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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Pedro De Castro’s Journey Takes Positive Turn

By Susannah Bryan

December 31, 2003
Copyright ©2003 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved.

The story of Pedro De Castro starts at home but ends somewhere else.

At 18, he is still figuring out where. Pedro is in pursuit of a dream, one where he makes his own rules. And his mother's rules are too stifling, he says, for someone on the verge of manhood.

Home used to be a trailer park in Davie, where his mother, sister and brother still live. Pedro left in July, a few months before his 18th birthday, only to find himself riding a wave of uncertainty.

Pedro does not work, nor does he own a car or even a cell phone.

Still, Pedro says he cherishes the freedom of his journey, one that might have taken a different route if not for the lessons of FuturePoint, a nonprofit agency in Fort Lauderdale that coaches teens through leadership workshops at middle schools and high schools.

"Through our programs, Pedro has gotten a better sense of who he is and what he wants for his life," says Keith O'Brien, who founded the agency in 1999 with the goal of helping teens find self-discovery and, in the end, self-esteem.

"Pedro isn't an AIDS victim," O'Brien says. "He doesn't have cancer. He's not missing a limb. His parents didn't beat him. He's not a drug addict. But what causes someone to drop out of school or do drugs? When someone doesn't value themselves or the world they live in, they tend to make poor choices. But when they value themselves, they make choices to get the most out of their lives."

And that, O'Brien says, is what has led Pedro on his somewhat unconventional journey.

Free from the rules of home, Pedro has become the ultimate bohemian, moving sometimes as often as once a week. He lived with his girlfriend and her mother for a while until landing at his aunt's and uncle's, in the same neighborhood as his mother, Dora De Castro.

O'Brien has taken a keen interest in Pedro, playing the role of confidant as Pedro tries to find his way.

"We talked about why he moved out," O'Brien says. "He said it was clipping his wings."

O'Brien founded FuturePoint after moving here from California. His own life was changed after he read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill at age 17. "It introduced me to the concept that our mind has unlimited power," O'Brien says.

It is that concept he tries to instill in his young charges, including Pedro.

Pedro, soft-spoken, tall and thin, used to smoke pot, he says, but no more. "I didn't like where my life was going," he says.

He keeps a journal, jotting down his thoughts, which sometimes take the form of poetry. He also records favorite quotes and words he doesn't know, such as "bemusement," so he can look them up later.

A Matrix junkie, he revels in long philosophical debates about life.

"The second Matrix is about how we're not in control of our lives," he says. "Neo has the gift of sight. He can dream and see his future. The paradox is he saves someone who was supposed to die."

Pedro's own life is a seeming paradox. A Jehovah's Witness, he doesn't believe one must go to church to be spiritual. His mother lives nearby, but the two rarely speak. His father, Pedro Sr., lives in Puerto Rico, but the two speak every week.

"My dad plays a big role in my life, even though he's not so much a part of it," Pedro says.

The De Castro family moved here from Puerto Rico in 1989, when Pedro was 4. His parents' divorce came 10 years later.

Pedro's mother says she moved to the United States so her children could have a chance at a better education and a better life.

She regrets that Pedro failed eighth grade, blaming it on her own rocky marriage. "I want the best for my son," she says. "I told him the best thing to do now is to study."

FuturePoint's training has paid off in higher grades, Pedro says, noting he used to get Cs and Ds, compared with today's As and Bs.

A junior at Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale, Pedro will graduate in 2005. He is enrolled in the Urban Teacher Academy Program, a four-year track for students who want to become teachers. The program guarantees Pedro a four-year college scholarship.

One of his favorite teachers, Elizabeth Lee, thinks Pedro can make a difference.

"He was a pretty undirected young man when I got my hands on him in the ninth grade," she says. "And now he's pretty focused. He does not know how he's going to get to school in the morning. Sometimes he rides the city bus. He may get here late, but he gets here."

His mother sees in her eldest son the ability to lead, but also a need for humility. He thinks he knows it all, but he has so much to learn, she says.

Pedro says he is determined to forge a new life, a better life. He remembers the last time he spoke to his grandmother.

"She was on her death bed," he says quietly. "I knew it was the last time I would see her alive."

He was 16 and had spent the summer with his father in Puerto Rico. He could have stayed but chose to return to South Florida.

"I'm going to Florida to make something of myself," he told her.

Quite weak and barely able to speak, his grandmother managed to say one thing, he says. "She wished me luck."

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