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Teens honored for turning their lives around

Headed down destructive paths, the Pasco youths are guided and encouraged to make better life decisions.

By MICHELLE MILLER
Published April 25, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY - It was a couple of years ago when Mike Pope realized his daughter, Jessica, was heading down an all-too-familiar path.

She was about 14 or 15 then, Pope said. "I was really worried. She went from being really talkative to going into a hole. Dressing all in black. She was going in a direction I didn't want her going in. She started saying things and I could just about finish her sentences. I'd been there done that."

The single father of three knew he needed help.

So when he read about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in a newsletter from his daughter's school, he made the call.

At about the same time, Carol Strammiello was still grieving the loss of her daughter. Diane Marie Gremme was just 32 years old when she died from ovarian cancer. But Strammiello was thinking it was time to move on - to start doing something that would make a difference in another young woman's life.

She called Big Brothers Big Sisters to volunteer. "I asked for a child without a mother," said Strammiello. She was soon introduced to Jessica.

Jessica, whose own mother has been absent from her life, had taken on the maternal role for her two younger brothers, said Strammiello. She was all tied up in her boyfriend. Her grades were lousy.

But last week, after a year of weekly visits and trips to places like the mall that always came laced with words of encouragement and good advice, Strammiello stood up in the Calvary Chapel Worship Center in New Port Richey and spoke proudly of the strides Jessica has made.

Jessica, now 17, earns all A's and B's in her classes at Ridgewood High, said Strammiello. "She wants to get a good job as nurse and a good education. She knows how important it is to have a good job with benefits - to be able to take care of herself. She has a better idea of who she is."

And an added benefit, "She's made a difference in my life."

Jessica was one of nine Pasco County students to be honored last week at the Juvenile Justice Council's third annual Turn Around Youths of the Year celebration. Agencies such as Youth and Family Alternatives Inc., Farmworkers Self-Help of Dade City, Big Brothers Big Sisters and PACE Pasco all submitted names of youths who have proven their merit by making steps to turn around their lives despite some significant risk factors.

The special awards ceremony mostly honors students who have made a positive turnaround, said Lisa Sloan, chairwoman of the Juvenile Justice Council.

"It's an awful lot of work (for the students) and they deserve the recognition," Sloan said. "But it also gives credit to those agencies that are working with those kids to turn them around."

And their mentors, too.

"She's the greatest," Jessica said of Strammiello, laughing about how her Big Sister once "grounded" her from their weekly visits when she discovered that Jessica's dad had grounded her at home for three weeks.

"She calls me ... on some of the things I do," Jessica said. "But she's still always there."

Turn around youths of the year

Honorees

Youth and Family Alternatives: Alexandra Smith, Josh Yarish.

Farm Workers Self-Help: Daniel Hernandez, Alejandro Gaxiola.

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Amanda Gladson, Jessica Pope.

PACE Pasco: Shannon Bracarello, Kayla Osborn.

Gulf Middle School Judges in Schools Program: Patrick Sarris.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 23:09:18]


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