Local teens find family in outreach group

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published December 7, 2011

 Doug and Deena Trocino, center in yellow, pose with early arrivers at their weekly dinner and meeting on Dec. 1.

Doug and Deena Trocino, center in yellow, pose with early arrivers at their weekly dinner and meeting on Dec. 1.

Photo by Sara Kandel


EASTPOINTE — Inside the tight-knit world they share, they know all of each other’s stories. All of each other’s triumphs and failures, laughter and tears.

They’re just like a family.

They hug each other. They tease each other. They love each other.

To Tara Stephen, they are a family. She’s not related to them by blood or name, and she doesn’t live with them, but they know her better than anyone else, and they show her more love and support than anyone else.

Stephen, now 16, was 10 when her mom’s health went from bad to worse and life took the same turn.

“When I was younger, my mom was always sick,” Stephen says. “She had lung cancer, a tumor in her brain, cervical cancer, a whole bunch of diseases.”

Stephen’s mom was a drug addict, and her dad worked all the time. Her oldest brother dropped out of school to help raise the three younger siblings, but it wasn’t enough — their home life was crumbling, and eventually, the stress of it became too much for Stephen’s dad, and he filed for divorce, taking only his youngest son with him.

“That was really, really tough on the family, and then, my mom got really sick. She was so bad.”

Stephen pauses. Her voice is cracking. She’s holding back tears.

Stephen scans the room for friends. When they catch her eye, they offer words of encouragement from their seats in the audience.

They know her story. But tonight it’s not just them listening. It’s the grand opening of the new Eastside Teen Outreach Center, and Stephen’s story serves as a testimonial to the group that she now refers to as family.

She continues with the memory of the night her mother rolled off the couch, over a coffee table and onto the floor.

“I help her up and I put her on the couch, and I sit next to her for the rest of the night,” she says.

“I was making sure she didn’t hear me cry (that night) or anything because I wanted her to go to sleep. The day after that she seemed like she was feeling better, so I went to my friend house.”

That day for the first time in a long time, Stephen had fun. Her friend’s family had brought her along with them to a water park. The tears are coming with a vengeance now as she talks, but still she smiles when talking about the slides that were at the park.

“I remember I had the best time there,” she says. “Then we had to go home early, and I was wondering why.”

When they pulled up in front of Stephen’s house she knew something was wrong. Her dad and brothers were sitting on the porch.

“I ran inside the house saying, ‘Mom! Mom! Mom! Where are you? I want to tell you about my weekend.’ And she wasn’t there. So I went out to the yard and my dad was like, ‘Tara I’m sorry. Mom passed away.’”

That was in the summer. Stephen started sixth grade a couple of months later.

“I went back to school, and I was trying to do my best, but it was hard. And since my mom passed away, I have two older brothers, a younger brother and my dad, so I was completely turning into a complete tomboy,” she says still crying a little. “And I am outgoing and everything, and people started calling me gay. And I was like, ‘I’m not gay. I’m not gay.’”

Stephen pauses again. The bullying alone wasn’t it though. It was the guilt. Stephen couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt for not being with her mom that day. That’s when she went to ETO.

One visit turned into two, then three, and before long, Stephen was going every week.

“I realized that no matter how hard life gets I have ETO with me,” she says. “I love these people so much. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

At home and in school, Stephen felt like an outsider, but at ETO she doesn’t. Her story is unique, but in many ways it’s no different from any of the stories shared there. They all share the common theme of a young person feeling alone in a world that hasn’t been easy before they joined the group.

Devon Walsh grew up wanting to be just like his stepfather — dealing drugs, carrying a gun and unafraid to use it.

“I wanted to be in the streets so bad,” Walsh says. “I could see my stepdad out there. He was trying to get us a home and what not, him selling drugs, him carrying a pistol. Anyone that even walked in front of him, looked at him the wrong way, said something wrong, stepped on his shoe, clothes — he would, like most street thugs in my life, beat them up or nine times out of 10 (they were) killed. I wanted to be just like him.”

