As a 13-year old boy heading off the rails, I met a Vietnam veteran and serving solder who turned my life around.
Twenty-five years later, I have teamed up with one of these guys to put together Veterans4Youth, which offers a two-week military-style camp to help get at-risk teenagers back on track.
As a teenager myself I was off the rails – I skipped school, challenged teachers and started to get into heavier things like vandalism, stealing and breaking and entering into properties. I was never caught, but found myself mixing with the wrong crowds and was quickly sliding down the juvenile delinquency slippery slope.
I was the youngest of four kids to a single mother growing up in the low-socio economic suburbs of Western Sydney. Mum had to work a full-time job to support us kids and couldn’t keep me nailed down.
We had to get ourselves to and from school without supervision, and quite frankly, if I didn't want to go to school, I just wouldn't go. I did what I wanted and there wasn't much anyone could do about it. This caused a lot of friction at home and my mum had no one to help her, nor did she know what to do with me.
She ended up sending me on a youth development program every Friday night and the odd weekend – it was there that I met those two men who got me on the straight and narrow.
I remember very clearly the day they pulled me aside and told me what my problem was. They told me I was a smart kid with heaps of potential, but that I was wasting it on working the system and trying to get away with mischief.
If I continued like this, they said I was going to end up going nowhere and with no friends.
I remember the words very clearly: “All that stops now. It stops here. It stops at home and it stops at school. You're going to do exactly what I say, and I'm going to teach you everything you need to learn to be successful in life. If you put one foot out of line, I will be all over you so hard you won’t know what hit you!”
Now some would think that a teenager would run from someone like that, but actually it was quite the opposite. It was just what I was desperate for – a male role model who would mentor and guide me.
Many teenagers are looking for mentors to teach them. If we don't put the right people in front of them, they will end up with the wrong people leading them.
My life story shows how intervention in the teenage years, and a strong role model, can make a very significant difference for a child.