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As told by Dion Flowers, former West40 Safe Schools student

“The biggest lessons in my life are the ones I learned at the West40 Safe Schools. As a middle school kid, those people helped me so much. But I wouldn’t understand until later just how important the lessons were.

As a kid, I made a lot of bad choices. The kids I grew up with, some of them are now serving 30 or 45 years in prison. One of my childhood friends was sentenced to 86 years in prison. And in 2009, after I had transferred back to my home school, I saw someone get murdered. If you don’t wake up and change your behavior after that, you’re not going to wake up. I knew I had to change my actions and my choices for good. And I came back to the West40 Safe Schools to talk to some of the people there. They helped me work through it and make a permanent change in my life.

I kept thinking about my mom. She had spent a lot of money to send me to a private high school, give me a great education and keep me safe and out of trouble. It caused a lot of financial hardship for her. Sometimes our utilities would get cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. I remember one time she was cooking dinner and the gas was shut off right in the middle of cooking. I never wanted to be in that position again.

So as I finished high school, I had a chance to stop looking back and start looking straight ahead. I went to Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, and then to College of DuPage. After I graduated, my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, purchased a cleaning franchise and we were the youngest franchise owners in this national cleaning company. Instead of doing anything negative in the streets, I was now focused on business.

I realized anything I did had to be on the up and up. I never let go, never gave up, even when we were struggling. I wanted success so badly, I refused to let up. I was working one job in Montgomery, Illinois, from 2:00 pm to 1:00 am every day, and then I would drive 50 miles to the north side of Chicago to do my cleaning contracts in the middle of the night. My philosophy is, you have to work harder now so you can live an easier life later. I want more, so if I can do more, I will.

I still go back to the Safe Schools to speak to the kids. To help them however I can. Because I know what it’s like for them. There are too many distractions and it’s so easy to fall into bad choices. I can be a good example to these kids and show them what can happen.

Looking back, the Safe Schools were so ahead of their time. Those lessons didn’t just help me in high school, they helped me for my whole life. You don’t realize it overnight. You realize eventually what they were trying to teach you about taking responsibility and improving yourself. Traditional schools don’t always teach you that.

Without West40, I have no clue where I’d be. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. That’s why I still keep in touch with those people to this day, and probably always will.”


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