Teen credits YMCA for life’s turnaround

Peter O’Dell can’t say where he’ll end up in 10 years.

“I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there,” the 17-year-old San Mateo resident said.

A year ago, O’Dell said, the life he led was much more predictable — he was the boy who found drugs too early, ditched school too often, joined a gang and landed in juvenile prison. O’Dell said he was living a cliché from the newspaper’s crime section.

“I was sick of living that life,” O’Dell said. “Everything was always so negative.”

Today, he offers a more positive version of his story — one he told recently in a speech at the Peninsula YMCA, where he was honored for turning his life around in the YMCA’s Teaching Everyone About Changing Habits program.

TEACH began more than a decade ago and runs Mondays through Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., “during the high-risk window for teenage adolescents,” said Armando Sandoval, the program’s coordinator.

O’Dell joined TEACH as a condition of his probation after an arrest for spraying gang-related graffiti in South San Francisco. At first, he was reluctant about joining.

“It was hard getting away from [gang life] because you want to be close to them and a part of them,” he said. “Once I got into the program, I found it was nice being looked at as positive instead of negative.”

TEACH has a strict schedule to structure participants’ lives. The schedule allots time for schoolwork, fitness and counseling. It requires teens to cook their own dinners and clean up after themselves.

O’Dell credits much of his turnaround to talks with Sandoval. Now his future involves graduating from Hillsdale High School in May, then college and possibly a career in automotive engineering. 

maldax@examiner.com

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