Teen mentor Wynder honored
Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Almost 40 years ago now, in 1977, Teko Wynder was drafted to play NBA basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The next year, he played with a professional team in Stockholm, Sweden. But drugs caused Wynder’s life to take a turn for the worse.
“I had a bout with chemicals,” he said. “I was chemically dependent for a while. I almost lost everything.”
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Suffolk’s Parks and Recreation Department recently named Wynder, now a prevention specialist here with Western Tidewater Community Services Board, its mentor of the year.
“It’s just me doing my job,” Wynder said, “nothing special about it.” But, he added, “The recognition is nice.”
The father of one and grandfather of two says his professional sports background gives him an “in” with many young people.
“Young people seem to run to people who have made it,” he said. “Most of the time I talk to young men, and they are more enthusiastic about me playing sport than what I do here.”
When Wynder spoke to a reporter Wednesday, upstairs at the board’s South Saratoga Street building, he had just come from Western Tidewater Regional Jail.
“Some of them have 20 years over their heads,” he said of the young men with whom he meets there.
“People say they have already messed their life up, but they have to come out; and if they don’t have jobs and life skills, they are going to end up right back in jail.”
Wynder, who credits his wife of 36 years for standing by him through his own tumults, says he tells the young inmates that their lives are not lost.
“As long as you still have life left in your body, you can change,” he said.
Along with his wife, Wynder also points to his awakening as a Christian for his defeat of drugs. “I got back into the church and began to listen,” he said.
He said he applied for his current job five years ago, after “I finally found I had myself back together. I felt I could help young people. Luckily, they hired me.”
Wynder said he was “down on my knees” when he learned a lot of the lessons he now teaches young people.
“I let them know that I am their friend,” he said. “Hopefully, if you do have a problem in life, you can come and talk to me.”
Wynder said most of the young people he mentors don’t have fathers, a problem he says is especially common in the black community.
“That’s the reason they are in gangs,” he said. “There’s no love from the father, and some knucklehead out on the street buys them shoes and jackets, and they think they love them.
“No, they are just using them to get something later on.”