graduation cake
Staff, friend and family members were there to congratulate Ethan.

“If I can do it, you can do it … or you can end up in jail or dead.”

Not many young men have the courage to stand in front of their peers and say something that honest and direct. However, Ethan* not only possessed the desire to help his peers, but also the determination to help himself. Prior to his enrollment in Eckerd Kids’ Project Bridge, Ethan had been involved with gangs and had spent time in a juvenile justice residential commitment program before being released on probation. That experience helped him realize what would happen to him if he didn’t choose a new, better path for himself.

Since the first moment Ethan was enrolled in Project Bridge he had a plan. He wanted to obtain his GED® and have a graduation ceremony. After three months of fighting through obstacles and displaying incredible perseverance, he attained both.

On October, a graduation ceremony was held for him in his hometown North Port, Florida. The local Department of Juvenile Justice Probation Office donated $200 for the event, and the probation supervisor showed up to join in the celebration. Also in attendance were staff and friends from Project Bridge and 10 of Ethan’s family members − many were recording video and taking pictures the entire time! Ethan interacted with his peers, spoke with staff and displayed a smile that would light up a room. Ethan had been able to complete every goal he set for himself, and everyone was there to celebrate his success.

While with Project Bridge, Ethan also secured full-time employment, participated in Grady’s MMA and remained crime free. All the while, the young man faced incredible hardships. His family was evicted from their home, he initially failed his practice tests, and he experienced significant financial setbacks. This withstanding, he never gave in or gave up. Moreover, he had the support and encouragement of Eckerd staff during the entire journey. Ethan has proven his determination and tremendous desire to take advantage of his second chance. We believe in this young and know that he will continue to have success in the future, and maybe even a few more celebrations.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the youth.