Gangster, addict, dancing queen
"You go practise, I will come down and check," Mel says.
And such is the commanding presence and clout she has with dance group Pluspoint, the boys immediately buckle down and get to practising.
Having spent some time with Mel's family and the dancers, it is not difficult to understand and appreciate the respect they have for her.
She consistently gives so much of herself, and expects little in return.
Though she often works seven days a week as a customer service officer to make ends meet, and returns home dog-tired, her door is always open to the boys whom she has affectionately adopted as her own since starting the dance group in June 2012.
She may appear very stern and unafraid to raise her voice to chide the boys, but deep inside, she has a soft spot for them that's evident through many small gestures.
Some evenings, she whips up a simple pot of noodles for them to dig into after dance practice at 10pm. The boys — always famished, it seems — often empty the pot in no time.
At other times, she sits down with them individually to offer a listening ear, dispensing advice as appropriate.
It seems easy for her to connect with these youths because of her own chequered past.
"An ex-gangster can always talk to a gangster," she explains.
Two stints for drug possession in jail have matured Mel considerably.
Previously, fists and aggression were her weapons of choice to deal with conflict. Now, she has learnt to keep her temper in check and opts for more peaceful, diplomatic ways out of problems.
She attributes this largely to her newfound responsibility as mother, sister, role model, and informal mentor to the younger ones around her.
It has not been an easy journey, fighting her drug addiction, leaving an abusive relationship, having to fend single-handedly for her children, and now caring for the dancers under her charge.
But Mel never gives up and keeps on giving.
For this, she has earned my utmost respect.
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