Meet Our Newest Fresh Start Graduate

December 14, 2018

Jorantae S. is a 17-year-old young man with a high school diploma and a job, excited to have money in his pocket to buy video games. On paper he sounds like an ordinary teenager but his road to get here took a less ordinary path, one that may not have been possible without the appropriate intervention from our Fresh Start program.
Jorantae is a quiet kid. He wants his friends to think of him as a “cool guy” but more than that, he wants to do something with his life. He was raised by his aunt in East Baltimore where poverty is high, educational achievement is low, and crime is continuously on the rise. Admittedly, he “wasn’t doing anything” productive. He had dropped out of school and was involved in some negative behavior, which eventually landed him in jail. He could have easily flown under the radar and been another kid who spent his youth and much of his adult life in and out of prison. Instead of becoming a statistic, his parole officer saw his innate potential and directed him toward our nationally recognized, community-based, program that would give him the support he needed to reach his goals.Jorantae entered Fresh Start in July at the age of 16 with his mind set on completing his high school equivalency exam and exhibited the positive attitude that would later help him achieve that goal.

Fresh Start is a 24-week education and vocational program that provides job readiness training to out-of-school youth, most of whom are referred by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. The program uses carpentry as a medium to teach academic, social, and job skills but more than that, the instructors provide the guidance and encouragement to show their students that there is a more positive path they can walk down, if they put in the work. For some of the students who enter the program, this is the first time they’ve had an adult role model who tells them they are capable of more and helps them get there.Jorantae thrived in the small, structured, environment where he was expected to show up every day, on time, and complete his work. “[The instructors] believe in you, work with you to get you where you need to be,” he reflects. In a place where there were no distractions and he could easily dispel negative influences, Jorantae became a model student in many ways. He was ready to work, maintained a positive attitude, and volunteered to help on projects.

He regularly attended the program’s weekly yoga, meditation, and mindfulness sessions as well as the monthly mentor workshops that focused on improving students’ emotional wellness and interpersonal relationships, to prepare them for the rigors of adulthood.In September, Jorantae earned his GED and his work ethic eventually landed him a job at Ampersea restaurant in Fells Point, one of our partner businesses that is willing to offer a second chance to those who have left the criminal justice system.

His new manager at Ampersea speaks of Jorantae as a quiet kid who was hard to pull out of his shell but who is trying hard to learn the ropes. “He wants to do better. He wants to learn. Some of the other staff thought he was being ignorant, but he really just didn’t know what it was like to have a job,” said Lamont Cousins. “I think he’ll be alright, I’ll think he’ll stick with us for a while.”

For many teenagers, like Jorantae, this story could have ended with that quiet kid getting lost in the system, unaware of his inner greatness, consumed by trauma. Instead, he found a place that would offer a path towards success – one that he will continue to walk down with ongoing after-care support from our Fresh Start staff.

Written by Living Classrooms Staff