Former juvenile parole officer and comedian are roles not often combined in one person.

College of the Mainland student Donovan Dilworth has sported both hats. Working for the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department and as a volunteer with American Athletic University, he was part-mentor, part disciplinarian for juveniles struggling to find their way. Now he does improvisation comedy as the persona Big Fudd.

He’s passionate about both.

“I have coached students in basketball and life. You can do a U-turn but it’s up to you,” said Dilworth.

Wanting to help juveniles in the criminal justice system in more ways, Dilworth is pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice at COM and plans to enter the police academy this spring.

He found a niche in the classroom and has persevered though his wife has ongoing treatments for stage 4 breast cancer, which is in remission.

“With this cancer you don’t know what to expect,” he recalled. “I’ve been through it all, and I still stand and get up and come to school everyday.”

Others have noticed his dedication. COM professor Bridget Walton vividly remembers the student who enlivened her writing class last semester.

“He came in smiling. When he came in the first day, he made a joke and everyone laughed,” Walton recalled. “He was always the life of the class. He would go from computer to computer helping people see the bright side of things.”

Susan LeMaster noticed the same effect in her reading class.

“He would talk to other students and get them motivated. He boosts other students’ morale,” said LeMaster, who talked with Dilworth and purchased materials for his wife to crochet a blanket while waiting on treatments.

A lifelong mentor, Dilworth often runs into students he guided. The nephew he mentored is currently playing football for Baylor University, and other former students have shared how his words of encouragement made a difference.

“These children are like my own flesh and blood,” said Dilworth. “I saw one former student working at Kelly’s Restaurant recently. He was in school welding. He hadn’t been in trouble. He felt proud of himself.”

Dilworth cites the grandmother who raised him as his inspiration.

“My grandmother encouraged everyone she met,” Dilworth remembered. “She taught me to pray.”

Prayer – and humor – became Dilworth’s lifelines as he walked with his wife during cancer treatments.

“I’m a comedian. I make her laugh,” said Dilworth, who has worked with comedians from Jamie Foxx to Mike Epps. “I pray and showed her how to pray. She went through it and came out to be able to stand against adversity.”

Now Dilworth is ready to use his background as coach, mentor and comedian in the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, he encourages each instructor and classmate he meets.

“He motivates people around him,” said Walton. “He helps people see the humor in any situation.”