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Richard Downer loves to work with teenagers.
And as a mentor at McArthur High School, he gets plenty of opportunities to advise young people who need a person to talk with and to show them what it takes to pursue a successful life. And he offers powerful example of someone who has overcome some obstacles. Downer has cerebral palsy. He is 50 years old and has been confined to a wheelchair his entire life.
But that did not stop him from living a full and successful life. He retired from a 24 year career with Miami-Dade County Public Schools where he worked as a paraprofessional and then a teacher of adult basic education.
“I did not want to sit and do nothing and I like working with teenagers. So I became a mentor. I am here to talk with the students. I tell them about the importance of making good choices, overcoming obstacles and the importance of career planning,” said Downer. “I tell them about the value of hard work and that there is nothing you can’t overcome if you have perseverance.”
Downer wants to expand his mission. He has created an organization called Teaching Involves Mentoring and Education (TIME). He hopes this organization will allow him to reach more young people and wants business owners in Hollywood to provide him with financial support.
And he has a strong rapport with young people, many of whom are facing struggles of their own. Downers sits in an outdoor area in front of the school and talks with the young people about the challenges they are going through. He has a pleasant personality and is willing to listen to the students about tests both in school and in the real world they must face. He will bring clothing and school supplies to students who need these items.
“Being a high school student today is not easy. The students have many challenges including the passing of state mandated tests. I want to establish relationships with them and I hope they will keep in touch after they graduate from McArthur,” said Downer.
And young people gravitate to Downer. Kristopher Robledo, 18, a senior said, “He talks with me and guides me in the right direction. Now I am working at Publix. I want to be an Air Force pilot,” said Robledo.
Pablo Vergara, 17, a junior said, “I enjoy talking with him when he comes to the school.” Raymond Longhorn, 15, also enjoyed the chance to meet with Downer.