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As an outlaw biker living on the fringes of society Joe Calendino travelled the world, relishing the dangerous glamour of the Hells Angels’ lifestyle, even committing himself to an elite chapter in the organization: the Nomads Motorcycle Club or “one percenters.”
But his life soon spiralled into a world of drugs and debt. A tight noose of addiction began to rule. Eventually frustrated by Joe’s recklessness, the Hells Angels stripped him of membership. In desperation, Joe spent months in rat-infested crack houses, combing back alleys for anything that might help him get his next fix.
Finding himself on the cusp of death, he gained the support of an unlikely ally, Officer Kevin Torvik, a former high-school buddy on a very different path. Joe not only recovered but thrived and redefined himself as a community youth leader, eventually winning the Courage to Come Back Award given to individuals who give back after overcoming tremendous adversity.
Today Joe is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth Initiative, an organization grounded in building meaningful and life-changing relationships with our communities most at-risk youth. Through presentation, after-school activities and one-one-one mentorship, Yo Bro | Yo Girl is keeping youth safe and off the streets.
Read more of Joe’s harrowing life story in To Hell and Back, a recently published autobiography written with good friend and Yo Bro | Yo Girl board member Gary Little.
“I saw bad things during the war — things children should not see,” Dacious shares. “I remember one day being at the American Embassy with my grandmother. There was a family with small children standing about 10 feet away from me. A bomb exploded and they all died instantly. For some reason, we survived.”
Dacious was born in Liberia in 1997, literally right in the middle of back-to-back civil wars.
As a young boy — he faced unique dangers at the hands of local rebel forces.
“The rebels kidnapped young boys to join their forces. They would go house to house looking for young boys. They came to my house one night and took my cousin. But I didn’t get taken because my mom hid me under the bed. I was only seven years old at the time.”
All the while, Dacious’ father was trying to bring him and his sisters to Canada, and in 2011 he finally succeeded. At 13-years-old, Dacious arrived in Surrey, BC . He had no friends, didn’t speak Canadian English and didn’t know where he was.
“If immigrant and refugee youth don’t get connected to the community quickly, they find themselves meeting bad friends and following people they shouldn’t,” he explains. “They become involved with gangs, get into trouble and end up walking down the total wrong life path.”
But Dacious’ teachers kept a close eye on him and got him involved in soccer and wrestling. It was through wrestling that he met Joe Calendino – Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth Initiative’s Founder – six years ago. Joe coached Dacious in martial arts, provided him with gift cards for groceries and food. Perhaps more importantly, Joe gave him a safe place to truly belong.
Today, Dacious is actively involved in the City of Surrey’s youth programs for refugees, sits on a Committee for Canadian Council for Refugees, and is a Yo Bro | Yo Girl Mentor.
“I volunteer as a Mentor because of the life I have had before I came to Canada — it was full of challenges and traumas. I want to give back to the young ones coming up behind me. When they listen to my story and see me succeeding and making good choices, I want them to know that they can follow my lead. I want them to know that they can overcome.”