TALLAHASSEE, Fla. /Florida Newswire/ -– Governor Charlie Crist today, along with Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Frank Peterman Jr. recognized “success stories” of youth who have received services from the department and its provider partners and chosen a new direction for their lives. “Florida’s children are one of our most important resources for securing Florida’s future,” said Governor Crist. “I commend Secretary Peterman and the department for the substantial improvements that Florida has achieved in helping at-risk young people in building a brighter future for themselves.”

Governor Crist and Secretary Peterman recognized Youth Success Week Ambassadors Ashley Hall of Gadsden County and Natalie Simmons of Leon County. Ashley attended Tallahassee Marine Institute and earned her GED at Dove Vocational Academy for Girls in Graceville. Currently a student at Tallahassee Community College, she is a recipient of a Bill Bankhead Scholarship, which is funded and coordinated by the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation. She was also recently named Miss North Florida USA 2010 and is a juvenile prevention advocate who encourages youth to avoid at-risk behavior.

Twelve years ago, Natalie Simmons was helping raise her siblings and facing many challenges. She had been abused and turned to substance abuse and began failing in school and fighting with her mother. After completing the 9th and 10th grades at the PACE Center for Girls in Tallahassee, she successfully transitioned back to her high school. PACE, one of DJJ’s largest program providers, is an alternative school that offers girls an opportunity to get an education when they find it impossible to do so in a traditional school setting. Natalie now has a job and is a parent.

Data for 2007-08 from the DJJ Office of Research and Planning shows that the youth referral rate is at an all-time low, and prevention programs are showing a 93 percent success rate in keeping children out of the juvenile justice system. In addition, the number of juvenile felony arrests statewide have declined.

“Community partnerships and volunteer assistance dramatically improve the chances of our young people’s success,” said Secretary Frank Peterman, Jr. “Today I want to shine a light on those successes, and show the important roles that DJJ, our partners and volunteers have in helping our kids.”

Senator Al Lawson, the Governor’s Chief Child Advocate Jim Kallinger, and Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation Chairman Marjorie Turnbull also participated in the event. This year’s theme, “Part of the Community, Part of the Solution,” highlights the victory of Florida’s at-risk and troubled children in turning around their lives, as well as the vital contributions communities make through partnership with DJJ.

Secretary Peterman kicked off the weeklong celebration Monday, April 19, in Tampa. DJJ and its partners are commemorating DJJ Youth Success Week with local community events throughout the state. (For details, please visit ). DJJ Youth Success Week focal events include displays in the Capitol, 2nd Floor Rotunda today and tomorrow, and the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation Youth Investment Awards “Completion Ceremony” at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library in Tallahassee on Thursday at 6 p.m.