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

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

San Jose Sharks (pictured Feb. 15, 2020 vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center) open the season on Monday against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis. (Tribune News Service archive)
This week in Bay Area sports

A look at the upcoming major Bay Area sports events (schedules subject… Continue reading

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Most Read