MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Being a leader has always come naturally to 17-year-old high school senior Jahquan Wagnac, but that ability got lost during a low point in his life, when he says he and his brother got into a physical fight and Wagnac ended up going to jail. That’s how he ended up at Fit 2 Lead, a youth enrichment and sports program where teens and children learn to communicate their feelings, work together to solve problems and get help with their homework.
“I had anger problems so my parole officer really thought this program could really help me,” said Wagnac. “I no longer have anger problems. I am more calm. I’m more professional. I’m really thinking about my career more often.”
Wagnac owes a lot of that focus on his future to Patrice Charles, a Fit 2 Lead recreation leader who has been showing the teenager a different way.
“He’s one of the special ones,” said Charles. “He’s got a lot on his plate, but somehow, some way, he’s one of these kids that has a vision and he wants to go for it. I feel he’s doing everything for himself, but I’m just here for him whenever he falls. I’m here to say, ‘Hey, you got this, so let’s keep going at it.'”
Charles knows what it’s like to struggle as a teen. He arrived in South Florida from Haiti when he was 11-years-old and spent agonizing years trying to adapt and fit in.
“It was a horrible time,” he said. “Can you imagine having to learn another language, or having to constantly think about what you’re doing, or the culture difference? It was totally different for me because I had to kind of change my whole culture, trying to adapt to a new one. It took time. It was something I wanted to do for myself, for my family, to be successful in life. So that’s something I hold dear to me, and that’s what I try to tell the kids– it’s really your expectation. It’s not nobody else’s expectations, so that’s something I have. I have high expectations for myself. When I put my mind to do something, I’m going to go for it.”
Together, Charles and Wagnac work on life skills like communication, social skills, time management and teamwork. They focus on conflict resolution, thinking before acting and consequences. Charles makes sure Wagnac’s grades are on track, and that he stays focused on the right priorities.
“I had teachers that really pushed me, and they saw that I had potential,” said Charles. “What they did for me, I have the chance to do that for them.”
“He always says, ‘Never give up,’ so I never give up,” said Wagnac. “I always strive for the best.”
Wagnac says his whole life has changed since he joined the Fit 2 Lead program. He and his brother have made peace, and he now says he takes school seriously, has stopped getting in trouble and is focused on his future, constantly researching colleges and career options.
“Where I’m from, a lot of people are unemployed,” said Wagnac. “So we talk more about that, and how to budget your money, how to save money, how to cope with problems, situations you’re in, how to think through all that, how to use your brain and solve your problems. We talk more about our careers, so we can think wisely and choose a career that fits us.”
Wagnac has now become a mentor himself, moving into an internship position in the same program, which provides entry-level, part-time paid positions for at-risk youth. They receive on-site practical work experience, as well as enrichment classes focusing on life skills.
“I like mentoring, because when I was younger, nobody ever mentored me,” said Wagnac. “So I was raised not to step up for the youth, tell them things, let them know ahead of time, because I’m just now knowing things. I’m just now waking up. I want to wake them up now, while they’re young.”
Wagnac says he wants to prevent the younger Fit 2 Lead children from making the same mistakes he did, and to provide them a positive example, the way Charles did for him.
“Support plays a big role,” said Wagnac. “I wish I had more support and more role models, somebody that could tell me right from wrong.”
Now, more mature, more productive and more experienced, Wagnac will graduate this year from Green Springs High School. He is excited to continue his education, and plans to study sound engineering. Charles is sure to keep tabs on him, and many other youth in the program, both present and future.
Fit 2 Lead is underway in 11 parks throughout Miami-Dade County. CLICK HERE to find out more about the program, and how you can get involved.
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