Miguel looked forward to the junior class ring ceremony at Santa Margarita High School this year.
Then he learned that his parents were supposed to accompany him. That wouldn't be easy for Miguel, one of six out-of-town boys living at Boys Hope, a group home for boys whose parents can't care for them.
So he asked the Boys Hope director, Sister Mary Jean Tucci, to go. She said she felt honored.
"Kids need an adult to walk through life with them," Tucci said as she supervised the boys' chores and homework at the clean, well-appointed, five-bedroom home. "They come from chaos, so here they want a secure environment."
The Boys Hope home in Rancho Santa Margarita is in a quiet, gated community where kids on in-line skates play pickup hockey games in the cul-de-sacs, and Cadillacs and BMWs grace the driveways of large, white, lake-view homes. It's a haven for Miguel, 17, and five other boys who come from tough, inner-city areas across Southern California.
Boys Hope, an international organization founded by a Jesuit priest and funded by private donations, admits boys below the age of 14 with their parents' or guardians' approval. The organization places them in one of its group homes, where they learn discipline, housework, money management and responsibility.
"They go through stages. At first they think, 'I don't want to be here. Why can't I be with my family?' " Tucci said. But, she said, they end up befriending their new "siblings" and other children at the private schools Boys Hope sends them to.
"It's fine here," said Reuben, a shy, gangly, South-Central Los Angeles native who has lived at Boys Hope since January, when his aging grandmother realized she could no longer take care of him.
Reuben, who attends St. John's Episcopal School, said he used to spend his afternoons sprawled in front of the television playing Nintendo but now loves to study and invent gadgets.
"In L.A., we got to play all day at school. Here I have homework, but the people in the house help me with it."