A young man who spent most of his life in Brookfield found himself without a home after graduating high school this spring. With nowhere to go and dreams of college without any direction on how to make those a reality, two Brookfield families stepped in to help.
Now, a few months later, Damon Quiles, 18, is enjoying orientation at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and pursuing a major in Communications with an eye toward attending law school.
Coming to Quiles’ aid were (WMS) assistant principal June Gordon, who had known Quiles as a student since second grade as well as a friend of her own adoptive sons, and the Improta family, who took him in and provided a home through the transition.
During a recent interview, Quiles not only shared his story, but vowed to live up to the support he has received from the Improtas, Gordons and the entire community.
Quiles said he was put up for adoption shortly after he was born before being taken in by his maternal grandmother, who lives in Brookfield, at around five years old. He spent his childhood and early adolescence in Brookfield, but was kicked out of his grandmother’s house at the age of 15.
“We had a falling out,” he explained of leaving his grandmother’s. “It was a problem of not being able to connect.”
Quiles said there was a lot of arguing in the household, often followed by days of silence.
“There was too much craziness in the home,” he said, with screaming matches one day and “days where people wouldn’t talk to each other.”
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From Brookfield, Quiles went first to Waterbury to live with his mother and her boyfriend before the family moved to Naugatuck. The arguing didn’t end, though, and Quiles was forced to spend some time living with his paternal grandmother in Florida before coming back to Naugatuck again for his junior year of high school.
The family moved to Brookfield in 2011 for Quiles’ senior year, but the situation worsened, finally ending with Quiles being arrested and spending a few weeks in jail.
Quiles said the fighting never turned violent or physical in any way (other than throwing things at walls) and admitted that he carries much of the blame for how events took place.
“I had the mindset that I was an adult and could do what I wanted,” he said, adding that he takes “responsibility for most, if not all of what’s gone on.”
“No one can make decisions for you; you have to make your own,” Quiles continued. “And the choices that you make, you have to live with.”
How to Make the Right Choices
After getting out of prison, Quiles returned to live with his paternal grandmother, who had recently moved to Bridgeport, and graduated from Bridgeport’s Central High School with a 3.25 GPA despite having attended six different high schools throughout his education.
Upon graduating and turning 18, he was put out on his own again.
“I knew I had to make the right choices, I just didn’t know how to make them,” he said, feeling lost with nowhere to turn.
“The week before he turned 18 he was dumped in Brookfield with all his clothes and no place to live,” said Diane Improta, whose son Andrew has been friends with Quiles since their days at (HHES).
Quiles began staying with the Improtas in June and even worked a summer job along side Andrew at Diane’s brother’s business, Equip Corporation Personal Storage in New Milford.
Improta said she has been “amazed how much someone so young can do for themselves,” however there were key things in Quiles’ life he wasn't able to manage, including obtaining legal forms of identification and finding a path to college.
Improta worked with Quiles to get proper identification, legal birth certificate and, just over a week ago, his driver’s license. Then, along with the help of June Gordon, Quiles began the process of applying for college. Though late in the year, Gordon's background in education was useful in navigating the system and they were able to expedite the process.
In writing his admissions essay, Gordon encouraged Quiles to open up and tell his story.
“I told him, ‘You have to realize, if you share what’s going on, they will help you,’” she said. “If you don’t share, they’ll treat you like everybody else, and you’re dealing with things that not everyone has to go through.”
Though he began the process late, Quiles was accepted to CCSU and moved into the dorms in New Britain on Sunday.
Build Up, Get Better
Quiles has received a few education grants and student assistance loans and will be participating in a work-study to offset some of the costs, however all this has left him about $7,800 short of covering his first year’s tuition, room and board and textbooks.
While speaking with a fellow educator about what was going on, Gordon was given the idea of creating a website to allow people to donate to Quiles’ cause. A page was created on Causes.com asking for donations of $10-$25, all in checks made out directly to CCSU.
After just three weeks and two larger donations (of $500 and $1,000), the site has raised over $3,200.
Every bit helps, as Improta pointed out, as the difference will have to be covered in unsubsidized loans, which carry hefty interest.
“At 6.5 percent interest, even if we only raised $2,000 the difference would be absurd,” she said.
“When people started talking and sharing ideas it opened doors,” Gordon said. “We got involved because he was a kid that needed help.”
“I’m not asking for anything,” Quiles was quick to state, but with so many coming forward to help, “we set up the website for anybody to give whatever they can,” and he has been grateful for the help.
“It’s been the most rewarding summer to be able to help him,” Improta said. “He’s the most respectful young man I’ve ever had to deal with. He’s very polite, very kind, very thoughtful.”
“This is a kid who’s capable of a lot,” Gordon agreed, however, “People will come together and help you, but you then have to stand on your own two feet. This is the community coming together and saying, ‘We support you,’ but now you have to go show them you can stand on your own.”
Quiles said he plans on making good on that support by going to law school and working to help people get through situations like the ones he’s faced.
“I’ve been involved with the judicial system most of my life,” he said, through the foster system, getting into trouble in his teenage years and through his father, who is incarcerated in Cheshire Correctional Facility, convicted of selling drugs and fighting a cop.
After speaking with a few lawyers he knows, Quiles settled on a Communications major as a good place to start the next leg of his life.
Quiles said he spent a day with his mother and maternal grandmother in Brookfield before leaving for CCSU.
“We’re trying to build up ourselves so we can have a relationship,” he said.
And to the community he has come to rely on as family, Quiles said that he had to thank “the Gordons and Mrs. Improta especially — I’m so grateful that they just took me in when I had nothing and no idea where I was going.”
Now, Quiles plans to concentrate on his studies and look ahead.
“You just have to try to forget about the past and just get better,” he said.