When Noah Vigil and Mike Serpa were presented with a way in which they could help their community, they could not help but accept. Their influence on the teens at Camp Singer Juvenile Detention Center has been a positive one. Serpa said of the opportunity, “We give back because that’s how we grew up. Nobody was there for us, and now that we’re getting an education, we’re giving back to the community.”
Vigil and Serpa met at the Church of Glad Tidings after Vigil gave a presentation on gang-related violence and have been friends ever since. The two of them have been through similar situations in their respective pasts which makes their bond and their significance on the teens increase tenfold. They are both ex-gang members as well as having served time for gang-related convictions, and rather than taking their experiences and making bad decisions based on other bad decisions, they go to Camp Singer and lead by example.
“I can’t tell them ‘this is what you need to do’, but I can tell them ‘this is what I did.'” Serpa stated.
The program was created when Vigil was approached by Frank Sorgea, the Director of Camp Singer and is unique due to Vigil and Serpa’s comprehensive understanding of what the teens have been through. The teens that they work with are generally between the ages of 15 and 17. They start with a curriculum and then alter it to better cater to each individual. Several of the teens have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and cannot handle talking about certain subjects. Vigil explained that most of the teens are afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder, which in many cases is the reason that they aren’t in school now.
One aspect of the program that Noah and Mike are particularly proud of is the implementation of poetry. They have had the teens start writing about their experiences in the form of poetry.
“Everything that those kids do is not normal. So when you ask them to read poetry or to do public speaking, community service – all of that is not normal.” Vigil explained.
The teens have embraced the foreign concepts despite the lack of normalcy and they have poetry nights in which probation officers, parents, and family are invited to come and listen to these poems. Parents often approach Mike and Noah afterwards and tell them how proud they are to see their children speaking honestly and from the heart for the first time in a long time.
In an effort to provide a certain degree of stability, Vigil and Serpa provide a sit down meal at least once a month which generally consists of pizza or something that the teens have voted for – paid for out of their own pockets. They strive to provide a family atmosphere due to the fact that many of the teens have never experienced much in the way of a stable family that will consistently be there for them.
“We do it because in a sense, it is paying back to the community. We do it because we need to give back to the community.” Both Vigil and Serpa agreed.
Oftentimes people will ask Vigil and Serpa how they do it. Most people are under the impression that these teens are beyond help, which is why they do not often get the help they need. In response to these questions, Vigil and Serpa are agreed, “There’s no magic potion. Basically, it’s just trust. We keep it real.”