Wilco program aims to connect troubled youth with mentors

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GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Rafael Lerma admits he hasn’t always walked a straight line. He would skip school and smoke weed to deal with his issues.

“I did some things that I wish I could go back that I regret, but I know that I’m a human being and no one is perfect but sometimes you have to go through things to realize what matters the most for you,” he said.

The 19-year-old was headed in the wrong direction, and it wasn’t until he lost his freedom that reality started to sink in.

“I was in juvenile detention for a year, and right after I got out, I lost my stepdad and that got me down but then I started realizing I have to do better,” he said.

His troubles put him in front of Williamson County Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Judge Evelyn McLean who would help him get on the right path. McLean connected the teen with Jacob Contreras. Contreras volunteered to become a mentor through the court’s mentoring program, Thorns to Thistles, initially created by Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell Jr. to help broken families. Contreras decided to sign up after he faced a tough upbringing and turned his life around.

“I used all those negatives and I turned them into a positive and that’s what gave me the power to mentor because the younger misguided kid — they need it,” Contreras said.

McLean wanted to continue the program, and since taking over in 2019, has helped around 20 youth. The program requires volunteers to commit to one hour a week for a minimum of six months to be able to meet with the mentee.

The program has made a difference in Lerma’s life. For the last year, the teen has been on the right track. He’s working on graduating high school and hopes to soon get his commercial driver’s license and become a truck driver.

“I learned my lesson,” Lerma said. “I just have to do good and stay with the positive people.”

McLean said they are in need of volunteers, especially men to help mentor. Training is available for volunteers to more thoroughly explain their role as mentors. Training is held twice a year at our court and can be taken off-site if necessary. If you would like to sign up, you can do so online.

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