Testimony to the Montgomery County Council
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Re: Supplemental Appropriation to the County Government’s FY17 Operating Budget, Department of Health and Human Services
Testifying: Jose Flores, participant of the Latin American Youth Center, Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) positive youth development programs
Good afternoon, Council.
My name is Jose Flores. I am a resident of Montgomery County. Before I joined MMYC, I was on probation for a year. In fact, I was ordered by a judge to get into a program that helps youth obtain their GED as part of my probation. My probation officer told me about this program, but honestly, I was nervous about joining since I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought this program was going to be another old boring program with empty classrooms and teachers not teaching. But I was wrong. This program was something uniquely different. I didn’t expect this program to stick with me for the next four years of my life.
Throughout my life I have been hit with many tests and trials. At times I felt the urge of giving up hope for myself, but I always knew I had tremendous potential to achieve higher than the standards I had set for myself. I always knew the easy way out of things, which was running away from it all. This is what I was best at; this is all I knew. I never gave chances to people because I felt that nobody ever gave me a chance. So I pushed everyone away. I’ve been torn apart mentally and emotionally because all I knew was being behind four walls and a locked door. You see, from the age of 12 through 17, I was behind bars. These were crucial stages of my youth development. I did not develop an average teen-aged mind, and it is now that I know that. At a very young age I had to develop a mindset on how to survive in a jail environment. I had to change who I was, and I had to do it quickly. I became aggressive and passive aggressive. I became a fighter and also a leader. The first three years and a half of my experience in prison I was trying to figure out who I was trying to become, so I was lost. I was fighting anybody who came across the wrong way just to prove to people that I wasn’t the one to play with. I always respected authority that showed me respect. I was never a rude person. I learned this growing up with my grandmother. That is one character trait that will always stay with me is respect. During the last 18 months, I began to utilize the skills that I had developed while being in jail. I was speaking up for the weak ones. I started leading people in a better direction. I was preaching change for the better of the youth community.
Then I joined MMYC. I found hope for a better future. Staff members were open minded, and nobody judged me. I was surrounded with people of my culture, students with similar and different backgrounds. Home probably wasn’t stable to many of them. More than likely, some of my peers grew up with a single parent, and the majority of students were without a high school diploma. This program gave a lot of those youth (including myself) hope for a better future. I recognized this every day when we were all in the classroom. Students were able to express themselves, students would help each other out, and students were able to take leadership opportunities in many areas. That is what education was all about.
Now I am currently working with E.C.C. (Erosion control crew) a branch of the Montgomery County Conservation Corps. I deal with Identifying invasive plants and native plants. I help treat invasive plants with herbicide, so that native plants will grow back the way they’re supposed to. Then we get to the hill parts where they have major erosion problems. We help install check dams to prevent the hill from eroding more. I learned these skills that give back to my own community while being part of the Montgomery County Conservation Corps at MMYC.
I am also a mentor with the Full Circle Brotherhood Mentoring program. I mentor middle school youth after school. I help any youth who is in need of help with homework. I participate in group activities with the youth. I go on overnight camping trips with them as well. I enjoy this program because I can help a lot of these kids develop skills to prepare them for life as a teen and adulthood. I have great insight of what I should have done differently when I was growing up into a teen.
I hope we can continue getting funded, because I love this program and I love the things they have done for Montgomery County youth. There are many opportunities for youth to grow in this program if we are given second chances. Many youth like me want to make a difference in the community.