give them. We’re bringing in the professionals, all the way down to the person that did 20-30 years in prison. We expose these young people to all walks of life, so that when that they walk out of our lives and become an adult, they can’t say “no one ever told me.” Yes, we did. We cover all the bases.
Lynn: From the CEO of a company to, like David said, somebody walking out that’s on probation or on parole for the rest of their lives. You’re getting a gamut of all kinds of walks of life, and you get to make that choice of what you want to be. You want to be a CEO of a company, or do you want to own your business, or do you want to be part of the prison population? You get to make that choice. And we are giving these kids exposure to that.
What are some moments when you’ve really broken through and made a difference in someone else’s life?
David: Oh, man. Where do we start with that one? We’ve touched the lives of probably 1,000 kids since we’ve been doing this work.
Lynn: Or more.
David: Or more. And just going and walking in public to stores, wherever we go, from little kids to adults, I mean, they run up to us and give us hugs and tell us thank you. Or say, “I’m in college.” “I’m married now.” “I have a family.” “I’m doing great.” “Thank you.” Some of the kids I don’t even remember, but they remember us. It’s those precious moments that you can’t even put a price tag on. The smiles, the tears. Even when the grandparents come up to us and say, “If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know where my child would be today, or my grandson or my granddaughter or my niece or nephew. You guys are doing great work. Keep doing what you’re doing.” That is priceless.
Lynn: I had a young lady that went off to college, but she was really struggling. We say a pledge in our group every time before we start, and she said that she had put that on her mirror so that she could read that pledge every day because she was about to give up.
We plant the seeds, but sometimes we don’t get to see how they grow. It’s nice to hear when they call us and tell us that we’ve made an impact in their lives.
How does that make you feel personally?
David: It just lets us know that we’re doing the job God told us to do.
Lynn: And that we have a purpose.