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By Mike Sandrolini
MAYWOOD | State Rep. Chris Welch has hosted youth mentoring events each of the past two years, and his latest took place on April 8.
The previous two years, the third-term Democrat held youth mentoring events once a month for five months. This year is different. He’s made it a one-day event, Youth Mentoring Day.
“This year we’ve made it into a one-day program because what we found was keeping everyone’s attention for a period of time was hard,” he said.
Approximately 13 seventh- and eighth-grade students from schools in Maywood, Bellwood and Berkeley took part in Youth Mentoring Day.
Welch explained how each of the students was selected to participate in Youth Mentoring Day.
“This year what we did was have local schools nominate kids that they believe were worthy to attend an event like this and we’ve got kids from all across the district,” he said “And the kids right here have been here all day, having a good time, asking great questions, and they’re really learning a lot from our presenters.”
A number of local officials—including recently re-elected Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, new Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey and Hillside Mayor Joe Tamburino, along with State Sen. Kimberley Lightford, Illinois State Police Sgt. John Merrifield, and fire chiefs Craig Bronaugh (Maywood) and Kenneth Dumovich (Bellwood)—each took a turn speaking to the invited students.
“It’s really good for them to see positive role models,” Welch said.
Although the program was for seventh- and eighth-graders, one of the students, Shylese Taylor from Maywood, received an invite even though she’s a sixth-grader.
Shylese said she was inspired by what Mayor Perkins had to say.
“I liked that she said that everyone has their rights and you can do whatever you want in this world,” Shylese said. “Say if you want to play football, you can play football. Say if I wanted to start working out, in the gym, I can work out.”
She said she also was inspired by presentation given by Maywood resident Darryl L. Watson and three other men who once had been in trouble with the law but spoke to the students about staying on the right path.
Watson, who had been an outreach worker with Operation Cease Fire (which no longer exists), currently works at Goodwill.
“I’m humbling myself,” he said. “I’m from the streets of Maywood; born and raised here. I’ve seen my nephew murdered; I’ve seen my cousin murdered. We were ex-dope dealers and seen it ruin our life. Now I’m a minister in Maywood.”
Watson said he is involved with an organization called BIC (Brothers In Christ) Global. According to its website, bicglobal.org, BIC Global “is an organization whose mission is a specialized form of community development that will focus on the inner circle of poverty that plagues African American communities. This inner circle of poverty leaves a devastating effect mostly felt among our male teenagers and young adults. Our vision includes collaboration with faith based, educational-instructional, corporate businesses, civic and social organizations.”
Watson, 50, stated that he’s had “a rough life” before turning it around. He says he was once a drug dealer, snorted cocaine and used heroin.
“I’ve been 20 years clean,” he said. “I was messed up.”
He also had been shot and spent time in jail.
“I did prison time,” he said, with his longest sentence being two years for forgery.
In addition, Watson was diagnosed in October of 2013 with cancer—specifically Stage 4 lymphoma.
“I was on my deathbed,” he said.
However, Watson underwent a stem cell transplant and is in remission.
Watson mentioned all of the above to the students and emphasized to them “not to even go down our road and to not give up.”
“We’ve been through some real bad situations,” he said. “If we can say anything to stop them (from taking the path they did). Go to school and get their degree.”
“Even though we went through all of that, we’re still here,” said Watson, referring to himself and the other three men who spoke to the students. “I know one day I’m going to get out of Goodwill and that things are going to get better.
“I’m going to school right now so I hope someone will hear my message and sow into my life and help me with a scholarship, even at 50 (years old) I still want my degree.”
Welch said, “They’re hearing stories good and bad. They’re hearing how to be successful in life and what you should and shouldn’t do. We’re keeping it real with them, and hopefully when they leave here, they’ve learned something that’s going to keep them on the right path.”
He said he plans to follow up with each of the students.
“I’ll check in on them because it’s about building relationships with them,” Welch said. “These are probably some of my future interns, future volunteers, but it’s really great to connect with the students.”