Looking back on his earlier years, 17-year-old Waverly Nall said living with his single mother in Brooklyn forced him to grow up quickly, and he would skip school, smoke marijuana and get into fights regularly.
“I was more knowledgeable than I should have been,” he said.
His mother moved him to southeast Queens, but things did not get better. One day he got suspended from Martin Van Buren High School and on the way home he got into a fight that left him with an assault charge.
Nall could have ended up as many youths do, shuttled through the criminal justice system and left with a record that could have hampered him the rest of his life.
Luckily for Nall, the Queens district attorney’s office decided he deserved a fresh start, allowing him to enroll in Terryl De Mendonca’s Misunderstood Youth Development Center.
De Mendonca started the program several years ago when her own son, now 17 and a high school graduate, started acting out after his parents broke up.
“His behavior was going downhill, and downhill fast,” she said.
De Mendonca, who worked as an office manager, said she had to become her son’s own counselor, and soon she was talking to troubled youngsters all throughout her neighborhood trying to help them avoid the wrong path or get back on the right one.
In 2005, she incorporated the center as a nonprofit helping youngsters resolve their conflicts, do better in school and get some of the basic tools they will need — like an ID — to become successful adults. De Mendonca said her program goes above and beyond basic social services to form relationships with the young men, their parents and schools to provide a full range of support.
The center also formed a partnership with the DA’s office on the Fresh Start Program, which allows youths ages 14-19 to expunge their criminal records after completing the 12-month program.
De Mendonca said the center has already graduated 10 young men, and Nall, who recently received his GED and is applying to colleges to study biomechanical engineering, hopes to finish the Fresh Start Program March 8.
“It’s my mom’s birthday,” he explained. “My gift was signing up for the program and the next gift is me graduating the program.”
The Misunderstood Youth Development Center, housed in the lower level of Queens Borough Hall, has been a labor of love for De Mendonca, one that has not been without its costs. To finance the center, she took out a second mortgage on the St. Albans home she bought in 2001. Her home was foreclosed on in 2010, although she said she was still deciding whether or not it was worth it. She has since moved to an apartment in Rosedale.
“Let me put it like this: I think there’s loads of potential for this program. If it works out the way my vision is, I’d say yes.” she explained. “You listen to these stories and how it changes them and it changes their lives, then I definitely think it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on fulfillment.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2012 Community News Group
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