Dope or the straight life.
School or the street.
Gang or no gang.
The teen growing up in a rough neighborhood in Garden Grove – the type of place where kids routinely found drug needles while playing outside — had several life-defining choices to make.
Would he continue smoking pot, ditching classes, and hanging out with gang-bangers?
Or would he choose a more responsible path?
For Walter Muneton, now 23, a caring cop – with a strong assist from a program run by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove — helped make the choice clear.
Muneton is sitting in a conference room of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove, where since July 2013 he’s worked as case manager for a family-strengthening program called ARCHES, helping homeless or near-homeless students and families get the social services they need.
Meticulously groomed and wearing a purple-and-white bow tie, Muneton recently got married.
He’s working on a bachelor’s degree at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson after earning an associate’s degree in Human Services last year from Santa Ana College.
He plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work and give back to his hometown.
To any casual observer, Muneton’s got his act together.
Back in high school, and even back in middle school, the story was much different.
At age 12, Muneton’s parents were divorcing. His older brother and sister were out of the house.
Soon, his father left the family.
Muneton grew his dark curly hair past his shoulders.
Instead of focusing on schoolwork, he poured his energy into playing the electric guitar.
Drinking. Vandalism. Truancy.
Muneton was heading nowhere fast.
Things got worse in high school.
Fights. Suspensions. Defiance.
Muneton, who by this time was lead vocalist and guitarist in a heavy metal band, became acquainted with officers from the Garden Grove PD.
A ROLE MODEL
One of them was special officer Jason Fulton, a member of the special Youth Services Unit in the department’s Juvenile Justice Center, located next to the main police department building.
“He was a positive role model,” Muneton recalls. “He was able to provide honest feedback.
“He actually seemed to care about me and my future.”
In addition to assisting the Garden Grove Unified School District by maintaining a presence on 14 intermediate and high school campuses, members of the Garden Grove PD’s Youth Services Unit collaborate with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove on an offender diversion program called the Family and Youth Outreach Program (FYOP).
Between the cops and FYOP officials, Muneton received the guidance he needed.
“Having a strong role model (in Fulton and other officers) was huge for him,” said Christina Sepulveda, vice president of Family Strengthening Programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.
Soon, Muneton cut his hair.
He also cut ties with buddies connected to gangs and his band.
He stopped drinking and smoking and started focusing on school.
Despite his troubled past, Muneton always thought being a cop would be cool.
So, in his junior year, he became a police explorer with the Garden Grove PD.
In 2010, he started working at a Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove after-school program.
He’s been climbing the ladder ever since.
Muneton credits intervention efforts of the Garden Grove PD with getting him on the right track.
“There’s always someone positive in the community who is willing to help,” he says.
“You just have to find that person.”