Jeremy describes his childhood as “similar to many students in ROP:” as a time filled with poverty, drugs, gangs, violence and hopelessness. “I never saw these as risk factors,” he said, “just as how things in life were.” By the time Jeremy was in the sixth grade, his mother was hardly home. The responsibility of getting himself—and his little brother—to school was solely Jeremey’s. He stole food so the two could eat dinner at night. Jeremy never thought to complain about these hardships.
“Working hard was never a problem for me because things just had to get done.” As his situation worsened, Jeremy was placed into several detention centers until finally coming to ROP. While in the program, Jeremy focused on his incredible work ethic, but learned to redirect his attention on positive pursuits. He also learned how to “bounce-back” after setbacks, and not to get discouraged.
Several years after graduating from Rite of Passage, Jeremy attended college and continued his education at Georgetown University School of Medicine. After receiving his medical degree, he began his residency at the University of Chicago. Today, he is concluding his Medical Fellowship there, and is practicing cardiovascular disease treatment to underserved populations. “My daughter has become my biggest protective factor because it is my responsibility to lead an appropriate life for her.”
Montoya came to an ROP program because “I had a lack of respect for authority… or, actually, a lack of respect for myself.” While in the foster care system, Montoya’s self-esteem dwindled with every home he was moved in and out of. “I had been to so many foster homes, that I have up. I thought that every time I had to leave, that it was my fault, and that there was something wrong with me.”
ROP staff worked with Montoya’s foster family to help him rekindle his sense of self-worth, and a healthy attitude toward himself. Through positive, supportive relationships with staff and his foster family, Montoya began to make improvements, and more importantly, he began to respect himself and others.
Since graduating from an ROP program, Montoya attended Tennessee State University and graduated with a Master’s degree in Science. After many years of working with teens, he became the Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Vacaville, California—a position he held for several years.
Today, Mr. Graham is the Executive Director of the Philmore & JaMella Foundation. His foster father is still his greatest positive influence, even now, because: “he never gave up on me despite all my bad decisions as a teenager.” Mr. Graham, along with the help of his sister, is planning to write, edit and produce a film documentary about his father’s life.
After leaving home at age thirteen, Kate started shoplifting, taking drugs, and as she described, “the whole lifestyle that goes along with it.” Surrounding herself with the wrong kind of friends, Kate found herself constantly running into trouble, which ultimately led to her arrest.
Placement at ROP helped Kate turn her life around. “Everyone there was really looking out for my best interest,” she said. During her time there, Kate cut off all contact with the people who had been a negative influence on her life. This was a decision stemming from advice she received from an ROP staff member.
The staff member told Kate that: “If you want to stay successful…you have to start over with your friends.” Kate took her advice and after leaving ROP, she steered clear of her old crowd. Kate found a new circle of friends, and new opportunities waiting for her.
Kate enrolled in classes at a community college where she earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Kate now holds a realtor license, is a full-time public-service employee, has been married for five years, and has two beautiful daughters, aged one and three.
By any measure, Kate is leading a successful and fulfilling life. She recognizes that she cannot change the past, and is focusing on her present and on her future – success lies there. She is helping to forge positive futures for her young daughters and junior high school girls in the community by mentoring and volunteering through her church. She shares her message of finding self-confidence and learning to love yourself.
Kate is making a difference today by building a future for herself, her family and empowering a new generation of girls.