Alex Santos is the Facility Lead Supervisor at Whittier Street Health Center. He has been a partner of YOU Boston for the past few years, and has employed many of our youth. We sat down with him and discussed his story, and why he enjoys working with and mentoring young people.

Alex grew up in a housing development in Jamaica Plain known for gang violence. He went to Madison Park High School in Roxbury, but had to drop out when he had a daughter. After he dropped out, he was unemployed for awhile, but worked contract jobs here and there. One of those jobs brought him to Whittier Street Health Center. He was offered a job there soon after, and Alex says the community and staff at Whittier are incredibly helpful and supportive. But, he says the best thing about his job is employing and working alongside youth. 

Alex has four kids of his own. He tries to teach his kids that all of their experiences help form them as people. Alex is living proof that just because someone was raised around gang violence, doesn’t mean you have to go down the road that others do. And Alex isn’t the only one. He told us about his several family members who have also overcome adversity to create brighter futures for themselves. Alex says that when you have a community that doesn’t ever give up on you no matter how long it takes, you can accomplish anything. That’s what he’s trying to do with the youth who come work for him.

When youth come to work for Alex at Whittier, they quickly learn his work philosophy. Alex teaches everyone he supervises that there’s always something they can find to improve. Anybody can paint or clean a room, he says, but the work product only shines when you really put in the effort and pay attention to the little details. There’s a reason that the Whittier staff is always impressed with the work that Alex and his youth complete, it’s because of the care and detail they put into their work. Alex teaches his youth that these skills apply to whatever career they want to pursue, and by instilling those skills, he tries to set them up for their future. 

Alex also emphasizes to the youth that there is much more to life than work. He advises them to get a bank account and to build their credit. He also emphasizes eating healthy and regularly engaging in physical exercise. Love and support, Alex says, are the most critical things you need in life. He says he gives all this advice because he wishes he was in a program like YOU Boston when he was growing up. Alex is able to connect to every youth that comes and works for him because, he says, we’re all Bostonians. Their stories are all familiar to him because he went through the same things.

Alex suggests getting involved with YOU Boston as soon as you can, and says the most important thing that the program teaches you is to not be scared to ask for help. It’s very hard for people like him to admit that they’re having problems. But, he says, it’s important to open up once you find someone you’re comfortable with. Alex tells the youth to be receptive if someone gives them advice. He tells them to consider why someone may be helping them, that it may be because they’re special even though they may not believe it. Alex used to not believe in himself, now he does.