A Long Journey Home for Oscar Villacis
December 19, 2012
Reprinted with permission from NashuaPatch.com
Oscar outside the place he credits with "saving him", the Nashua Children's Home
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, Oscar Vallacis felt he always had something to prove. Bullies reminded him daily that he wasn’t the biggest, toughest kid in town. Drug dealers recruited him to deliver packages he was afraid to open, by bicycle, across town.
His next-door neighbor, a kid just like him, lost his mom most days to crack; a kid who was bullied more than Villacis.
“One day I saw this bike laying on the ground and a bunch of kids beating him up nearby. I knew it was up to me, so I grabbed something, hit one of the kids and chased them away,” Villacis said.
Of course, that only refocused the target on his own back and made his problems worse. So when his mom annouced they were moving to Nashua, a place just named “the greatest place to live,” he was overjoyed. He was 11 when they left NY and happy toget away from the bullies, but he soon found out they persist everywhere, even the greatest plasce on earth.
In lieu of a growth spurt, Villacis flexed some adolescent muscle to live up to the reputation- although unwarrented- that he carried to NH as a street-smart kid from Brooklyn. “I wasn’t a tough guy. Before coming to Nashua, I mostly stayed inside playing video games, afraid to be outside becasue of the bullies and crack dealers.” Villacis said.
“Looking back now, I just needed some attention, but at the time I made bad choices ,” Villacis said, Hormones compounded by family strife led him down a one-way path to trouble. One day, when a bully called him “shorty” in front of some other kids, he didn’t hold back. “I punched him, right then and there. The next day the police came looking for me.”
He was 13, and in and out of trouble after that; by 15, he was incarcerated at the Youth Detention Services Unit in Concord, spending his fifteenth birthday there. Eventually he moved to a center in Rochester. “After a while, my mom just wanted me to come home, but by then the system had me,” Villacis said.
His lucky break came when there was an opening at Nashua Children’s Home, which provides care and couseling for at-risk youth.
“I have to say that NCH saved me. It was the right place for me. The other places were jail, plain and simple. NCH was a home away from home. It was a warm staff and they really changed my life around for the better. They are the reason I am who I am today. When you put a young adult into the system who’s acting out, what they need is healing. A jail cell might tame them, but once you let them out, they will act out again. You keep doing that consistently without the healing , and that person will never get out of the system,” said Villacis, sounding wise beyond his 25 years.
Once he aged out of NCH, he limped along on his own. Finding himself on the edge of trouble again, he returned to NCH for advice. His counselor told him plainly, it was time to stop messing up. “I finally woke up. My counselor told me that the next time he saw me would be because he I was going to jail. I knew it was time for me to get it right,” Villacis said.
He made connections within the Latino community and was inspired by start-up business projects, including streetwear enterprise DeFamNation.
Next, he followed his heart to Germany after falling in love with an au pair. He bussed tables until he found a job working for an international school in need of a native English speaker. “I was really blessed by that whole experience. I didn’t speak German and the kids didn’t speak English, but we taught each other. It was a fantastic experience,” Villacis said- but one that soon ended when he got word that his grandfather in Ecuador had died.
After attending the funeral, he was struck by home much he missed his family, particularly his mom in Nashua. “I could have stayed in Germany and had a different life, but at that point, I knew it was time to come home to Nashua. My family is everything to me. Working with the kids and growing up a little along the way helped me focus on what I really wanted to do,” said Villacis.
Now, he has a good job with Apple Inc., and dabbles with fashiion design on the side. He is currently in the dream stage of opening a community center downtown called Untouched Talent, a place where kids can explore the arts and develop inner talent that otherwise might never surface.
He’s making connections throuhg the city’s Arts Commission and Visualize Nashua, two avenues that might bring his dream closer to reality.
His vision includes hands-on arts experience, lining up mentors from different art disciplines to teach kids new skills. He envisions a series of kid-centric events all with the goal of establishing scholarship funds to help aspiring artists pursue their talents through higher education.
“I keep thinking if I had a place like this, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten myself into as much trouble,” said Villacis, who says he sees his little brother, 11-year old George, as the perfect example of the kind of kid who could use a place like Untouched Talent.
For now, he will continue to do what he does best; follow his heart.
“I know that everything I’ve been through has led me back to this place. I love living on Main Street, and being part of what’s happening every day. This is my dream, and I’m going to make it happen. It’s going to take some time, but I feel ready now to make a difference, to give something back.”
Oscar with his younger brother George and their mom, Fanny, at his mother's home in Nashua.