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Empowered Youth

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WSVN -- Shooting hoops together, these teens seem happy and carefree, but growing up their lives were much different.

Jonas Ortiz: "Since I was young I lived in hard neighborhoods."

Sixteen-year-old Jonas started selling drugs at age nine.

Jonas Ortiz: "My environment was kids walking around with guns, selling, with money, that's what I thought was the right thing."

He joined a gang and got into trouble with the law.

Jonas Ortiz: "I used to rob houses with them. We used to snatch purses."

His mom trying to raise three kids on her own didn't know what to do.

Ailsa Ortiz, Jonas' Mom: "What should I do, you know, put him in a room? Lock him up? Don't let him go out anywhere?"

By 15, Jonas ended up in juvenile detention.

Jonas Ortiz: "The charges were attempted murder on an officer, battery, aggravated assault, resisting arrest with violence."

Eighteen-year old Juan also spent time behind bars.

Juan Bezada: "I was making some bad mistakes in my life. I made a big mistake coming across a firearm."

The memories of being locked up make him shiver.

Juan Bezada: "You're up in a cold room, the sheets are real thin, it's nothing nice."

Their lives turned around when they met Colleen Adams who volunteers to help juvenile offenders to get their charges reduced or dropped.

Colleen Adams, Founder Empowered Youth Neighborhood: "So many of these kids feel so trapped in their lives and in their neighborhoods and they don't see any way out."

So, she started a program called Empowered Youth Neighborhood. It aims at getting troubled teens on the right track by offering them opportunities.

Colleen Adams: "Showing them the path to success, to use their gifts in positive ways."

Like, instead of spray painting graffiti she helped the kids create this mural in Liberty City. They came up with the design to send a message of non-violence.

Seventeen-year-old Marquis grew up here he joined empowered youth to stay out of trouble.

Marquis Cos: "They encourage us. They just do so much. They do more than what your parents can do just by talking to you."

Since joining the program Juan is now focused on playing high school football.

Juan Bezada: "I am a team leader. I like to give a lot of respect. I like to be first at everything I do."

Jonas also got a second chance. He finished his probation early and graduated the program. Now, he's rebuilding his relationship with his mom and wants to dedicate his life to helping others.

Jonas Ortiz: "Before I got a thrill from hurting, now I get a thrill from helping."

If juvenile offenders join the program and graduate their charges may be reduced or dropped. Colleen also started Empowered Youth Entrepreneurs to help these teens start their own businesses.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Empowered Youth Neighborhoodwww.empoweredyouthusa.org colleen.empoweredyouth@gmail.com

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