“I never thought I’d be this type of person, but the Club brought it out of me. And now I try to pay it forward in as many ways as I can, including in my approach to raising my own children.”
– Juan Carlos Morales, Gerald and Darlene Jordan Club alum
Juan Carlos Morales changed his life when he decided to step through the doors of Gerald and Darlene Jordan Boys & Girls Club. “My entire perspective of the world was disrupted,” he remembers. “I didn’t know about the world that existed beyond my block, but the Club opened my eyes and taught me that life could be different.”
Today, Morales is a father of four boys, a veteran of the US Army, a full-time student, a part-time Veterans Services employee at Chelsea City Hall, and a homeowner. “I never thought I’d be this type of person,” he explains. “But the Club brought it out of me. And now I try to pay it forward in as many ways as I can, including my approach to raising my own children.”
“A weight off my shoulders.”
As a 12-year-old boy, Morales weighed the pros and cons in his mind of taking the leap and showing up at the Club for the first time. “On the streets, the kids who went to the Club were definitely not thought of as the cool kids,” he recalled. “There was a lot of negativity surrounding it, and a lot of peer pressure pushing me to stay away.” But on the other hand, he considered the social aspect of going. “I did notice a lot of other kids went, and that piqued my interest to an extent.”
Morales’s first impression of the Club was dominated by the warmth and friendliness of the staff. “The Club welcomed me with open arms and didn’t judge me based on who I was outside of the building,” he explained. He remembered feeling welcomed by staff members Carmen Nieves and Isidra Quiñones, and one staff member in particular–John Montes– stood out.
“When I first met Montes, he was the cool big brother I never had,” he explained. “Before him, the only cool older guys I had ever known were the guys on the street corner.”
Juan Carlos Morales with his boys in front of Gerald and Darlene Jordan Club
The bond Morales formed with Montes took root and started to flourish as he found activities at the Club he enjoyed. “I really liked boxing, and I liked playing chess,” he remembers. ”At the Club, I was able to do a lot of those things and connect with other kids who liked them too. That kept me coming back.”
As he continued attending the Club, Morales started to envision a different type of life that he had never imagined for himself. “As I got to know Montes, I gained confidence that I could grow up to be like him one day. I could see myself thriving in a life off the streets, just like he was. My friends on the streets started calling me a nerd for going to the Club, but I had gained the confidence to not let it bother me. I wasn’t worried about what other people thought. When I came to the Club, it was like a weight would lift off my shoulders.”
“Growing up in Chelsea is not easy, especially for someone lacking a positive male role model,” explained Montes. “Unfortunately, we see similar cases way too often, so it is very refreshing to know that Juan Carlos is striving despite the many barriers and obstacles that he had to overcome.”
Expectations to Live Up To
For Morales, a typical day at the Club consisted of foosball, chess, and homework. While these were all familiar activities, he noticed that the way he participated was starting to shift into unfamiliar territory. “Staff didn’t judge me for how I acted outside of the Club, but they were definitely focused on the person I was inside the Club,” he explained.
“Staff encouraged me not to swear, and they also taught me how to dress properly,” Morales recalled. “They kept tabs on me and would hold me accountable and encourage me when I needed support. I did not have anyone at home doing these things, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had expectations to live up to.”
Morales recognizes this time in his life as a key turning point. “I got to be a different person when I walked through those doors,” he recalls. “My life was going in the wrong direction, and the Club gave me what I needed to turn things around.”
At 19, Morales enlisted in the military and served as a soldier for five years active duty followed by six years in the reserves and an active deployment to Baghdad in 07-08. In his transition back to civilian life, he struggled with homelessness until he got involved in VA programs and discovered a skill set that not only came naturally to him, but that he enjoyed: technology.
Juan Carlos Morales with his Club mentor John Montes
Additionally, he wants to be the type of role model in their lives that Montes was for him. “I want to show my kids that if I can make it in life, they can too. I try to pass the experience I had at the Club on to them, including making sure that they are going to the Club regularly. Just like Club staff did for me, I always emphasize the importance of education and having good manners. I want my kids to want to be a good Samaritan.”