Friday, July 30, 2010

Atwater man working with at-risk teens: A strong back and ear to lend

Friday, Jul. 30, 2010,


TURLOCK -- Eddie Perez, an Atwater resident who works as a house supervisor with at-risk teens in Turlock, sat down for dinner one night last week.

He was interrupted by a phone call.

It was a former resident of the Excell Center, the foster home where Perez works. He had called to catch up with Perez, a man he considers a close friend and mentor.

After hanging up, Perez continued with dinner, only to be interrupted by a second, and later a third phone call from other former center members who wanted to chat with him.

Perez finally got a chance to eat after the third call. He said he didn't mind the interruptions at all. He's glad to know he's made an impact on so many lives.

Perez, along with others at the Excell Center, part of San Francisco-based Aspiranet, takes pride in jump-starting the lives of at-risk teens who need guidance, and they're experts at finding innovative ways to do it.

The center is based in Turlock, but many of its employees and the young men it tries to help hail from Merced County.

The center just finished its latest project -- painting buildings around the facility.

It may sound like a mundane task, but for the young men at the Excell Center it was an exciting chance to learn a new trade, said Art Chaparro, development director for Aspiranet.

"Most of them found their niche -- what they like, what they want to do," he said.

About 425 gallons of paint was donated by Lawrence Eleyh, owner of Mirage Painting in Turlock. He was also one of the contractors helping to teach the young men various painting techniques.

When the contractors arrived at the Excell Center to help with the painting, the residents were fascinated by the process, Chaparro said.

Opening the residents up to various trades broadens their idea of what's available to them, he said.

Chaparro hopes to start more programs like it. Plans could include plant care and carpeting work, assuming someone in the community is willing to partner with the Excell Center as Eleyh did.

The center has also enjoyed success with two other programs aimed at teaching the residents new trades and skills, said Ted Ayres, assistant regional director for Aspiranet.

One program involves training dogs for the blind and for hospital visits. Another involves growing fruit, vegetables and raising various animals including chickens and goats, he said.

These programs don't only benefit the residents of the Excell Center, they benefit the community, Ayres said.

Programs the Excell Center provides help the troubled teens with better social and intellectual skills, said Shamerin Shamoon, a clinical social worker at the facility.

"There's quite a bit of research that suggests when you allow the children to learn skills, they use those skills to contribute to their home, to their community," she said. "They feel better about themselves, they feel worthy, so it increases their confidence, and they feel they can be successful in other areas."

A lot of the troubled teens living at the Excell Center were raised in environments that didn't give them a good shot at success, Shamoon said.

"The level of abuse and neglect that these children have gone through is heartbreaking," Shamoon said. "What we teach them here is you cannot change the past, but your future is within your control. I've had several youths that I've actually enrolled in college."

Many of the residents at the Excell Center arrive with poor social skills and emotional issues, she said. But because of the structured environment and programs the facility offers, they leave with confidence and opportunity.

One resident even received a summer-job offer from one of the contractors, Shamoon said.

"Do you know what that does to a 17-year-old's confidence? He was valued, he's important," she said.

Life changes like those make working at the Excell Center less of a job and more of a way of life, Perez said. He started working there for the paycheck, but stayed for the camaraderie.

As long as he's able to make changes in the lives of at-risk teens, he said he'll continue to make the long commute from Atwater.

There are kids within the Aspiranet system who need foster homes. To inquire about serving as a foster parent, call (877) 380-4376.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or

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1 comment:

  1. The issues surrounding at-risk teen are important ones. Important because preparing teens for future employment is so vital, vital because these teens represent our future leaders and our hope for a better world for all. Support them. Encourage them. Admire them. Because they have a dream.. And unlike most people, they have the skills to make that dream happen..