Local organization leads kids with troubled pasts to their bright futures

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You don't really know their stories until you talk to them, but what you find is that many of the teen boys at AMIkids Pinellas want out of the cycle they're in.

They've been in handcuffs; they stay in trouble at school; they seem angry all the time. For a lot of them, being arrested is the only way to fit in.

"Some actually take it as a badge of honor. You know, 'I've been in trouble with the law’,” said Robert Johnson, Executive Director of AMIkids Pinellas.

It's not reform school or jail; it's a diversion program focused on character building. At AMIkids, there's a real chance for change, an opportunity to turn these teens into young men.

The ones who come Johnson's way are lucky.

"You have to get involved with the  kids," he explained.

Sixteen-year-old Benny Huggins didn't pass the seventh grade. He may have fallen through the cracks, but with the help of AMIKids Pinellas, he'll be ready to head to tenth grade next summer.

And he knows just what it will take to continue succeeding. 

"Hard work and dedication," he said.

Two years ago, you would have never have heard Bennie talking like that. It took AMIkids to help him become a better one.

What sets this organization apart: When these kids meet certain goals, they get to get out on the water for fishing trips, fun and freedom, and for the best of the best, they get to go on a whitewater rafting trip in North Carolina.

Bennie had never taken a trip like that. They learn some pretty good life lessons on that raft. Bennie explained it perfectly.

"You need to work together at the same pace so that one side don't overcome the other side. You have to work together to make it right," he said proudly.

Their creed is "The Ripple Effect", defined as the continued and spreading effect of a singular action. Bennie also learned what it means to have someone looking out for you.

"The person in the front would tell us there were rocks in front so we wouldn't hit them. We'd go around 'em," he said.

He gets the metaphor.

Robert Johnson won't have luck with all of them, but he gets through to most. He remembers one in particular- a story that stays with him.

"To see him now," he said smiling, "It's the greatest thing. When you see a kid out in the community and they come up and they say, 'I want to thank you for what you did for me’.”

AMIkids Pinellas is having it's 18th Annual Last Man Standing fundraiser Thursday, November 5th at 6 p.m. It's $100 a couple and there are a few seats left. Good Day Tampa Bay's Laura Moody is emceeing.

Call 727-471-0390, ext. 208 for tickets to attend.

Click here for more information on AMIkids.