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Almost Two Hundred Gather to Help Youth at DJJ-DCF Summit

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ALTAMONTE SPRINGS -- A state-sponsored, faith-based summit that brought together almost 200 individuals who work with at-risk children across Florida ended this afternoon after two days of training, workshops and hearing from youth themselves on what could help improve their lives.

The goal of the "Our Children, Our Future: Faith and Community Symposium” is to connect resources, highlight best practices, provide training to enhance faith and community-based programs that serve children, and raise awareness of issues impacting at-risk youth and their families. The two-day event focused on collaborating on fresh perspectives in how to support delinquent and at-risk youth as they work to turn their lives around.

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary David Wilkins spoke about the importance of faith-based support in the lives of these youth. “There is no doubt that the work of these caring organizations can change the lives of our children,” he said. “We know that one individual person taking the time to mentor an at-risk child can make an extraordinary difference, and that’s why we are reaching out to faith-based groups to help us in our mission.”

The attendees for the conference included staff from DCF and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the public school system, the Early Learning Coalition, Catholic Charities, a public housing authority, more than two dozen churches and many other child welfare and community agencies.

The symposium also provided formal training for DJJ's Faith and Community Network Partners and Chaplaincy Services program, a comprehensive partnership designed to involve faith communities in providing voluntary programs and services to troubled youth to help them lead successful lives.

"Secretary Wilkins and I hope and trust this event has renewed the spirit, improved the focus, and increased the commitment we all share to serve Florida’s youth and families through faith communities and faith-based organizations,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.

Workshops for participants included empowering parents, gang prevention, foster care recruitment, providing shelter and food to families in need, domestic violence, serving the homeless, mentoring, and the importance of education in a child’s life. A panel of youth in foster care discussed their lives and what services they thought would be helpful to children in need in the community.

Speaker Travis Vining, author of “Transforming Darkness to Light for Giving: Spiritual Lessons from My Life with a Serial Killer,” inspired the crowd with his real-life story of overcoming a sociopathic, serial killer father through spiritual healing. Brenda Caldwell, a noted author and speaker, shared her plan for individual empowerment. Lucas Boyce, a former foster child who is now an author and works for the Orlando Magic, spoke about reaching his dreams after being born in a situation that many people cannot overcome.

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