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Mount Vernon Program Graduates Troubled Teens

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – The Youth Shelter Program of Westchester graduated 11 students on Thursday night who would not have had the chance to attend a graduation ceremony otherwise.

Christian Philemon, executive director of (YSPW), said that the students who graduated were previously arrested and sent to the Valhalla Correction Facility. YSPW took in the students as part of an agreement from the courts. Philemon said that 97 percent of students who wind up at the shelter negotiate a plea agreement and go home. The 3 percent who are not successful usually stay in the shelter or go back to jail.

“Since they are still technically incarcerated they are not allowed to walk at their previous high school’s graduation ceremony,” Philemon said. “We do this to acknowledge them and so their families don’t miss an important occasion in their lives.”

Graduate Jose De La Cruz said that he was surprised that he was getting to walk in a graduation ceremony. Now ready to enroll in Westchester Community College in January, De La Cruz said the opportunity to go to YSPW motivated him to seek a master’s degree in business administration.

“After you start to go down the wrong path some people look down at you,” De La Cruz said. “You just have to let those remarks go in one ear and out the other.”

Brandon Berlow of Mohegan Lake was attending Lakeland High School before finding his way to YSPW. Berlow said that he will enroll at Monroe College in New Rochelle in January and seek a career in helping troubled adolescents.

“This program has given me a lot of time to think about what I want to do when I grow up,” Berlow said. “It’s given me a lot of insight that you can change. I want to help kids who are going through the same problems I was.”

Graduate Vincent Jenkins said that he plans to go to Westchester Community College and find his way into the trades.

“I’m just trying to move on,” Jenkins said. “I honestly didn’t think this day would happen but they believe in second chances, which is a good thing because some people need that.”

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