Destrehan mentor says God keeps putting him in position to help kids
“I love what I do,” Emery said. “But to be honest, I tried to get out of what I do years ago.”
It didn’t work and he’s really pleased it happened this way.“I didn’t look at this job as a job,” he said. “It didn’t take any philosophy to learn these kids’ brains. It just came genuine to want to help them. To this day, I can’t explain it. I have a place for these kids … I love working with these kids. You just want the best for them.”
Emery got a job as a substitute teacher in the St. Charles Parish school system and also started coaching Destrehan High School football.
From there, the system’s student advocate Ben Parquet introduced Emery to YEP or the Youth Empowerment Program. And then Emery was offered a position with the program – and when he was told he could continue coaching football – he accepted the job.
“God just kept putting me in this position to work with these kids,” he said. “I stopped denying my calling. God grabbed me and I’ve been here ever since.”
As a youth advocate, Emery found a place where he felt he could make a difference. It was an important new opportunity for him to work with children who were approachable, particularly after witnessing heartbreaking cases at Bridge City For Youth.
This facility changed Emery’s approach on working with children, including his own children.
“I know how a lot of kids got to these facilities and these programs,” he said. “It was bad when I worked at Bridge City because I was determined not to let my children get into that. I ended up going home and being like a sergeant. It was like boot camp at Bridge City. I expected them to obey me with my first command. I was real hard on my kids.”
At Bridge City, Emery saw files on children documenting how they endured sexual abuse, mental cruelty and violence – often at the hands of their own parents.
“I put my heart and soul into helping these kids,” he said. “You had to have some kind of soft spot for them, but at the same time I can’t allow them to be disruptive or to harm themselves or others.”
Helping them was all based on faith, according to Emery.
“All you want to do is help that child … to fix that child,” he said. “But it doesn’t hit you until you get away from that child because you don’t feel like you’re protecting that child. I was spending 16 hours straight with these kids so what I do with YEP now is a blessing. I’m able to see change. These aren’t high-risk kids. They’re reachable. All we have to do is keep these away from these situations.”
Now his youngest child is 16 along with his daughter, 18, and son, 22, as well as a 2-1/2-year old granddaughter who he mused is so sharp she could handle a newspaper interview better than him.
And Emery thinks about them, as well as the difference he makes with the children of YEP, who range from 8 to 14 years old.
“It takes more like YEP to do this,” he said. “We’ll never scratch the surface of what these kids are going through. All we can do is support them and every positive decision they make … and helping them along the way.”
Emery’s slogan with his YEP children is “It feels good to do good,” or “It feels good to be good.”
Although he still wonders sometimes if what he’s doing is really helping them, Emergy remains dedicated to the effort.
“You’re successful in winning football games or passing a test, but how can you be successfully with a child that’s not grown yet?” he said. “All you can do is scratch that surface. How do you know if they be the next youth advocate or a teacher? The bottom line is these kids know that John’s going to be around a while.”
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