Operation Fresh Start, helping area teens

Posted: Tuesday, July 15th ---- 8:00 p.m.

It's costing taxpayers big money. On average, a young person that doesn't graduate high school costs the community $250,000 during their lifetime. But a program in Madison is trying to change all that, by taking these teens and turning their lives around; giving them something they've never had before- hope.

We asked, "where do you think you'd be if you didn't have this program?" Omar Guzman responded, "jail." 17-year-old Omar Guzman has only been at Operation Fresh Start for a few months now, but his life is already changing before everyone's eyes. He said, "I put the tiles up. I put the tiles on the floor. I'm pretty proud of it!"

Through OFS, he's working with tutors getting caught up on his studies. "I'm so close to getting my high school diploma I can feel it," he added. And when he's not in the classroom, he's helping remodel homes in Madison that will be sold to low-income families. Omar added, "what I'm most proud of is the floor."

But the change hasn't been easy- leaving his old life and those choices behind. "I was out on the street, gang banging, not going to school. I didn't even think I was going to graduate. Just started going down the hole, I wasn't doing good," said Omar.

But with graduates just like Doug Crowder, now working as a security guard and planning to attend college next spring, "I decided to put in 100% and change my life around and be that person that I talked about being at that time," Doug said.

Omar knows the system works, and he's sticking with it. "That mix between holding that young person accountable, and giving them a whole lot of love and attention, and positive reinforcement can really help transition someone from going nowhere to going someplace good," said Executive Director, Greg Markle.

OFS has helped 7,000 teens and young adults for the past 44 years. Organizers attributing much of their success to the people that wear the badge. Greg added "we think of Police as the people who keep us safe, but we're also working with the people who are doing things that aren't quite right, and helping them figure out how to change. "

Omar say's he's ready, and he has no better reason than his newborn son to show anything is possible. "I want him to look at me as a role model as he gets older, and says my dad, he graduated high school, I'm going to do it too," said Omar.

Both Omar and Doug are hoping to become police officers after they're finished with their schooling. Operation Fresh Start is a non-profit organization. To donate or to learn how to volunteer, go to operationfreshstart.org.

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