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Prodigal Sons and Daughters partners with TUSD, Carnegie for positive projects for youth
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Andres Bernal and Paul Marchese shoot pool after school at the Prodigal Sons and Daughters teen center, which is also equipped with a television, snacks, and more.

Where can local students go when they are suspended for using drugs or alcohol? Now, they can head to the Prodigal Sons and Daughters teen center due to a new partnership with the Turlock Unified School District.

“We are an option for them to come and get a five hour brief intervention education through us,” said Executive Director Mike Hibdon, noting that the intervention can be in conjunction with or in lieu of a suspension from school.

While Prodigal Sons and Daughters is a faith-based addiction center for adults and youth, the new partnership with TUSD is solely focused on providing local students an education on the harm of drugs and alcohol as well as a positive environment with adult mentors.

“We are here to help the kids and give them an education on drugs and alcohol, not to introduce them to Christianity,” explained Hibdon.

However, those that choose to continue to attend Prodigal Sons and Daughters will have access to a wealth of other resources, such as a formal mentorship program that was established in November.

After a career in the accounting industry for more than two decades, Robin Popolizio became a realtor mainly for the flexible schedule which would afford her more time to pursue her passion: establishing a mentor program for teenagers.

“Most people want to run from kids this age,” she laughed.

However, ever since Popolizio worked with a youth pastor in Los Banos during her daughter’s teenage years she found she had a heart for youth ministry.

“I just really connect with the kids. I don’t know why, I can’t tell you, I just have a heart for it,” said Popolizio.

Stressing the importance of “accountability with love,” Popolizio and three additional mentors meet every Wednesday after school with students for a time of games, dinner, prayer, and an activity that will “add value to their lives.”

“What we try to do is create dialogue so that we can build trust,” explained Popolizio.

But the center’s services do not end there.

Every day after school the Prodigal Sons and Daughters teen center is open until 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Mondays. Equipped with snacks, a pool table, a computer lab, a television and more, the center has become a refuge for many of the students in the area such as Paul Marchese.

“It’s been a giant improvement. I used to make a lot of bad decisions,” said Marchese who has been coming to Prodigal Sons and Daughters since February of last year.

The center’s services have not only helped Marchese quit smoking and find friends with a more positive influence, his grades have improved ten-fold.

“I feel a lot better,” said Marchese. “I originally never wanted to go to college and now that’s an opportunity I’m going to take.”

Marchese said that now that he is clean, his efforts are focused on helping others as well. He has even gotten his girlfriend to come to the center after school.

Along with the mentors, Prodigal Sons and Daughters has a wealth of support from interns in the area such as a California State University, Stanislaus student, Merced College student, and a local who is earning their Master’s Degree in Social Work in an online course through the University of Southern California. Formerly funded entirely by private donors, Prodigal Sons and Daughters is also exploring some grant opportunities.

“We’re definitely trying to expand our resources,” said Hibdon.

One budding partnership includes a collaborative effort to extend mental health services to the center through Josie’s Place, a county-run mental health drop-in center in Modesto aimed at transitional aged teens and young adults from 16 to 25 years. Prodigal Sons and Daughters is also bringing an art therapist to the center on March 2, who will be helping staff and students express themselves through creativity.

“It’s going to be the catalyst for a gallery fundraiser to auction off the works at the Carnegie Arts Center,” said Hibdon.

The auction will take place on Oct. 16.