In the last few weeks, Daniel Brown and Marquin Gooden have taken time away from their duties as mentors with the non-profit organization Peace Corner to walk alongside South Austin Coalition and Community Investment Corp. rehabbing foreclosed properties.
The two men have been gutting properties on the South Side of Chicago, including a 44-unit apartment building on 80th and Maryland and a 40-unit tenement on 80th and Paulina.
Brown and Gooden are members of the Peace Corner, 5014 W. Madison St., a youth outreach center for Austin-area teens. Other Peace Corner members are working on other rehab projects and getting paid for their services.
The project has special relevance for Brown, who spent many of his formative years on the South Side of the city.
“There’s a lot that needed to be done on both properties,” said Brown. “We had to remove furniture, pull out stoves, things like that. I did manage to visit my mother while I was around the area, so, it was fine.”
Brown, 22, spent most of his childhood in the Englewood community along with his mother and six siblings. Brown’s mother was always stressing the importance of staying on the straight and narrow and ignoring many of the negative influences rampant in some parts of the community, but he succumbed to them anyway.
“I began to hang out with the wrong crowd and got involved in dealing for a while,” said Brown. “I think at the time, it seemed like a means to making a living. I don’t think I considered the consequences.”
However, after spending part of his early teens on “the wrong path,” Brown decided to turn his life around.
“Eight years ago, I had come down to Austin to visit friends and I heard about the Peace Corner,” said Brown. “Once I came in and met [Peace Corner founder] Fr. Maurizio Binaghi, I really felt this was the opportunity to move me back in the right direction.”
Under the guidance of Binaghi, the center provides mentoring, homework assistance and after-school activities for young people. After spending six years on the receiving end of the program, Brown decided to stay on as program director at the center. He now mentors area kids who are in a comparable position to the one he was in before he turned his life around.
“I see some kids come in and they have some of the same traits that I did at their age,” said Brown, who two weeks ago moved to Austin to be closer to his girlfriend, 3-year-old son and job. “What I want to do is provide encouragement to them and remind them that whether you are influenced by the guy on the corner or your peers to engage in [elicit activities], it is not worth losing you life and poisoning your community over.”
Brown added that his message at times becomes a challenge to connect with the kids because of his age.
“They think I’m too young to advise them sometimes, but I let them know that I’ve been where they are right now and found mentors of all ages to steer me right.”
Gooden, who has always lived in Austin and has four sisters and four brothers, began his involvement with the Peace Corner eight years ago. He says the decision to incorporate the center into his after-school regimen was more a preventative measure to assure he did not fall under the negative influence of some of his peers.
“I wasn’t doing anything bad per se, but I started hanging around with the wrong crowd and I was concerned that I might end up in some form of trouble as a consequence,” said Gooden, who is 22 years old. “Peace Corner was right down the street from where I lived so I began coming as an alternative to hanging out after school.”
After graduating from Marshall High School, Gooden began doing electrical work at Alextronics. However, after nearly three years with the company, a salary dispute forced him to leave.
This just happened to coincide with an opening at the Peace Corner for a supervisor and Gooden, given his experience with the center, decided to join the staff in November.
“I feel as though I am a positive influence on the kids that come in, much as was the case when I was their age,” said Gooden.