Almost everyone in Oceano knows Mario De Leon, coordinator of the Keystone program at the Boys & Girls Club of South San Luis Obispo County, but not always for the right reasons.
“I didn’t always make the right decisions growing up, but it wasn’t about where I lived, or my neighborhood,” De Leon said. “It was me, making the wrong decisions. I love this town. I mean, you can’t go wrong if you grow up by the beach.”
De Leon, a lifelong Oceano resident, said the South County has always had a tough reputation, but he credits places like the Boys & Girls Club in Oceano for helping teens stay out of trouble.
“Listen, I had a great family, but I didn’t have a place to go as a teen, and the streets became my home away from home, and that wasn’t good,” he said. “By the time I was 21, I had lived a full life, and I was tired of it. I knew it was time for me to get sober and grow up.”
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That was in 2003. Since then, De Leon graduated with an associate degree in business from Cuesta College and he has been helping youngsters see how great life is in Oceano.
He is a single father raising two young sons and has lived in diverse areas of the community. He credits his tight-knit family and community with standing by him during his tough times.
DeLeon first volunteered at the club’s Keystone program, a nationwide program aimed at teens that focuses on academics, career preparation and community service.
When De Leon was given the opportunity to recruit and guide the club members and earn a paycheck, he couldn’t believe his luck.
“I grew up in this place,” he said with a laugh. “I know so many people, and these kids know me from the neighborhood. I have a connection to them, and I’m dedicated to helping them succeed, and I’ve watched a lot of them go off to college.
“It’s something the whole community of Oceano can be proud of because it’s a big deal,” he added. “Oceano is a great place to live.”