Since age 13, Francisco Lantigua, otherwise known as ''Fran'' by his family and friends, has been a member of the Jamestown Area YMCA. This is where he says his life has changed for the better.
Born in the Dominican Republic with his five brothers - Alex, Warly, Samuel, Edward, Sebastian and Ivan - Fran moved to Jamestown with his mother, Anna Vasquez-Bailes, and Alex and Warly in 1999 without knowing how to speak English.
''My mom wanted us to have a better life and more opportunities so we decided to move to the United States,'' Fran said. ''This was definitely the right decision for our family.''
Francisco Lantigua, left, and his brother, Alex, YMCA staff, are pictured with the afterschool participants as they play basketball and enjoy the playground at the Eastside YMCA.
Francisco Lantigua, center, poses with his parents, Llon Bailes and Anna Vasquez-Bailes, after his graduation at Alfred University.
With the help of his family, including his stepdad Llon Bailes; the former 2XL Kids at Promise; the local Ys; Chautauqua Striders; Jamestown High School teachers and coaches; and close friends, he learned the English language and became involved with the community.
At the Y, he volunteered time at the Eastside YMCA and the Jamestown YMCA teen center. He played in the Tom Buttafaro youth basketball league at the Jamestown YMCA from age 13 to 15 and then joined the AAU travel basketball team under the direction of Keon James and Bill Canfield.
Besides working out at the Y, Fran also worked in the Y afterschool program at Love School, coached YBL, worked the basketball clock, and was a staff member for family nights and facility rentals at the Jamestown YMCA.
Currently, he is a group leader in the youth center at the Eastside YMCA.
Fran's love for basketball was also evident in his yearly participation in the Gus Macker and Street Jam outdoor basketball tournaments in addition to the NYS State Moose Association 3-on-3 youth tournament at the Lakewood YMCA.
Fran's home life also changed a lot for the better because of the Y.
''My mom and dad did not graduate from school,'' Fran said. ''I was the first one in my immediate family to graduate from school, which was a big honor for me and my family. I avoided bad situations and hanging out with the wrong crowd.''
Fran attended Alfred State, where he earned an associate degree, and then attended Brockport College where he is a criminal justice major. His goal is to finish his last three classes at JCC or SUNY Fredonia by December 2012 and also enroll in the police academy at JCC.
''My future plan did not involve college,'' Fran said. ''It was hard for me to take the extra step and allow people to help me which I appreciate greatly. A lot of people do not ask for help all the time and everyone needs help in life.''
Another big part of Fran's outlook is the concept of giving.
''I can always contribute back and look where I came from,'' Fran said. ''To this day, I am still getting help, which is important to my future and being successful.''
Fran also admires the children he sees every day at the YMCA.
''To me, the reward is seeing how much the younger kids look up to me and the positive example I have tried to make of my life,'' Fran said. ''I am proud when kids follow the right path because of the positivity I try to portray.''