OCEANSIDE — Once a troubled youth involved in gang activity, 18-year-old Hunter Meyer has now earned the title of San Diego County’s Youth of the Year and will go on to compete for the state title.
Meyer will compete against other Boys & Girls Club members for the California Youth of the Year title, held virtually on April 15. Meyer is expected to dress up and give a speech — something that he used to struggle with doing when he was younger — and answer interview questions for a chance at the title and a $5,000 college scholarship from Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Meyer, born and raised in Oceanside, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, autism and Tourette syndrome when he was only 4. Throughout grade school, he struggled with speaking and listening to instruction.
“When someone tells me something I can hear something completely opposite,” Meyer said. “The teacher could say ‘sit down’ and I could hear ‘run around.’”
Meyer was also told he wouldn’t be able to go to public school or play sports, something that was hard to hear for a kid who has played football since he was 5.
When he reached middle school, Meyer began hanging out with a group of boys who he considered friends. He began doing drugs, staying out late, stealing and fighting during that time.
By eighth grade, Meyer was hanging out with gang members. That year he was asked to leave Lincoln Middle School due to possession of marijuana and having a knife and lighter on him on campus.
Meyer switched to Pacific View Charter School where he had a hard time with the small student population. Eventually he was asked to leave there too because of a runaway situation, after which he was diagnosed with depression.
After that, Meyer tried to commit suicide but was lucky to have his mother and brother discover him right before it was too late. He was then committed to a psychiatric facility where he was treated.
“I couldn’t hold a happy smile for more than a minute,” Meyer said.
After he got out, he put on a “persona” to make his family seem like he had changed. He went into freshman year at El Camino High School so he could play football, but again began hanging out with gang members.
“I thought it was intimidating and I liked it,” he said. “I like the feeling of feeling strong and overpowering another person.”
He began fighting and getting into more trouble and was eventually asked to leave the school with six weeks left of his football season. He doesn’t remember why because he believes he was “strung out” on drugs at the time, but he remembers being told that he was considered a threat to other students.
He went back to Pacific View where he met other gang members and started getting into trouble there as well. Back then, he was never home, never did his homework and got deeper into drugs.
“I almost couldn’t find myself,” he said.
Finally when it was time for his gang initiation, he was tasked with either killing someone or being killed because he knew too much at that point.
He had about a week, and on his initiation day the guys he was supposed to do it with were arrested for a drive-by shooting. It was like a smack in the back of the head to him, he said.
After that, Meyer tried to “keep his nose clean” but once again began stealing, smoking and fighting during his sophomore year.
“I didn’t need to fight but I felt the need to fight,” he said.
Then, Meyer’s resource officer from El Camino approached him about being one of the first participants in a new program through the Oceanside Police Department and the Boys & Girls Club of Oceanside. The program, called the Oceanside Youth Partnership, was designed to keep at-risk youth from further contact with law enforcement.
Meyer was reluctant to participate in the 12-week program at first. On one hand, he was afraid of getting into trouble with the police, but on the other hand, he was worried about interacting with rival gang members also participating in the program.
Meyer went on to become one of seven first-year graduates of the partnership.
On his first day, his mind about police began to change when officers walked in wearing civilian clothing rather than their police uniforms.
“They didn’t treat us like criminals,” Meyer said. “They treated us like their own.”
He also interacted with rival gang members also in the program who he knew as kids and was able to relate to them.
Participants were also expected to volunteer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oceanside as a means of giving back to the organization that gave them the space for the program. Meyer ended up devoting an entire summer volunteering at the club. When he turned 16, the club offered him a job to which he accepted.
Meyer said he wanted to be a reason why kids enjoyed coming to the club.
“It was different seeing kids from neighborhoods that I didn’t like, watching kids from age 7 using gang signs I’ve seen 40-year-olds use,” Meyer said. “I made me want to stick with the job and give back.”
Meyer is a senior this year, but is spending the current break from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic playing catch-up for lost time he missed as a freshman and sophomore. He hopes to graduate this year.
After graduation, Meyer wants to go to college for a degree in law enforcement and child psychology.
Even if he doesn’t win the state competition and the scholarship money, Meyer said he won’t be bitter.
“I’ve made it this far,” he said.
Meyer said the Oceanside Youth Partnership and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oceanside have changed his life.
“They veered me in the right direction and opened the door for me,” he said.
Jodi Diamond, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oceanside, said Meyer is an “extraordinary kid” who demonstrated great work ethic and has flourished at the club.
“He is incredibly deserving of this honor and really is an example of someone who has turned his life around,” Diamond said. “We couldn’t be more proud of his accomplishments.”