First Lady Casey DeSantis honored the 2020 Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Youth Ambassadors yesterday at the Florida Governor’s Mansion in celebration of Youth Success Day. Joining the First Lady in honoring this year’s ambassadors were DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller, DJJ leadership, community partners and members of both the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation and Florida Juvenile Justice Association.
DJJ Youth Ambassadors are youth in the state of Florida who have turned their lives around for the better after contact with the juvenile justice system or who have participated in prevention programs for children at risk of entering the system. These ambassadors serve as role models for other at-risk kids throughout the state.
“Today we celebrate the accomplishments of three young people who have used the challenges in their lives as a turning point toward a brighter future,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “I am proud to honor them as role models who demonstrate to other youth that they too can move forward and create change not only in themselves but also in their families and communities.”
“Youth who are given the opportunity to create change and to realize their full potential while overcoming the challenges they face redefine what success looks like,” said DJJ Secretary Marstiller. “Various circumstances led them to encounter the juvenile justice system. Yet they all have shown incredible resilience, turning around their lives, taking control of their futures, and serving as positive role models to help others succeed.”
The 2020 Ambassadors are as follows:
Emma was an at-risk youth who enrolled in the PACE Center for Girls Escambia, a DJJ prevention program. At PACE Escambia, Emma, who has a learning disability, was able to overcome obstacles and become a leader at the school and a mentor for her peers. Emma often volunteers within her community at the Ronald McDonald House, Humane Society, Manor Retirement Home and the Open Books program. Emma has excelled, both academically and personally, as she continues to succeed and to embrace her growth.
Zackery’s first contact with the juvenile justice system was after being arrested for robbery, and later being placed in secure detention and released on probation. While in detention, Zachery realized the negative impact his actions had made on his life. Zackery made the decision to turn his life around and to overcome the adversity of his actions. He completed his academic requirements, which allowed him to return to high school where he won the Tampa Bay Tech “Turn Around Student of the Year Award” and a scholarship towards college.
Zackery turned his academic success into not only a career but also one that gives back to others. Zachery is the owner of Bright Smart Tech, a technology-based company that provides training classes to senior citizens that struggle with the proper use of technology. In addition, Bright Smart Tech offers training classes to teach individuals with special learning disabilities how to use technology and hosts internet safety classes for youth, teaching them how to stay away from predators while using the internet.
Stephanie was also an at-risk youth who joined the PACE Center for Girls Reach program after experiencing the loss of her father. In a state of grief, Stephanie’s grades began to fall, and she was withdrawn and struggled to have healthy communication with her family. While working on her academics and counseling needs, it was determined that Stephanie could benefit from clinical therapy and she was referred to the PACE Center for Girls Reach program. Eventually, Stephanie was able to overcome her challenges, grow more confident, and build on her strengths.
Stephanie became not only a friend to her peers but also a leader by modeling generosity, positivity, and patience. This transition allowed Stephanie to become a premier member in the Girl’s Plan-It social justice group within PACE. Stephanie positively asserts herself which continues to create change and encourages her and others like her to become a voice in the community. Stephanie is a role model for PACE girls and has used her adversity as a stepping stone to open a world of new possibilities.