LANCASTER – Two years ago, Isaac Mendez-Candelario was making bad choices.
“I was only 16 and was a little trouble maker who thought life was just a joke,” Candelario said. “I was into graffiti.”
The teenager tagged his way through Palmdale; and by the time he was busted, he had racked up $20,000 worth of damages and a $1,200 ticket.
Then mom stepped in and forced her son into the Sheriff’s Department’s Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives (VIDA) program, a 16-week re-directional program for at-risk youth between the ages of 11 and 17.
“It was a tough love kind of thing,” said Christina Mendez. “I wanted the best for him.”
Her tough love worked.
Candelario not only completed the VIDA program, but he managed to pay off nearly $3,000 of his debt with the money he earned cutting grass, washing cars and recycling. He said he also learned valuable life lessons.
“VIDA taught me integrity and respect, basically how to be a man,” Candelario said. “It’s about doing the right thing even if no one is looking.”
For his hard work and dedication, Candelario was selected as the first recipient of a fully paid, four-year scholarship to the University of Antelope Valley. The scholarship was awarded through a joint partnership between UAV and the Sheriff’s Department.
“Isaac is making history,” said UAV CEO Sandra Johnson. “You are an example for all the children, your family and our community, and we applaud you for that.”
Johnson joined Sheriff Lee Baca, commanders from the Lancaster and Palmdale Stations, and VIDA deputies for a ceremony Tuesday to formally recognize Candelario for his achievement.
“You will be a great role model for the future, for other students who will come here,” Sheriff Baca said to Candelario. “I am just honored and pleased to share in your success today.”
At Tuesday’s ceremony, UAV officials also announced they will be awarding two bachelor program scholarships each year to VIDA graduates selected from the Antelope Valley.
VIDA will select graduates for the scholarship who continue to show positive progress after completing the program. Those interested in obtaining the scholarship will also need to meet certain GPA and community service requirements to qualify.
“The VIDA program has always been about helping young men and women achieve their dreams. Earning a college degree is one of the aspirations many of our participants dreamed of, but never thought possible,” said Captain Robert Tubbs from the Community Oriented Policing Services Bureau. “The University of Antelope Valley’s partnership with us will now make some of those dreams a reality.”
“With the recent partnership we have secured with the University of Antelope Valley, the opportunities for the young men and women who graduate the program can continue well beyond high school,” said Lancaster Station Commander, Captain Robert Jonsen. “VIDA opens the door to endless possibilities, and I hope every participant takes full advantage of what the program has to offer.”
Candelario began his classes at UAV this week, and he’s majoring in criminal justice. He said he ultimately hopes to become a high ranking Naval officer. Candelario also hopes to inspire other VIDA participants.
“The VIDA program works,” Candelario said. “It helped me and I’m pretty sure it can help others too.”
“It’s an awesome program, and I recommend it to everybody who has had trouble with their children,” said Christina Mendez. “You can make one mistake in your life, but you can also turn around and make it positive, so I’m very proud of him.”
For more information about the VIDA program, visit www.vida.la or contact Lt. John Voza at 323-981-5300.