When Wayne Johnson came to Aspiranet’s Excell Center, he had no idea how life changing the experience would be. As a young teen he kept getting into trouble, and his probation officer felt that Excell Center would help to get him back on track.
“When I first got there,” he recalls, “It was culture shock. I was a southern California kid, and the culture was different in Turlock.” Nonetheless, he stayed out of trouble and quickly achieved level four privileges.
Wayne credits his participation in high school sports as one of the keys to his success. Even as a teen, Wayne was big, already at least 6 feet tall, and with a passion for athletics. “Football and basketball took up a good portion of my afternoons and evenings,” he remembers. “Sometimes during the week I wouldn’t be home until 10 o’clock. I didn’t have time to get in trouble.”
The staff at Excell Center were behind him completely. Wayne credits Administrator Ted Ayres in particular. “Ted played a hand in letting me play these sports, worked out the time schedules and how I could get home from practice. He came to my sports banquets.”
Ted remembers when Wayne arrived at Excell Center. “He was about 15, very quiet, a gentle giant. He was already 6’1″ or 6’2″, and he had a real nice smile. It would have been very disappointing if he hadn’t achieved what he has.”
Wayne considered Ted a father figure in those days, and he still does. He keeps in touch regularly. “I can recall exactly the words Ted Ayres used the day I left Excell Center to live with a foster family,” Wayne recalls. “He said, ‘I’m proud of you. Now you need to go and stay on track, and if you don’t I’m going to come down there and kick your butt.'”
After leaving Excell Center, Wayne moved in with a foster family, whom he still considers family today. He went to junior college and later graduated from Graceland University in Iowa with a degree in psychology.
Today, Wayne has come full circle. He is a behavior specialist working with teenagers at Pine Hill School in San Jose. Many of the kids he works with are in the same place he was as a teen, in group homes or foster homes. He is currently working towards his teaching credentials in special ed, and plans to go back to school eventually for his master’s degree in psychology.
“It’s not the money that keeps me doing what I’m doing,” he says about his career today. “I’m in a situation where I’m giving back, and it’s really satisfying. When I go back and visit Ted or some of the other people who affected my life, and tell them how I’m doing and what I’ve accomplished, to see the look on their face, well, money can’t buy it. Being the richest man in the world won’t ever give you this feeling.”
His time at Excell Center has left an indelible mark on him. Even though time and distance have separated him from Ted Ayres, Wayne still feels his mentor’s guidance in his life. “Any time when I feel myself slipping, I hear that voice in the back of my head: ‘I’ll kick your butt.'”
Ted Ayres reflects on the nature of his work with teen boys over the years. “You’re not going to see your payoff in a week, or a month. Sometimes you won’t ever see it. But when you’ve got people like Wayne Johnson, that’s why we do what we do.”
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