First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Honor 2022 DJJ Youth Ambassadors on Youth Success Day
TALLAHASSEE, FL (STL.News) First Lady Casey DeSantis, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, and the Florida Juvenile Justice Association (FJJA) honored the 2022 DJJ Youth Ambassadors yesterday in celebration of 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 youth throughout the state.
“It is an honor to recognize this year’s DJJ Youth Ambassadors and celebrate their resiliency and strength,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Their commitment to overcoming adversity to achieve their goals serves to inspire other young people to never give up no matter the circumstances.”
“With incredible determination and resolve, our DJJ Youth Ambassadors have overcome the hardships of their past to realize their full potential,” said DJJ Secretary Eric Hall. “These three incredible young people have worked hard to change the trajectory of their futures, and we look forward to seeing all that they achieve going forward.”
This year’s DJJ Youth Ambassadors were honored during the FJJA Legislative Reception. DJJ solicits nominations for the Youth Ambassador Award from DJJ staff, providers, and community stakeholders. Youth Ambassadors received a certificate and monetary award from the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, the direct support organization for DJJ.
The 2022 Ambassadors are as follows:
Celeste Murillo: Celeste had a difficult time adjusting to life as a middle school student due to language and social barriers. After falling in with the wrong crowd and struggling academically, she left school and enrolled at the Pace Center for Girls. Celeste found support after joining the Pace program, and she used her voice to advocate for the needs of other girls in the program. She participated in the Girls Leadership Council at Pace and was twice selected to attend Pace Day at the Capitol and other legislative events in Tallahassee. Celeste graduated as valedictorian from her Pace program in 2021. She is gainfully employed and was recently promoted as a training manager. She is also working on enrolling in college to become a paralegal.
Maurice Lewis: Maurice experienced trauma and setbacks at an early age, including the devastating loss of his parents and guardians due to death and incarceration. Feeling like he had to fend for himself in life, Maurice became defiant and mistrusting of others and found himself on a path of delinquency. Maurice was sent to the Juvenile Unit for Specialized Treatment (JUST), a residential commitment program in Liberty County, and was able to begin healing and getting back on the right path. Maurice is now enrolled in college and is the first youth to spearhead the First Initiative, Second Impression program at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. Maurice also recently spoke during a committee meeting of the Florida House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee to share his story and how he has changed the trajectory of his life.
Angie Rivera: Angie faced a difficult upbringing with exposure to gangs, substance abuse, and violence. Angie struggled with her mental health and began having behavioral issues. She was headed down the wrong path until the death of a family member made her realize the need for change. Angie enrolled at a Pace Center for Girls program where she received support from her counselor and therapist and began to flourish. Angie participated in many leadership activities including the Leadership Grow program through which she won a college scholarship. Angie has secured employment and even earned a promotion, and she plans to go to college to study real estate. Her dream is to be independent and help provide a better life for her family.