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Boys Town Alum Shares Story with Youth

Boys Town Kids Build new Bleachers

"​I am living the American Dream, and you can too – no matter where you start."
- Interviewed and edited by Susan Marshall

I was raised in a trailer in a small mining town in northern Michigan and was one of the only people of Hispanic heritage in the area. I was left to fend for myself as a young person, as my mother struggled with alcohol addiction. When I skipped school, nobody noticed. Despite working as a bagger in a grocery store and delivering newspapers early in the morning, I sometimes had to “improvise" when I needed a new pair of shoes and had no money to buy them. The Ritalin I was prescribed to treat my hyperactivity was not always consumed by me.

With my family anticipating I would someday end up in prison, it was no surprise to anyone that in 1982, at the age of 13, I was declared a ward of the state and sent to Boys Town. At first, I did not want to be there. I wasn't used to being told what to do. I wasn't used to having to take personal responsibility for my actions. I reluctantly went along with the program for the first four or five months. Gradually, however, I found that the structure was helping me make better decisions. I liked the rewards that came with doing the work the right way the first time. I learned to manage my anger. I appreciated having my own room and living in a real house. I was proud of the cooking skills I acquired, and I gained confidence with each success I achieved.

After 18 months at Boys Town, I graduated with $300 in my pocket and moved to Washington DC, by myself, at the age of 17. It is no exaggeration to say I was a new man who had learned for himself that nothing comes for free. My work ethic became my biggest asset. I relied on that ethic to propel me from an entry-level job delivering medical supplies and equipment, up to becoming the owner of a multi-million-dollar construction business. Boys Town had given me the life skills I needed to succeed, and I never forgot the lessons I learned there.

So, earlier this year, when I was asked if I would participate in a project to construct a bleacher at the DC Boys Town's outdoor basketball court, I quickly said yes. Using competition as a natural motivator swiftly focused the kids on the construction project. We finished the hard work of hole digging and the kids moved on to learn new construction skills like framing and using screw guns. As we worked shoulder to shoulder, I made sure they heard how I made my first million without a college education and that with the right mindset, they could, too. As the kids adapted and learned new skills, I was reminded why we need to get to kids when they are young — you can bend a young stick, but an older one will snap when you ask it to change.

Fast forward to today, and here I am at age 53. There are still important things to do. My next project is building a resort on a lake in a little town in northern Michigan. I'm back where my personal story started and where my outlook once seemed dark. Leaving as a poor, troubled young boy, I am returning as a prosperous and principled member of the world. I intend to keep giving back whenever I can and especially to the Boys Town organization to which I owe most of my success.

Boys Town Kids working together