Unless you have experienced the grounds yourself, it is a mystery as to what goes on behind the gates of a juvenile hall. Each story varies from one youth to the next, all representing an inimitable upbringing, unique character, and life-changing decision. The 49ers and Fresh Lifelines for Youth joined the residents of San Mateo Juvenile Hall to provide them with alternatives for channeling their negative energy into positive activities such as exercise. The day entailed life lessons for the youth as well as the 49ers players who sought to leave a lasting impact and path of motivation for the young men of San Mateo Juvenile Hall.
"Interacting with these kids, getting to know them and finding out what drives them is important," expressed 49ers tackle Luke Marquadt, "When we first met them they were timid and shy, and once we started interacting and playing football, they became vibrant and excited and I was happy to help bring that out in them."
The day began with an eye-opening visit to San Mateo's High Security Unit. Marquadt and his teammates CJ Spillman, Quinton Dial, and Craig Dahl met with the individuals in the unit for a brief question and answer period, providing words of encouragement to encourage them to make better choices in the future. From there, the four 49ers were introduced to eighteen residents of Juvenile Hall who are participants in Fresh Lifelines for Youth's comprehensive education program for some introductory comments and a question and answer session before beginning an afternoon of football drills. Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) provides at-risk or disadvantaged youth with vital information regarding the decisions they make in their lives and the opportunity to advance to a leadership program where they use their knowledge to give back to their communities.
"Many of these youth cannot participate in sports because they have been incarcerated or attend a continuation school," explained FLY's Director of Strategy and Growth, Aila Malik, "For these players to come out and share that they too get stressed and express how they handle it while being tangible role models and praising our youth for doing something right will make for a memorable experience our kids will not forget."
Group exercises included discussing triggers that may cause the typical urge to act out negatively or violently, and establishing positive alternatives with an emphasis on physical activity. After spending time in small groups, the four teams shared their stories and new plans for a positive approach to dealing with stressors with the group before jumping into a series of noncontact football drills lead by their new 49ers role models.
"I was fortunate enough to have a strong support system to help me get on the right track when I made poor decisions," shared 49ers safety CJ Spillman, "I wanted to make sure these kids know that people make it beyond the circumstances they have been dealt and that good things will come to those who work hard."
"It is unique to provide a positive role model in the lives of these kids," added Deputy Chief Probation Officer Larry Silver, "They do not normally see the benefits that positive choices can bring, but having these guys here shows that positive choices lead to positive outcomes."
The football drills brought out the childlike demeanor in the same youth who had stepped onto the field hesitant about the day's events. A fist-fight in their past turned into tackling a dummy and verbal confrontations turned into positive words of reinforcement. Most importantly, the residents' daily reminders of the mistakes they once made quickly became reminders that a positive approach to life and the decisions they will continue to encounter hold the potential for a bright, successful path towards the future.