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Press Release Detail

DJJ Honors 2015 Youth Ambassadors During Youth Success Day



April 14, 2015



Heather DiGiacomo

(850) 717-2710


DJJ Honors 2015 Youth Ambassadors During Youth Success Day

Tallahassee, Fla. - Today, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Christina K. Daly honored the 2015 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. 

“With incredible strength and perseverance, these youth have overcome the odds to show that past mistakes do not determine the future,” said Secretary Daly. “They have redefined success to prove that it is not always a final achievement in our lives, but can be a stepping stone towards something greater.”

Executive Director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association Cathy Craig-Myers said, “We continue to be inspired by the many success stories in our system. Programs across our state provide youth with the tools to make better decisions, to re-establish essential relationships, to complete their education and eventually obtain gainful employment.  With a commitment to change and the support of families, mentors and community, our youth are creating a bright future for themselves.”

Florida Network of Youth and Family Services President and CEO Stacy Gromatski was also in attendance for Youth Success Day and is proud of the work being done for at-risk youth and their families in our state.  “It is wonderful to see more and more of our youth getting back on a path to successful adulthood. These positive outcomes are changing not only their lives but strengthening our families and our communities,” shared Ms. Gromatski. 

The Honorable Judge Daniel Dawson was in attendance as a member of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group.  As a Circuit Judge for the Orange County Juvenile Division, Judge Dawson knows firsthand the challenges that juveniles must overcome in order to get back on the right path.  “It is exciting to hear the stories of youth that are succeeding despite the tremendous hardships they face. While many will still encounter certain obstacles along the way, it is important that we as stakeholders in the juvenile justice system continue to work in partnership to support them and help them turn their lives around.” 

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), which is the direct support organization for DJJ. Youth receiving awards today were:

Michael Guimond-Michael’s first interaction with DJJ was in September 2012.  From that point on, Michael continued to come into contact with the juvenile justice system until he was finally committed to a residential facility.  It was after being released from that residential facility that Michael decided it was time to turn his life around. Michael is currently attending college at Northwest Florida State College.  In addition to working part time in construction and renovation work with his uncle, Michael began volunteering for an outreach ministry for the homeless every other Sunday, which has now grown to every other Saturday and Sunday.  Michael spends much of his free time trying to help the homeless get back on their feet.  He provides them with rides to the social security and employment offices, grocery store, and other needs that require transportation.  Michael has proven he is capable of great things and has remained out of trouble and drug free since completing his program.

Latesha Romero-When Latesha arrived at the Martin Girls Academy (MGA), she was angry, depressed and could not envision how she would survive 18 months in a residential facility.  While most of her charges over the years where relatively minor, it was when she served as a lookout for others involved in the theft of several items, including firearms that Latesha was sent to a residential program.   At MGA, she was able to tackle her issues with strength and insight, including acknowledging her mother’s own struggles with sobriety and relapse.  Latesha’s intelligence and determination to thrive were the catalyst for her success in the program, where she took on various leadership roles. She completed her high school requirements and additional work readiness activities such as resume writing and career exploration.  Now back home in Ocala, she has obtained a driver’s license, is gainfully employed, and was even able to save money to purchase her first car.  She continues to pursue her goals and appreciates the life lessons she has learned. 

Kevin Speights-When Kevin walks on campus at the University of South Florida this summer, he knows he will be the first of his large family of more than 30 brothers and sisters from East Tampa to attend college.  Kevin is a tough kid from an even tougher background.  His father is currently serving a life term in prison while his mother has also been in and out of prison, leaving an absence in Kevin’s life.  Life continued to spiral downwards for Kevin when he watched his little brother get shot. He started carrying guns for protection, which only led to more trouble and arrests.  After nearly a year and a half in both juvenile residential commitment and adult jail, Kevin is now accomplishing great things.  He has earned his GED, completed driver’s education, and is employed for the first time in his life.  Kevin is now 18 and has been involved with the juvenile justice system since he was 14 years old.  That changed for Kevin when, this past December, he stood before the Honorable Judge Kim Hernandez in Hillsborough County and had court ordered supervision terminated. After terminating his supervision, Judge Hernandez then came down from the bench and gave him a hug, resulting in a standing ovation for Kevin and his accomplishments.  While the juvenile justice system is long behind him, Kevin hopes to help other youth like himself realize their own success. 

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. This is the sixth year that DJJ has recognized Youth Ambassadors during its Youth Success Day.