Project Bridge graduate earns statewide distinction

Just keep swimming is 17-year-old Carlos Leyva’s mantra.

“I know it seems childish because it comes from a kid’s movie,” laughed Carlos, a graduate of Eckerd Connects Project Bridge, “but every time I go through something hard I think of those words. Just keep swimming. Just keep pushing forward. Don’t give up.”

Carlos has swam a long way since joining Project Bridge in 2016. Amazingly, the fateful partnership between Carlos and Project Bridge, a branch of Eckerd Connects that provides transitional services to boys and girls returning home after being involved with juvenile justice department, was a near miss.

Due to his living situation being in a state of flux, team members at Project Bridge had a difficult time tracking Carlos down.

“We were actually about to dismiss his referral when he took the initiative himself to track down Project Bridge and ask for the team’s support in reaching his goals,” explained Hope Cross, career service coordinator.

Carlos’ initiative was the first admirable characteristic that stood out to the Eckerd Connects team, but it wouldn’t be the last. On January 23, Carlos was honored at Florida’s State capitol as a Youth Ambassador for the Department of Juvenile Justice – a distinction that calls upon young men and women to display integrity, determination and a desire to change.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person,” said Hope. “It wasn’t an easy road for Carlos. Being able to have our team help him navigate it reminded us of how important our program is.”

From study sessions and interview preparation to words of encouragement, the Project Bridge team was there every step of the way for Carlos. And while gaining and maintaining employment is impressive for any teen, Carlos managed to do it while overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in his home life.

“He faced daily conflict at home,” said Hope. “Often times he was forced into a caretaker role for his younger siblings, which hindered his own education.”

Carlos’ situation was tough, but he never complained. He just kept swimming, and ultimately graduated from high school on time.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I guess because it could have been worse. I just knew I needed to keep going, so I did.”

Today Carlos is employed full-time and is currently saving up for his first semester of nursing school at Keiser University.

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