Sunshine and Hope in Pass-A-Grille
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
A green jeep cruises down Pass-A-Grille Way with a couple of paddleboards strapped to the top and a cooler wedged behind the passenger’s seat. A young girl with sun kissed skin crosses the two lane beach road, with a straw bag draped over her shoulder. The sound of a boat motor can be heard in the distance, as a lone seagull flies overhead.
It’s just another beautiful day heading towards Pass-A-Grille Beach, past a smattering of seafood restaurants and waterfront real estate. Most of the beach route properties are predictable, but there is one building in particular that is unlike anything surrounding it.
Nestled between the million dollar mansions and just a pebble’s throw away from the opulent Don CeSar Hotel, stands an unassuming structure that has many wondering what goes on inside of it.
“I’ve driven up and down Pass-A-Grille Way countless times and never knew what the building was for,” confided a beach visitor.
The mysterious building, one of the most modest on its street, may also be one of the most spectacular as well.
AMIkids provides hope and inspiration to at-risk youth, and it calls this stretch of beach in St. Pete home. The Pinellas chapter is one of more than fifty programs across the country affiliated with the nationally-recognized AMIkids, which has its headquarters in Tampa, Florida and is only one of a few juvenile justice programs with national education accreditation. During school hours and after school hours, the program at AMIkids Pinellas offers alternative education to teen boys and girls, ages 14-18.
In the late 1960s, Juvenile Court Judge Frank Orlando, founded AMIkids as an alternative approach to incarceration and traditional reform schools. Judge Orlando began his vision by collaborating with contacts from all over the state of Florida to get troubled boys involved with local marine institute programs.
Researchers and scientists served as mentors for the at-risk youth, helping to keep them out of Judge Orlando’s courtroom. As a result, AMIkids positively impacted over 105,000 teens by redirecting their lives with customized education plans and supportive role models.
On average, three million high school students drop out each year and one million are incarcerated, which in turn implements a ripple effect. The effect, once set into play, can be quite difficult to overcome. Destructive behavior patterns inevitably lead to arrests, where three out of four who are jailed repeat the vicious cycle and are in and out of prison for life. Research states that when a juvenile offender is put into jail, it does not reduce future crime, and wastes taxpayers’ money, exposes them to violence and provides no benefit to public safety. Furthermore, locking up these teens isn’t cheap. On average each year it costs the state $88,000 per jailed youth.
AMIkids has saved Florida more than $30,000 for every at-risk teen participating in its programs.
And what exactly makes AMIkids so effective at reversing the negative repercussions of the ripple effect? A combination of academics, behavioral modification and counseling seems to be just the right recipe for setting the stage for bright futures. Within one year, 80% of AMIkids do not reoffend, 67% have earned their GEDs or enrolled in some kind of college or vocational training, and will have gained a full grade level after being previously unsuccessful.
AMIkids Pinellas provides a skills-based after school program, as well as a day program for teens struggling with academics and behavior-related issues in the traditional school based setting to help with dropout prevention.
During the school year, students participate in a structured curriculum of academics with the guidance of certified teachers and work to develop personal management skills through an integrated behavior modification system. AMIkids utilizes something called a Personal Growth Model (PGM), which is a nationally recognized, evidence-based intervention customized uniquely for each student and his/her specific needs. With the model, at-risk youth can acquire and/or strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate antisocial, negative actions through consistent reinforcement and relationship structuring. Students are regularly tested during their enrollment and participate in monthly reviews of their personalized academic improvement plans.
At AMIkids Pinellas, teens can earn Microsoft Office Certification and SafeStaff Food Handler Certificates through on-site classes.
Through the programs offered at AMIkids Pinellas, at-risk teens can be redirected and reach attainable goals, such as developing confidence, becoming academically successful and accepting personal responsibility through their actions.
There is no doubt that as the reverse ripple effect spreads, more and more will start to notice the profound difference AMIkids is making on society, including a few famous faces. Tony Dungy, President Clinton, Former U.S. Senator and Governor of the State of Florida, Bob Graham and the late Walter Cronkite have all endorsed AMIkids and recognized how great its impact has been on our youth. When it comes to success stories associated with AMIkids alumni, not surprisingly, there are plenty to be shared.
AMIkids has proven it is an organization that can implement positive change in the lives of thousands of young people. It has delivered hope that was once lost. It has secured promises that were, in the past, unable to be met. It has enabled, encouraged, and inspired in ways never thought possible. Without AMIkids, many at-risk teens would fail and never receive the help they need.
So, the next time you take a drive down Pass-A-Grille Way in St. Pete Beach, remember to turn your head towards that mysterious little building, simple and modest. It may not seem like much, but what happens inside is far grander and more magnificent than any beachfront mansion. Housed within AMIkids Pinellas, dreams are waiting to come true, a vision of a brighter tomorrow is promised and the strength needed to achieve the impossible is possible.
****And since AMIkids is a non-profit organization, donations are always well needed. In order to save kids, we must be able to save the programs. AMIkids depends on cash contributions, as well as other tax deductible gifts and property donations, from local businesses, community members and organizations. Please click on the link below and start helping AMIkids today so they can continue to help the future of tomorrow.