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Former gang member joins forces with Savannah Youth City to help troubled teens

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Thaddeus Orr has spent more than 20 years in prison and is focused now on helping troubled Savannah teens (Credit:Robert Catanese)

Savannah native Thaddeus Orr is 43 years old. He was first sent to prison at age 17 for a weapons charge, and later in his twenties spent 10 years in the federal system for the same charge.

Altogether, he has spent more than half of his life in prison.

Now, Orr has dedicated his life to helping others, especially juveniles headed down the same path he took.

“I've been shot several times. I know what the gun feels like to hold it; I know what it feels like to feel it. A lot of people like balloons and rainbows. I just like it to be real. Let's keep it right so, before somebody can tell you about me, I'll tell you about me,” said Orr.

Orr says spending half his life in prison has taught him a lot.

“I feel like I'm the epitome of what not to do if you aren’t supposed have a gun,” said Orr.

He says the streets of Savannah have changed since he walked them as a teenager.

“Things that are happening--14, 15, 16-year-olds dying--in my day it wasn't like that,” said Orr.

He says he wants kids to learn from his past mistakes and not choose a life of crime like he did.

“There isn’t going to be no momma there, no brother, no sister going to be there. What are you going to do? See people die?” said Orr.

He says his life has purpose now.

“I decided that I wanted to make myself better but, in the process of making myself better for all the wrong that I did, I felt like if I had an opportunity to save a child then maybe I can do that,” said Orr.

He says he has paid his debt to society and now wants to give back.

“I think my purpose is to give back what I took from, my community, the elders, the kids,” said Orr.

As part of giving back, Orr has chosen to volunteer with Savannah Youth City and Director Beverlee Trotter.

SYC is a non-profit Savannah-based outreach program helping youths who they say are ordinarily overlooked and under-served by traditional social service efforts. They help troubled teens through community outreach in the hopes of catching them before they choose a life of crime.

“We are trying to teach young people how to make better choices, conflict resolutions and we're doing that all over Savannah for the next 60 days. So, we want young people to know that we hear you but you have to allow us to help you because we want to,” said Trotter.

For the next two months, SYC will be holding fundraisers at 2601 Bay Street.

For more information, you can call 912-844-7812.

Savannah Youth City is located at 1305 Barnard Street, Suite 16, Savannah, Ga.