Last 9 Crossroads
kids tout turnaround
PUNTA GORDA — Most of the last nine kids to graduate from the AMIKids Crossroads program recalled in speeches during their graduation ceremony Wednesday how they had arrived at this program.
They were convicted criminals and truants with little respect for anyone and no hope for the future.
They then spoke of the lessens they learned at Crossroads, and thanked the staffers who helped to turn them around.
And then they embarked on the rest of their lives, most with a diploma or GED in their hands. Several said they were hoping for careers in construction, nursing, and as a defense attorney.
At the ceremony, held at First United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda, Charlotte County Public Schools superintendent Doug Whittaker implored them to be like jet planes.
“Jet planes don’t have rearview mirrors,” he pointed out. “They don’t care what’s behind them. They’re going so fast forward the past doesn’t matter.”
“I could care less about what I did, if it hurt others, if I died or not,” recalled Jamal Ware of his attitude, when he had been committed to Crossroads. “All I thought about was how to fake it so I could leave.
“I always thought most people was against me and just wanted me in jail,” he said. “Now I realize they was trying to help me. I’ve changed. Hands down, there’s no excuses for me not to succeed!”
The kids also taught the staff some lessons.
“What I began to realize is, they weren’t criminals, they weren’t clients; they were students,” said Cynthia Kusha, a former juvenile probation officer who joined Crossroads’ staff in 2007.
Crossroads also is gearing up for its own fresh start. Some 27 years after it was established on a rustic compound adjacent to Babcock Ranch, the Department of Juvenile Justice opted not to renew its contract to address a budget mandate.
Crossroads’ board, however, is working to convert the facility to help foster kids who are difficult to place. Those kids have many of the same problems, said John Davidson, Crossroads executive director.
Later this week, the board will meet with an architect to convert a dorm at the facility into bedrooms, a state requirement for foster facilities, he said.
Crossroads graduate Andres Allende, who achieved his GED, thanked one staffer for being his father figure, another for teaching him to “work smarter, not harder,” and a third for telling him to “put more in the ‘fridge than you take out.”
“I’ve truly matured in the past few months,” he said.
“I’m proud of him,” said his sister, Enid Matos, who drove up from Fort Myers with another relative to attend the ceremony. “He wants to go back to school now, to become a registered nurse.”
Corye Benjamin, who graduated high school at Crossroads, recalled arriving in March after violating probation in a robbery case. He continued to break Crossroads’ rules, at first, he said.
But staff took the time to talk to him about his future, he said. And trips to town to volunteer on community events taught him “there’s more to life than money,” he said.
Joe Fitzpatrick recalled getting committed in January “for burglary, battery, failing school and being very disrespectful.”
“My first thought was run, but I didn’t,” he said.
Crossroads facilitated a renewed relationship with his estranged father, allowed him to become a certified scuba diver, and helped him achieve his GED.
“Thank all of you for not giving up on me and telling me you were proud of me,” he told the audience.