The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, First Lady Casey DeSantis, the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, the Florida Juvenile Justice Association (FJJA), and community partners recently honored the 2021 DJJ Youth Ambassadors during Youth Success Day.
Youth Success Day is recognized every year by DJJ and its partners to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work of youth in the state of Florida. DJJ Youth Ambassadors are youth 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 will serve as role models for other at-risk kids throughout the state.
“DJJ Youth Ambassadors are an amazing example of how through resiliency and strength, we can persevere through life’s challenges,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Their stories and commitment to achieving their dreams no matter their circumstances will inspire other children and young adults who are facing similar hardships.”
“It is an honor to recognize our DJJ Youth Ambassadors and share how they have triumphed over tragedy and adversity to turn around their lives for the better,” said DJJ Acting Secretary Josie Tamayo. “Our Youth Ambassadors have worked hard to reach their goals, and we look forward to seeing all they will accomplish in the future.”
This year’s DJJ Youth Ambassadors were honored during the virtual FJJA Legislative Conference. DJJ solicits nominations for the Youth Ambassador Award from providers, community stakeholders and the public at large. Youth Ambassadors received a certificate and Youth Investment Award from the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, which is the direct support organization for DJJ. The 2021 Ambassadors are as follows:
Meagan was placed in the foster care system early in life and joined the Pace Center for Girls Hernando as a way to cope with her issues. At Pace, Meagan developed a passion for drawing and art and through her artistic talent was able to discover her voice. Meagan became a spokesperson for Pace and attended the Pace Day at the Capitol where she served as an advocate for girls like herself. In addition, Meagan was selected to serve as a Senate Page during legislative session. Meagan now serves as Pace’s statewide leadership representative where she participates in national trainings. She is also an excellent communicator and has spoken at several community events.
Miguel faced trouble early on in elementary school which followed him throughout most of his school years. One day, he found that the trouble didn’t merely lead him to suspension, but also involvement with the juvenile justice system and placement into a residential commitment program. While at the residential program, Manuel’s older sister was involved in a car accident that took her life as well as the life of the father of her two small children. This tragedy led Manuel to make the decision to change his life and start working towards his goals. Manuel enrolled with Eckerd Connects Project Bridge and after earning his GED and two vocational certifications, Manuel now has a full-time job and has taken on additional opportunities to help him provide for his nephews. Manuel has transitioned from a young person at-risk to a young man full of promise who is dedicated to his family and to sharing his story with others.
Lily faced instability in her life and joined Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Miami where she was matched with her Big Sister who helped her deal with issues around having an incarcerated parent and with the loss of her grandmother. Lily learned to develop independent coping skills and is now thriving as an honor student who is involved in her school’s honor society and criminal justice club. Lily is also part of a national network of students who came together to advocate for violence prevention after the Sandy Hook shooting. Lily openly shares her experiences, both as a child of an incarcerated parent and as a Little Sister in the BBBS program, to inspire others to become involved and positively impact other youth who are facing obstacles similar to hers.