Mr Michael Lim grew up surrounded by triad members, gamblers and prostitutes in his neighbourhood.
His father, who owned a motor workshop in Rowell Road, in the Jalan Besar area, had to be self-reliant and negotiate with gangs who often demanded protection money.
His family moved away after he started attending primary school but by then, Mr Lim, 39, had learnt the importance of community and leadership in dealing with difficult situations.
The father of four children, aged between six and 13, had been busy with his family and career as a senior prisons officer, and never found the opportunity to sign up as a grassroots leader.
But five years ago, he came across a banner recruiting grassroots leaders at a community centre in his old neighbourhood in Bedok.
Mr Lim signed up and has since been involved in planning for social assistance programmes in the Kaki Bukit community.
TAKE PASSION FURTHER
Last July, he decided to take his passion further. A trained civil engineer, Mr Lim signed up for a Master of Community Leadership and Social Development programme offered by UniSim and the People's Association.
Tomorrow, Mr Lim, who is valedictorian of the course, will, together with 20 other students, receive his advanced diploma certificate at the National Community Leadership Institute (Nacli).
The diploma is a prerequisite to getting the master's degree.
Nacli will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on the same day Mr Lim gets his diploma.
He might have come a long way but he still remembers his childhood like it was yesterday.
Mr Lim, who is fluent in Hokkien, Teochew and some Malay and Cantonese, peppered his conversation with Chinese proverbs as he recalled the harrowing clashes between gangs he witnessed.
"I hid behind a pillar and watched them fight over territory. There were injuries and blood."
A self-professed pai kia (Hokkien for bad boy) in his younger days, Mr Lim never joined a gang but had many opportunities to observe them. The gangsters were not passive, they took action immediately.
He said he adopted their "proactive" nature which helps him during home visits where he needs to assess the residents' needs.
Mr Lim said: "The resources are available but it is important that the right resources go to the right people.
"For instance, it makes no sense to give a senior citizen a bag of rice when she already has many bags donated to her, and all she needs is money to pay her utilities bill."
His grassroots mentor, Mr Goh Hock Ho, 59, managing director of a food business, said that Mr Lim has matured in his role over the years.