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Otay Mesa juvenile center builds life skills through carpentry program

Posted at 11:31 AM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 14:31:52-04

OTAY MESA, Calif. (KGTV) — Alex Long, the construction and building program leader at Otay Mesa Juvenile Center, got into teaching by accident.

"I totally fell into teaching here. At the time, I was dating a girl who's now my wife and I was looking for a teaching job, and she goes 'well my neighbor's a teacher, talk to him,'" Long remembered.

He went on to substitute, working with foster kids, troubled youth, and homeless students in alternative school districts before landing a permanent role with the detention facility in 1998, never looking back.

"To be honest, I couldn't be happier, I think I have the best job," he described. Especially, now that he leads a course that allows troubled youth and young adults to build quality furniture and a quality future. "Prior to this class, they can't foresee making or building anything, and when they do, you can see the pride and confidence they have within themselves."

Long said it gives them tools they can use in the real world once they're released.

"You're going to learn two skills, hands-on skills, and you're going to learn professionalism. The professionalism will work in whatever career you choose to pursue in the future," Long said.

Long designs each piece students build in class 2 hours a day, five days a week, building their skills in carpentry and patience.

"I try to tie that to their real-life. We all make mistakes, we're going to keep making mistakes, and we can't become too frustrated or too upset. Just how your response is the most important part," he said.

Once the program is complete, the furniture sells at an exhibition and online.

"You're seeing something I think that has the possibility of changing lives. I couldn't be happier with what we're doing, how we're doing it, and hopefully, we'll make a meaningful change over time to many of these students," Long said.