At the tender age of 15, the young boy's future already looked bleak: He was on probation for shoplifting, had a drunk as a father and no role models among his four unemployed older siblings.
Then stepped in Mr Surjan Singh, a volunteer with the then Community Probation Service. His first step? Finding the boy his first job, as a ship electrician.
That was in 1974. Today, the boy is happily married and still keeps in touch with Mr Singh, now 82.
The former teacher who retired in 1986, is clocking his 42nd year as a volunteer.
His dedication as one of the longest-serving volunteer probation officers was recognised with a long-service award last night at the inaugural Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Volunteer Awards at the Marina Mandarin Hotel.
The annual awards used to be organised by former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Mr Singh was one of 131 volunteers honoured. Seven people received the Outstanding Volunteer Award, including co-founder of Singapore Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings), Dr Aline Wong, chairman of the Public Guardian Board, Mr Richard Magnus, and chairman of the Singapore Children's Society, Mr Koh Choon Hui.
Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who is also second minister for defence, said at the awards ceremony that "our national soul would be empty" if not for the example set by volunteers.