Willie and Jontae

community connections
Willie and Jontae preparing to make speeches at a legislative meet and greet.

In preparation for a legislative meet and greet, Willie and Jontae, both 17, were nervous. Never in their life had they imagined that they would be dressed so sharp and commended on how well they were doing. You could tell that they believed in themselves and while nervous, were more confident than ever. Willie learned how to tie a tie for the event; he admitted in his speech that prior to Paxen he didn’t even know how to introduce himself let along dress professional and give a speech. Both of them had come a really long way.

In his speech Jontae stated he couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t getting into trouble. Prior to Paxen he had been unsuccessful at every other school placement, including three different alternatives schools and an adult education class. He said Paxen has made him think about things differently, as he put it “no matter how much water the staff put in front of me they can’t make me drink, I have to do that for myself.” And he is; Jontae is scheduled to take his GED on November 30th something that the staff has celebrated from the time he took his TABE to the countless hours in the classroom of continually motivating him. Jontae ended his speech that he is ready for his life to change and isn’t going to look back to all the people, places, and decisions that got him into trouble.

Willie started his speech with a huge smile, something the Paxen staff would say he comes to programming with every day. Willie shared all that Paxen has helped him achieve including completing 130 community service hours, a firearm safety class, and his increased willingness to attend school every day. Willie has also attended multiple job fairs and obtained all of his vital documents including a Florida ID. Willie stated Paxen has improved his home life as well, “My mom doesn’t worry about me as much anymore—she knows I am going to get up and go to school and that I’m not getting violated, because I am doing what I have to do.” Willie stated changing his life has made him realize that he has to pay it forward, “The best thing I can give someone is trust and respect, even if they have shown you in the past they don’t deserve it … I won’t give up on someone because you all never gave up on me.”

Both Willie and Jontae are more than half way done with Paxen. Willie stated he wants to be able to take at least one section of his GED before completing the program. As of writing this, he has obtained part-time employment at a truck dealership and with the help of staff continues to look for another job with more hours.  Jontae has completed all his community service hours will begin applying for jobs after he takes his GED. These young men have a lot to be proud of!