Hosting a public open house, Rite Track, a diversionary program for at-risk youth under the multi-state Rite of Passage organization, celebrated 10 years in Imperial County at its office at 2299 Adams Ave. in El Centro on Oct. 17.
At Rite Track youth learn social
skills, vocational-technical competence and independent life skills that enable
them to lead successful lives. Completing two years’ probation in January, Julieta
Velasquez, 17 a Calexico High School senior, was caught smuggling marijuana
from Mexico when she was 15. Her success with the program garnered an
invitation as a keynote speaker for the anniversary.
Julieta began working as a drug
courier to augment family income while living with her single parent mother who
was often at work as a teacher’s aide. At 14, she began smoking pot and using
prescription pills, often truant from school.
“It all started with parties and
I started smuggling because it was really hard for my mom working as a
teacher’s assistant,” said Julieta. “It went well for a few months. I
was surprised to get caught. I had not considered the consequences. And it was
frustrating because I did not want to come here. I heard about its bad reputation.”
An Uphill Climb
The rehabilitation regimen was
challenging, Julieta recalled. Every day after classes at the Calexico Academy,
a continuation school (with flexible schedules to allow students to earn their
credits at a slower pace), she would be picked up and taken to Rite Track.
“It was time consuming and I had
to give up the friends I associated with,” she said. “I got drug
tested every week and they monitored my grades and attendance at school.”
But Rite Track proved helpful to
Julieta. “It gave me a different perspective when I saw the first report
and read about the positive changes in myself. I also was doing therapy at
(Imperial County) Behavioral Health. And it was good because I could talk to
somebody about my situation.”
Marysol Medina, Rite Track program
manager, explained the reason for the open house was to help the community
understand how lives the lives of wayward youth can be improved. It is typical there
is a negative bias about Rite Track due to who they help, but their clients are
vulnerable children who need guidance and counseling, she said.
“With positive reinforcement and
behavior modification we can really help students to flourish into the positive,
contributing members (of society) they were meant to be in the first
place,” said Medina. “We need to guide and mentor them because they
are our future.”
Long Term Results
William Large, Rite Track program
director, said the youth programs are about achieving long-term results.
“It’s a cliché, but it really does take a village to become a
better community,” he said. “We don’t want to just offer services but
we want to become a part of the community. We’ve helped kids for over 10 years
and every year we’ve gotten better. But it is only because of our
Dan Prince, Imperial County chief probation
officer, noted Rite Track necessarily has a close relationship with his
“It’s really about forming partnerships,” he said. “Our
department and Rite Track are joined at the hip. We use our resources to help
support them. And we’re very appreciative of Marysol and her staff for all the
success they’ve achieved in the last 10 years.”
Gina Estrada is a parent of another
Rite Track success story–her 15-year-old son, Omar. Estrada, a single parent
since her divorce, was working 14 hour days as a Best Buy connections manager
and was focused on earning the bread and butter but not on her children, she conceded.
Omar became truant and when at school got involved with fighting.
“I asked Omar what I could
do,” Estrada recalled. “He said he needed my support and time. I
wanted to put him on the right path but nothing will change until we change
ourselves. Thanks to Rite Track, they’ve gone above and beyond.”
Estrada got a new job managing a house
for developmentally disabled adults, working the evening shift and devotes her
days mentoring her children. Omar this past year has had perfect school
attendance and a grade-point average of 3.2.
Seeing Its Value
Julieta, who revealed she thought Rite
Track initially was a waste of her time, said she now sees its value.
“I felt like quitting at times but they encouraged me to better
myself,” remembered Julieta. “This program is super helpful. You
learn to use your time wisely. I thank the staff for helping me learn. If it
had not been for the program I would not have succeed.”