Joey C. at MIHS

“This world works in mysterious ways…Your life is a book; a book of your adventures, achievements and the love you brought to the world. Please don’t write “The End” because it’s not.”

The letter titled “Dear 10 Year Self” was a writing assignment given to Joey C. his last week of high school. It was written as a letter to oneself 10 years post-graduation. Four years ago, this letter could’ve sounded more like a suicide note.

Prior to arriving as a freshman at Merritt Island High School (MIHS), Joey was bullied as a student at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High. Once he was even followed home by a fellow student who threatened him with a knife; the police told Joey there was nothing they could do since the student had already left. It seemed that as many times as he asked for help from the school and even police, no one came through for him.

“They’d put me and the bully in a room together, tell the bully to apologize to me, and call it a day,” he said.

His home life wasn’t much better.

While with Joey’s dad, his mom fell in love with an 18 year old (she was 30) and left the family. Dad subsequently got depressed and tried to overdose, but Joey found him in time. But, even after all they had been through, dad eventually got a girlfriend who didn’t accept Joey and he, too, abandoned his son.

All of these things happened to Joey because he’s gay.

Thankfully, Joey’s grandparents realized that in order for him to survive, he not only needed to live with them, but also had to find a new school. They moved to Merritt Island so Joey could enroll at MIHS as a freshman. And while it might sound odd to say, having a Specific Learning Disability, or SLD, is actually what saved him.

“When I got to MIHS, I was placed in Mrs. Quintal’s Learning Strategies class,” Joey said. “She not only made me feel as though I was no different from anyone else, she was the first person I opened up to and told my story.”

That’s also where Brevard Achievement Center’s Practical Application of Career Exploration (PACE) program teacher, Danell Spinale, got to know Joey and taught him job interview skills that quite literally paid off.

“Ms. Spinale taught me how to dress and act in a job interview so when I went to interview for my first job, it was nothing to me,” he said nonchalantly. “I got the job.”

Today, Joey works at Sears in Titusville as a cashier, lives in his own apartment and owns a car – all achieved before his May 19 graduation. But even though his life is more stable, Joey says there’s still work to do.

“I’m still a work in progress,” Joey said, “but, right now, I’m focused on being happy.”

Footnote: Joey’s story will be featured in a Canadian docu-series, produced by a MIHS graduate, later this year. We’ll update this blog post when a release date has been publicized.