Walsh did follow in his stepfather’s footsteps. It landed him in jail when he was still a teen.

“Not juvenile. I was 17. It was jail,” Walsh says. “It was my first time facing justice, and I didn’t even know it. You know, I got scared. I cried. I wasn’t used to being in there with guys older than me in their 40s, 50s. They was way older than me. You know, I was young. I was a little dude, old school. I’m thinking I’m about to get raped or something. I was scared. But at the same time, you know, you live and you learn. I messed up, and I had to pay the consequences for it.”

Walsh, now 19, met the ETO crew at Cruisin’ Gratiot. They invited him to come to one of their meetings. He was hesitant at first, but when things got tough at home, he remembered the brochure they’d given him.

“When I was going through a lot of stress, I came to Deena. I told her what was going on, and she prayed for me. We sat outside there for a long time. That’s what made me come. Then I started wanting to hear her wisdom. You know, hear the true meaning about living out there in the real world, how to be a bigger man, hold your head up high.”

Deena and Doug Trocino are the founders and youth directors of the organization. They started it 10 years ago, and since then, they’ve thought of the group as their family.

But for a long time they were a family without a home. They’d find temporary homes in various churches across the city, but those never lasted long because, like some families do, this one got bigger and bigger with time, outgrowing each new home as quickly as they found it.

Back when they started, it was their two kids, her brother’s two kids and one other kid — five kids and two adults. Now, more than 100 teens and young adults are affiliated with the group, around 60 of whom attend the weekly meetings and get-togethers.

For the past year, St. Gabriel’s in Eastpointe has been ETO’s temporary home. Members meet there every Thursday night, and while it was a great place to have their weekly meetings, the Trocinos wanted a place the kids could go whenever life got too hard to handle alone, no matter the day. Despite fundraising efforts the, the prospects such a center seemed far off.

Then, one day in October, they got a call from Kevin and Kathy Lancaster from Love Life Family Christian Center. Their church had outgrown its old home at 15800 10 Mile Road, and they had moved to a new location in the old Kantner Elementary School on Toepfer. Knowing ETO needed a building but couldn’t afford much, they offered ETO their old building for the cost of utilities and about 25 percent of the monthly mortgage payment.

“It’s pretty much a good faith payment,” Doug Trocino says. “But we’ll be reviewing the lease every four months and picking up more of the cost as time goes on.”

ETO celebrated its grand opening on Nov. 20. For the Trocinos that night marked the first time in a decade that their family had a real home.

“(The first day we opened the center to the kids) they were like little ants scurrying around to every room, every nook and cranny,” Deena Trocino says. “They took ownership of it. They understood all the hard work and everything that got us to this point, and it was like they had a home finally. I knew this was where we were supposed to be.”

“When we were getting this ready we prayed that every kid that walked through those doors would feel a sense of family, that they would finally feel accepted, that they would feel love. I want them to feel it as they walk through here that they are a part of this family that we have worked so hard for.”

To contact ETO, call (586) 435-9569 or visit www.eastsideteenoutreach.org.


‘This is not a Doug and Deena show’

EASTPOINTE — At the grand opening of the Eastside Teen Outreach center, Doug and Deena Trocino, the founders and directors of the organization appealed to the community to help in the cause.

The pair asked the community members sitting in the audience to help if they could, any way they could. They need furniture and supplies for the new building. The 15-passenger van they use to transport the kids needs work, and they requested food donations to help them continue in their mission to make sure each child can count on a hot meal there once a week.

They also put a call out for volunteers, asking for people to help with youth mentoring, accounting, grant writing, computer support, graphics, event and fundraiser coordination, data entry and more. And they need monetary donations, as well. They’re estimating it will cost about $25 an hour to keep their building open full time.

“This is not a Doug and Deena show,” Deena Trocino said. “We don’t want to go forward in this without you. We want to work with all the youth pastors and the senior pastors and the business owners and the City Council, because this is your community, and we’re just a small part of that. It’s all of you that are going to make this successful. We need to pave the way for them.”