Guest Post by Adrienne Drew, External Relations Manager.
Recently we celebrated future leaders through Eckerd Kids’ Project Bridge program in a special leadership luncheon. Select youth from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties were chosen to receive this special recognition based on the leadership characteristics they have displayed throughout their time in the program.
Eckerd Kids’ Project Bridge program provides transitional services to boys and girls ages 11-21 reintegrating back to their home communities from juvenile justice residential commitment programs. Project Bridge provides educational, mentoring, vocational and transportation services to help youth achieve stable and successful lives and avoid re-entry into the criminal justice system.
Mentors, Community Partners, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice partners, family members and staff were on hand to recognize the exceptional 5 youth who demonstrated what it means to be a leader on this special day.
When the youth themselves were asked why they were chosen to be at the luncheon, the answers clearly demonstrated what they had learned so far. The youth answered with statements such as, I was chosen because I showed improvement in my behaviors, I demonstrated large amounts of leadership skills, I have become a better and kind person, and people have faith in me.
After the event, I had a chance to speak to two of the youth who were being recognized that day, Ronald and Rudy.
Meet Ronald … he is 17 years old and has been in the Project Bridge program since June. When I asked Ronald why Project Bridge, he told me he honestly had no idea where he would be without it! He joined Project Bridge to receive help with his finishing his GED and getting a job. The first day he became enrolled in the program, he got a job, and he should be receiving his GED in the next month. Ronald said, “The keys to my success have been putting others before myself. Other youth need to stay motivated and keep positive people in their lives in order to succeed.”
Ronald’s current caregiver, Mr. Sam Cerezo, was beaming with excitement because of everything Ronald has accomplished in such a short period of time. He told me how Ronald had faced many obstacles, but he was determined that he was not going to let his past experiences determine his future. Mr. Cerezo said, “Ronald is self-motivated and self-driven, he never let his obstacles stop him.” Also present for the event was Ronald’s mentor, Joel Banks. Mr. Banks said, “God’s hands have been on Ronald’s life. It has helped him become a man of integrity and character.”
Sixteen year old, Roodphild (Rudy) was also one of the exceptional youth being honored during the luncheon. It took Rudy being expelled from school three times before he decided he needed to be in the Project Bridge program. Now that he is in the program he said it really gives him something to look forward to, and has helped him with networking skills, vocational training opportunities and social skills.
When I asked Rudy what being a leader meant to him, he quickly said, “We are all leaders in some way or another.” Rudy has big plans for the future and hopes to become a leader himself in the music industry. He has dreams of going to Harvard and to become the next big music producer. Currently, Rudy has a stable job, plays football and works with a leading community partner in the music industry to learn more about his future career.
Rudy wants other youth to know that they can overcome their obstacles. He says, “Just stop and think … what am I doing? Is it worth it?”
Congratulations to all of our future leaders from Project Bridge! We know you will do great things.
To learn more about the Project Bridge program and see how you can get involved, click here. These special leadership events will take place quarterly, and donations from the community will assist with the resources needed to produce the next event for our youth.