The young man Manuel has grown into today has certainly proven to be one of exceeding work ethic, strong family values, and a wisdom seemingly beyond his years. Though his story didn’t start this way, he credits his tumultuous past for molding and shaping him.
“If I could go back and speak to the young me, I wouldn’t say anything, I believe you have to go through things and learn from your mistakes in order to learn. Without the experiences I went through, I wouldn’t be the same guy. I wouldn’t be who I am today. I believe everything happens for a reason.”
Manuel doesn’t remember exactly what triggered his childhood behavior problems; however, he shared it was around 3rd grade he got into a lot of trouble. As just a young child Manuel’s anger would lead him to fights with his peers and then eventually, in 4th and 5th grade he got suspended repeatedly.
He also shared that it was in these junior years he was introduced to drugs and started casually abusing them along with his older peers. The trouble Manuel faced in elementary school followed him throughout most of his school years until one day he found that the trouble didn’t merely lead him to suspension, but rather into placement in the juvenile justice system and then residential facilities.
“When I was 15-years-old I didn’t care. I thought I was young, just a kid, and that I would be fine,” Manuel shared. “But then I realized I couldn’t keep doing this and being gone from home for so long.”
Tragedy Spark Triumph
Unfortunately, the wake-up call that caught Manuel’s attention and triggered change in his life was one of genuine tragedy. While in his residential facility, Manuel’s older sister was involved in a fatal car accident that took her life as well as the life of her boyfriend and father of her two small children.
“When my sister died, and I didn’t get to go to her funeral, I really looked at life a lot different, she left behind my two nephews and I didn’t want to be in a program or prison away from my family if anything else happened. That really was what triggered me.”
Following the death of Manuel’s older sister, he reached out to his staff within the residential facility and asked if he could work toward taking his GED. He realized that school was where much of his trouble occurred and he knew that if he could earn his high school diploma that he could focus on what was most important to him–his family.
Manuel not only set this as a goal, he worked within the program and successfully passed all components of his GED–becoming a high school graduate.
Once released from his residential facility, Manuel enrolled with Eckerd Connects Project Bridge and continued on the path he was creating for himself. He worked to receive two vocational certifications and get full-time employment at Heritage Palms in Fort Myers, where he has remained for over 10 months.
Manuel, though old enough and financially stable enough to move into his own home, has remained at home with his mother, father, and youngest nephew.
“My father had a stroke and my mother takes care of my sister’s youngest son. I can’t leave them–I want to be there for them and help take care of them,”
Not only does Manuel worked full-time, take over-time even if it means working every day of the week, and invest his spare time in caring for his father and spending time with his nephew, he is looking for a part-time job he can work overnight.
When asked what makes him desire to work another job on top of his busy schedule, Manuel shared that the goal for his additional income is to use it for his nephews, now 5 and 3-years-old.
“I want to take my nephews on trips to Disney. They really like Mickey Mouse and I think they would love it, I’ve never been there, but I want to give them a good childhood and give them what I never had. That’s my goal for this year–to take my nephews to Disney to see Mickey Mouse.”
Manuel has also volunteered to assist the Project Bridge team with the “Cooking Up Success” fundraiser that helps other young people like Miguel work toward career and entrepreneurship advancement within their lives. He has also worked with the team to prepare for enrollment in vocational school to work toward becoming an engineer and eventually owning his own business within the field. Though he isn’t able to enroll yet because of COVID-19, his goal is set, his support is in place, and he has the determination to make it happen.
This young man, faced with tragedy, took it and create stepping stones toward a better future for himself and his family. He has transitioned from a young person without understanding of his anger or his actions into a young man who has learned to respect the fragility of life and the importance of family.
He desires to continue to pour these lessons into other young people, walking his safe footsteps, hoping he can be a part of their success story.