Little did Diaz Woodard realize that when he snuck off to mental health counseling at just 14 years old that it would lead to a lifelong passion in working with youth in York City.
As a young high-schooler, Diaz told his parents that he was heading off to track and field practice, but in reality, he was seeking the help of a therapist to get him through some of the trauma of his childhood. In his younger years, he was surrounded, he said, by drug addiction and poverty – both which he remembers vividly today.
“My lifestyle at home wasn’t like everybody else,” he said.
That counseling, through a victim assistance program, helped Diaz identify some of the barriers in his life, and helped him work toward some of his own goals.
“It helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one going through it,” he said. “I also realized it wasn’t a death sentence.”
His counselor, Bob Matthews, inspired him to not only achieve a better life for himself, but to work with others through a career in helping the youth of our community.
“It was at that point, I realized I had a niche,” he said.
After high school, Diaz served as a counselor himself with the Children’s Home of York, York City School District and most recently, the City of York as a recreation specialist and now the ecosystem initiative manager – a program that examines the strengths and weaknesses of neighborhoods across the city. That examination then targets solutions that work best for residents and the city alike.
Diaz has built a life of working with youth to manage their struggles and get them the help they need, something that he’s all too familiar with, often telling kids, “I am you.”
“My biggest tool is relatability. If you overcome these things, you should be sharing your experience with others,” he said. “I’ve been able to touch thousands of lives.”
Diaz understands that children who live in poverty are under a lot of stress and need to rely heavily on the adults in their lives to provide for them. These youth struggle to focus, often worrying whether anyone will be at home when they arrive from school or even if their daily needs will be met.
In addition to therapy and knowledge obtained throughout his career, Diaz relies heavily on his spiritual beliefs to guide him in his day-to day-decision. Diaz believes it is only by the grace of God that he has made it through all of life’s trials and tribulations.
Though he has made a career out of mentoring the youth of the York community, it’s also the kids within his own home that he hopes to make the biggest impression. Diaz strives to not only be a community asset but a great father as well.
“I believe that everything I’ve endured has made me a better friend, a better partner, a better employee and, most importantly, a better father. I want my kids to grow up with a father that they are proud of and feel confident that they are always his top priority.
I’ve seen first-hand how hard it is to deal with the social and emotional challenges of growing up in poverty. I’ve also seen how just having someone to confide in can change an entire perception. I want to be that one that kids can look at and say, “if Mr. Diaz can do it, so can I!”
~ Diaz Woodard