QUINCY -- The first time Gabby Pratt attended an event at Quincy Young Life, she spent most of it in the bathroom.
Crippled by an anxiety attack, her first hour there was full of terror as she hid out in a stall. Counselors regularly cycled in and out to check on her, but she was intimidated by the crowd of 50 or so other students just beyond the safety of the bathroom door.
"For a lot of people, they just wonder where to start having fun," Pratt said, "but for me, it was too much, and I needed to go somewhere else."
Young Life is a faith-based ministry for students that provides them with social opportunities and connects them with counselors to speak with. Pratt, 18, started attending Young Life a year ago with a friend. Anxiety was a constant part of her daily routine then, with attacks cropping up and sending her to the school counselor's office multiple times each day. For most of her life, she was the anxious kid who never left her home, she said.
"I tried medication for anxiety, but I didn't notice it helping," she said. "I couldn't stay the night with friends, I couldn't go to church camp. These were things kids should be able to do that I couldn't."
After she managed to pull herself from the bathroom that night, she found a quiet seat in the back to listen to the leader of Quincy Young Life, Curtis Sethaler, when he addressed the kids.
"Nobody knew I was back there, but I could still see what was going on," she said.
The dread that had consumed her at the beginning of the night dissipated while Sethaler spoke to the students, and she left on a high note, which encouraged her to give it another shot. The next time she attended, she found one leader to stand with and follow for the night.
"I was the lost puppy," she said. "It was like that for the first couple times."
After a few times, she started coming without her friend. When she went to Young Life's Fall Weekend -- a camp she fought wholeheartedly but eventually was coerced into attending -- she was sequestered with a group of strangers and forced to interact. The step out of her comfort zone was enough to help her make new friends.
"I definitely don't let anxiety get to me as much anymore," she said. "I just told myself the anxiety doesn't matter."
Pratt now helps other students who are in the position she once was.
A few weeks ago at a Young Life function, she approached a first-timer who was obviously overwhelmed and asked her to play ping-pong. She had no intentions of speaking with the girl but felt a sudden draw to her.
"I didn't want to talk to anybody," she said, "but I knew I had to. It was one of those things where I just went with it."
After playing a few games with Pratt, the girl found a group of students her age -- students she didn't know -- and started playing with them.
Sethaler witnessed the interaction and described it as Pratt coming full circle. Sethaler was new in the position the first time Pratt attended, and her first night is etched into his memory, and when contrasted against who Pratt is today, is one of the earliest defining moments for him.
Pratt's experiences at Young Life have helped her to be more true to herself in her day-to-day life. It has also inspired her to get more involved at church.
"Now I have two outlets to completely be myself," she said.
She has taken on an internship at LifePoint church preparing activities for junior high students and was baptized a few weeks ago.
Pratt graduated from Quincy High School in December and is taking classes at John Wood Community College and plans to major in early childhood education.
"I definitely still have a lot of struggles," she said, "but having a support system has helped a lot, and a big part of that is from Young Life."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.