In the midst of difficult times, the Eckerd Connects Project Bridge team is grateful to say that there is still positivity to be found in the stories of our youth.
For our first #WhereAreTheyNow, meet Stephen Alvarez – a 20-year-old whose experience in the Juvenile Justice System shifted his life and perspective. At the age of 16, Stephen found himself in a “wrong place, wrong time” situation that led to his arrest and placement in a juvenile correctional center, where he remained until he was 19.
When asked about this 3-year experience, Stephen shared that more than anything, it was extremely frustrating. “It’s frustrating to express your case to someone who doesn’t care and whose job is to prosecute you”, he stated. Stephen wishes there was more understanding for youth in the system.
Reflecting on his past experiences, Stephen shared that he would like to positively impact the community by making the juvenile justice system better.
“A lot of the kids were angry and always wanted to fight. There was structure, but it wasn’t positive.”
Stephen recalls being told “do this, do that”, but was never given reasons why. Therapy gave him a much better understanding of his behaviors, so he wants youth in the system to have more access to therapy.
Upon completing his program at the residential facility, Stephen was referred to Project Bridge. “It was awkward at first, to be honest because I didn’t know anybody”, Stephen stated laughingly. However, Project Bridge proved to be an immense support for Stephen as he transitioned back into his community.
“[Project Bridge] helped a lot because all of my friends had moved on, so it helped me to socialize with people.”
Project Bridge not only helped with re-socialization but also taught Stephen how to set goals and establish his own success.
During his time with Project Bridge, Stephen served his community at Florida Food Force; went job hunting, job shadowed at the fire station; enrolled in college, prepared for his driver’s license, and developed life skills. Stephen also got the unique opportunity to participate in singing lessons with Transition Support Specialist Peterson. Stephen shared that more than any event or accomplishment, the people at Project Bridge made the biggest impact; “Mr. Evan, Mr. Peterson, Mr. Aaron – they pushed me to strive for better, and they were always positive, never negative.”
Currently, Stephen is working hard to train for his MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) and is in the process of getting off probation early! He is also passionate about cooking and hopes to jump-start a family restaurant with his military earnings in the future. He has dreams of serving a blend of delicious Italian, Spanish, and American cuisine!
Stephen offered the following words of encouragement for other youth:
“Go for what you’re really striving for and what you really want to do. It’s always good to give something a try if it’s positive.”
The Project Bridge team greatly admires Stephen’s ambitious spirit and empathy for other youth involved in the DJJ. Thank you to our passionate team members and youth for continuously illustrating the power of a second chance!
Regional Discharge Specialist
For more information about this program, please visit: Eckerd Connects Project Bridge