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Starting a new life, with hope 

Ranger Rich

Sometimes, it just goes wrong. You lose your way and no one is there to show you the path back.

Life's lights — your friends and your family — fade and flicker. Then they vanish. Then you are alone. And the darkness is not easily chased away.

So next week, when a 19-year-old kid with rumpled hair and unsure eyes walks through the doors of Pikes Peak Community College, we should all be there and we should slap him on the back and we should applaud. Because in his own way, he is a hero. And because, well, life doesn't typically work like this.

People like Matt Grace don't usually get another chance.

He grew up in Fountain in a pretty regular home. But his parents got divorced when he was 10, and despite the steady drone of statistics that say half of all marriages end that way, for a kid there's nothing at all typical about the day you find out your parents won't be together any longer.

Life began to get away from the boy.

"I just got so depressed," Grace says. He closes his eyes for a few seconds and he goes back in time. There was a year in high school when he, along with his younger brother and younger sister, lived with their father. It didn't last. Neither did living with his mother, who had remarried.

And he found pot. He got stoned a lot, he says. Sneaking out at night with friends. He stayed where he could. A night at his father's. A night at his mom's. Most nights with friends. The slide was at full throttle now.

For a year or so he lived on Colorado's Western Slope, in the small town of Delta. His grandparents took him in and wanted him to stay. "My grandfather talked about hunting. He wanted to show me how to hunt quail," Grace says.

It was a chance. But the kid with the soft voice and dark eyes and plenty of good in his heart didn't take it.

Back in Fountain and Colorado Springs, things got worse. He seldom saw either parent. He dropped out of high school. In March of last year, the bottom arrived. Stoned and drunk and not knowing where he was, he wandered into someone's garage. The man chased him down the street, and Grace was arrested and charged with trespassing. Bail was set at just $100.

When you have friends and family, they come then. They yell and scream, but they get you out. If you're lucky, amid all the shouting, they see the goodness inside of you and they give you hope. They tell you that you'll be OK.

But no one came for Matt Grace. And so he stayed in jail. March. April. May. June. Waiting for his day in court. July and August came and went, and the justice system gave him three meals a day and a terrible place to sleep, and the boy stopped believing that there was anything good in the world at all.

He finally got out in September. Broken. He tried to enlist in the Army and the Army wouldn't take him, he says. He still had probation and a fine to pay. They told him to come back in a year.

And then he found Urban Peak. The nonprofit organization intercepts kids and young adults on that downward slide. In Colorado Springs in the past 18 months or so, Urban Peak has served 5,700 meals, contacted some 1,800 at-risk youths on the street, helped many get back in to school and assisted more than 100 others in finding jobs.

And inside a small, blue concrete building tucked into the shadows on Cucharras Street near downtown, Urban Peak has in the past months given 46 people a place to sleep and eat and shower. A place to begin the long journey back.

Next week, Grace starts school again. He got his GED a while back, and at Pikes Peak Community College he'll study math and English and biology and music, too. He wants to learn to play the piano. He wants to write. He has worked at a food stand in Chapel Hills Mall for several months and will, next month, move into his own apartment.

"I have no idea, none at all really, how I could have made it without these people," he says, sitting in the office of Urban Peak case manager Tara Quisenberry. His voices cracks just a bit then and his eyes look away.

Quisenberry smiles. He is why she has chosen this work.

"He was a kid with no support," she says. "He made a mistake and he went to jail, and when you're just 18, someone usually steps in and helps, opens a door. A parent or an aunt or an uncle. Someone. But Matt had no one."

Grace has been free from drugs and alcohol — Urban Peak regularly tests — since September. He says he won't go back down that road.

"This kid who just got out of jail a few months ago and didn't have anywhere to go, didn't have anywhere to be, is now able to support himself," Quisenberry says. "Next week he starts college."

Sometimes, it just goes right.

rangerrich@csindy.com

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