June 10 at 6:57am

TYA helps student deal with tough life lessons and come out on top

Life presented Jasmine Mendiola with plenty of challenges as she transitioned from middle school to Oceanside High School.

A good friend of hers in middle school died because of a brain tumor. Another was killed in a gang shooting. She lost two more friends to gang violence during her freshman year. That string of tragedies contributed to Jasmine starting to slack off in school, and to getting into trouble.

“I didn’t want to be in class. I wasn’t focused,” said Jasmine.

School officials referred Jasmine to the Transitional Youth Academy, a prevention and intervention program of Interfaith Community Services for high-risk youth in Oceanside. There she met client advocate Vu Nguyen and began a conversation that turned her life around.

Nguyen helped Jasmine to more effectively deal with the emotions of her losses and set her up with tutoring and internship opportunities.

“We were somewhat of a positive role model for her in her life,” said Nguyen. “I would just be there and listen. A lot of these kids don’t have positive role models to listen to and to give sound advice. She wanted to drop out, but we encouraged her to stay in school.”

Jasmine enjoyed meeting and spending time with the other students in the program. She joined in helping during school registration, worked at Interfaith handing out food to the homeless, and after transferring to the Clair Burgener Academy for a more independent course of study, began improving her grades.

Her efforts were so successful that she will be graduating in June a full year ahead of schedule. She managed that even while working 12-hour days every Saturday and Sunday caring for an older woman with dementia.

Jasmine plans to enroll at Palomar College this fall to study nursing. After completing studies at Palomar, she hopes to transfer to Cal State San Marcos, with the ultimate goal of becoming a pediatric nurse.

“I’ve always wanted to work with children,” she said.

Jasmine gives much of the credit for her turnaround to Nguyen and the TYA program.

“Vu is like a father figure. He treats me like his daughter. When I wasn’t doing well, he would check on me. He was rough sometimes, but it was for the better,” she said. “School is my No. 1 goal now. It seems weird to say now, because at first I hated school.

“I could almost say he saved my life. If not for him, I would not be in school. I probably would have given up.”