- Category: Local News
- Created on Saturday, 17 August 2013 14:13
San Diego, California - Hundreds of Youths Learn Key Skills at ‘Passport to Life’ Event.
Vincent Gartin’s mother wasn’t ready to raise him.
After giving birth, she left him at the hospital, the former convicted felon told more than 800 youths Tuesday gathered at the Passport to Life Career and Education Expo at San Diego City College.
So Gartin’s grandmother took over the parenting. She named him after the hospital where he was born: St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital.
Now a motivational speaker and employee at the city of Indianapolis, Gartin flew across the country to tell the youths his remarkable turnaround story. Passport to Life, now in its fifth year, is a one-day event designed to help young people transitioning out of the local juvenile justice system. The goal is to provide these youths, aged 14 to 24, who have been on or are currently on probation with inspiration and resources through a series of speakers, workshops, vendor displays and other engaging activities.
Participants had a chance to learn such key lessons as how to enroll in college and other educational and training beyond high school, how to land and succeed at a job and how to apply for financial aid.
Not all children are taught these skills, said Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins.
“Some youths don’t even know they could go to college or how to apply,” he said.
The event arose out of a desire to change that, Jenkins said. It was founded five years ago by Superior Court Judge Carolyn Caietti.
Many other agencies have stepped in to help put it on each year, including the San Diego County Probation Department, San Diego Superior Court’s Juvenile Division, San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego County District Attorney, San Diego County Public Defender’s Office and others.
In a first this year, more than 100 parents also attended. The event offered them workshops on such topics as how to help children heal and youth substance abuse.
Successful chef and restaurant entrepreneur Jeff Henderson, who himself served 10 years in prison, served as master of ceremonies. Henderson told the audience that the experts and authorities who turned out for the event “believe in every one of you guys.”
“If we didn’t see potential there wouldn’t be a need for this,” he said.
In his keynote speech, Gartin said fitting in always felt like a struggle when he was growing up. His grandmother always seemed to be making him clean and do chores while other kids were out playing.
“I could not stand my grandmother, because she was different from my friends’ mothers, he said. “I thought my grandmother was the meanest person on the face of the earth.”
So he rebelled. It started with swearing and ended with drug addiction, gang involvement and a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward for information leading to his arrest on charges of robbery.
He said he was convicted of five felonies and ended up serving eight years in prison. He turned around his life due in large part to his faith and support from Narcotics Anonymous.
Over time, Gartin said he realized that his old lifestyle was one big waste of time.
“What we banging for?” he asked the group. “We’re doing it for nothing.”
The message was clear and compelling: if someone like Gartin could turn things around, so could anyone else in the room.
The speech resonated with Michael Jellison, 18, who has been in and out of juvenile hall since age 11 and is currently on probation. Jellison said he’s already struggled with homelessness, drugs and gang involvement.
“A lot of Vincent’s story is the same as me,” Jellison said. “You’ve just got to persevere and be resilient…Don’t be pessimistic.”
Despite many ups and downs, he said he is finding his way out of trouble. He earned his high school diploma and plans to start community college Monday in hopes of going into social work and starting a nonprofit that helps foster youth one day. He credits a great support system and some influential teachers and mentors who have deeply inspired him along the way.
Shamaria Gentry, 18, too, said she identified with Gartin’s story.
Gentry is on probation after serving 10 months at Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. She said her troubles stem from when she moved to California from Arkansas a few years ago and started skipping school because she didn’t feel like she belonged. She kept finding herself getting in fights. At one point, she ran away from home.
Probation is no picnic, Gentry said, but she has goals and plans. She will start classes at MiraCosta College later this month and is especially interested in studying communications. She wants to become a sports broadcaster one day. For now, she’s hoping to start work at a Dollar Tree store.
She said she appreciated Gartin’s honesty and candor.
“He didn’t try to preach or have some sob story,” she said. “He was real about it.”
She admitted that she hasn’t always immediately heeded the advice she’s received.
“I may not always listen,” she said, “but I heard what you had to say.”
For more information, visit the Passport to Life website.