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The Long Road to Success by Luigi Dodieu

Published on April 23, 2013

About 6 years ago, I worked with a young man who was oppositional, defiant, and unruly at home, noncompliant with his probation requirements, and on a path to self-destruction. He was always very angry about everything. We tried to engage him in Building Bridges activities and work groups, but were unsuccessful due to his poor attitude and inability to follow directives. He was very resistant to change and anything that was outside his comfort zone.  This youth was on a “thin line” and had a 6 month suspended commitment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS), which is a juvenile prison.

I remember getting a telephone call from his school stating that the youth was being suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion due to his unruliness and being disruptive in class. I recall saying to myself that I had it with this young man, and after working with him for 2 years his progress remained stagnate. I was ready to revoke his suspended commitment to ODYS.  I spoke to my supervisor at that time, Ron Reigelsperger about the case. He advised me that he wanted me to continue to work with this young man, and felt that we (meaning me) needed to find a better way to reach him. Ron added, as long as this young was not an imminent threat to the community or himself, we could continue to work with him. Ron asked me the following questions about the youth:  What does this young man like to do? What does he want to do with his life? And what are his hobbies? I could not answer any of these questions, because the young man never disclosed any of that information to me, nor had I made inquiries.

So one day, while I had this young man in my car, I thought about what my supervisor Ron had said to me. I asked the youth about his likes. The youth hesitated for a moment, and then told me that he wanted to be a Hip Hop artist (rapper) and his rap alias name was “Meatball.”  I thought that was the silliest name I had ever heard in my life for a rap artist, but kept my comments to myself. The youth then pulled out a CD from his backpack and asked me to listen to his songs. While his CD was playing in the car, we started talking about everything you could think of from movies, music, etc. Just from a simple question of “What do you like to do?” Our relationship improved tremendously over the years, and I was able to better connect with the youth. Even though at times he still struggled, I had a better understanding of the obstacles he was facing in his life, and it gave me better insight on how to help him deal with these issues. He ended up successfully completing the program, graduating from his alternative school program, and earning a high school diploma.

In April 2013, guess who came to visit me at the office? If you said, “Meatball,” you are absolutely right. He wanted to share the good news of being a father of a newborn son and becoming an entrepreneur. He told me that he had recently purchased an ice cream truck and was selling ice cream. He was in the process of purchasing another ice cream truck for his business. He indicated that he was very proud of his accomplishments and that he was very thankful for the opportunity that the Building Bridges program gave him as a young man.  Imagine, if I had never discovered “what he liked to do” or if the Building Bridge’s strength based approach was problem-focused and not problem-driven, how different things may have been in his life. This young man has become a productive member of the community partly because of the love, care, and support he received from Building Bridges. 

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