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Press Release Detail

DJJ Honors 2014 Youth Ambassadors During Youth Success Day


April 8, 2014


Heather DiGiacomo

(850) 717-2711


Tallahassee, Fla. - Today, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Wansley Walters honored the 2014 DJJ Youth Ambassadors during Youth Success Day at a ceremony on the steps of Florida’s Historic Capitol.

DJJ Youth Ambassadors are youth in the state of Florida who have turned their lives around for the better after contact with juvenile justice system. These ambassadors serve as mentors and role models for other at-risk kids throughout the state.

“I am so overjoyed to honor these youth who have made such a crucial turnaround in their lives with the help of DJJ, our community partners and stakeholders,” Secretary Walters said. “Our goal as an agency has been to ensure that we have the right combination of services and sanctions, in the right place, at the right time. These young men and women are a testament to our philosophy that with the right support and commitment anyone can move beyond past poor choices and persevere.”

Lucas Boyce, chair of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group, was also in attendance to offer congratulations and encouraging words to the Youth Ambassadors. Once a foster child himself, Lucas understands and can personally relate to some of the challenges these youth face.

Cathy Craig-Myers, Executive Director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association (FJJA), said that these youth have overcome so much to become an inspiration to so many, “We continue to be inspired by youth who make positive changes in their lives. Staying on the right path isn't always easy for our youth, who often face family struggles, substance abuse, or behavioral issues,” Myers said.

“A detour has taken them off the road to success, but with a commitment to change and the support of families, mentors and community, our youth are ready for a better future for themselves.”  

The members of FJJA provide many of the services that are a crucial factor in changing these kids’ lives and putting them back on a path to successful adulthood.

Florida Network of Youth and Family Services President and CEO Stacy Gromatski commented, “This day is truly one to celebrate youth success with unparalleled legislative reform soon to come.  Florida will be the first in the nation to require that prevention programs be a part of the juvenile justice continuum. These efforts will provide more youth with opportunities for success and families with hope that their children will grow up to reach their full potential.” 

Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and the State Advisory Group, praised the youth on the commitment they have made to staying on a path to becoming successful and productive community members. Too often, youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system end up on a path to the adult prison system.

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 (FJJF). FJJF is the direct support organization for DJJ. Dr. Dan Beeman, FJJF Chair, presented the youth investment awards. Youth receiving awards today were:

Shadai Simmons- Shadai came from a broken home with a mother who was addicted to crack and a father that was dead before she was born. She found refuge in the crack pipe herself beginning at age 12 and made her way in and out of the juvenile justice system for the next five years. She was placed in foster care and credits that moment as the transformation necessary to succeed in life. She earned her GED in two years despite not completing the sixth grade, and now works at Ready for Life where she mentors at-risk foster care children or those who have aged out.

Reginald Burch- Reginald graduated from Home Builders Institute (HBI) in March of 2012. “Reggie” has since been hired by a landscaping company giving him the opportunity to use the skills he learned from the HBI PACT Training. Since taking the position, Reggie has flourished into a productive adult. He is very active in the community and engages in youth advocacy and motivational speaking through his church. He is someone that others look to for advice; someone that has faced many challenges but has chosen to be an overcomer.

Evan Flynn- Evan made his way through the juvenile justice system as a teenager before finding a way out through the Department’s Success Through Youth Empowerment Program or STEP. Since his release from a DJJ residential facility, Evan has been an active participant in the STEP group process; mentoring youth to prevent further contact with the juvenile justice system. He was nominated for and was accepted to serve on the Circuit 11 Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and began his first year of college last fall with a scholarship to Florida Memorial University.

Savannah Kennison- Entering the juvenile justice system can be a traumatic experience for any youth, but that experience hit even harder for Savannah who was a single parent and drug user when she made contact with DJJ. She gave birth to her second child while in DJJ’s care and the nurturing souls of several probation officers turned out to be her guiding light into a better life. Since her time with DJJ, Savannah is enrolled at Penn Foster College where she is completing online courses to become a veterinarian technical assistant and interning with the Viscaya-Prado Veterinary Hospital in Cape Coral.

Juwan Vann- Juwan made his first contact with DJJ at the age of 13 after getting into altercations with his peers at school which resulted in numerous in- and out-of-school suspensions. Juwan was placed on supervised probation and eventually was committed to a residential facility. Following his release, Juwan was referred to Eckerd Youth Alternatives to receive services through the Project Bridge Program, which helps youth succeed in transitioning back to their communities. Juwan demonstrates a strong scholastic aptitude and returned to Winter Haven High School where he continues to excel and is making A’s and B’s during this school year. Eckerd’s Project Bridge Program is focusing their efforts on assisting Juwan build his resume so that he might be better prepared to enter the workforce. He has successfully transitioned back to his community and is intent on finding employment so that he can live independently when he turns 18 years old in a year.  

Youth Success Day is a DJJ sponsored event which is a part of the Children’s Week festivities held each year at the Florida Capitol. DJJ has recognized Youth Ambassadors for the past five years.