Mike* was dancing wildly to hip hop music before running up to me and confidently stating, “I’m a leader.” He told me about how he ran to be a class officer and lost but how he was not going to give up. He talked about his search for a life-long mentor and how he wanted to make the world a better place. Not the type of random conversation you would expect at an outdoor community event, but MY LIFE youth are not average.

Since 2007, Magellan Youth Leaders Inspiring Future Empowerment, or MY LIFE, has proactively sought to change the trajectory of young lives engaged in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, as well as youth with behavioral challenges. Led by Greg Dicharry, Magellan’s national director for youth empowerment, monthly MY LIFE groups and annual MY FEST events have provided thousands of youth an opportunity to connect to their community and hear stories of overcoming hardships and reaching for their full potential. In Florida alone, groups in Tallahassee, Orlando and West Palm Beach enable over 100 youth ages 13 to 23 to meet monthly in a safe environment where fun and inspiration are plentiful.

Getting to spend time with youth involved in MY LIFE underscores the impact. One young man who has been attending a Florida MY LIFE group for three years described how the motivational speaker’s life lessons inspired him to focus on his future instead of focusing on his past. He told me about the hard times he was going through now and how the stories of the speakers going through tragic times provided him with the feeling that “it’s not too late for me.” It was a tough thought to imagine that at only 16 years old, this young man felt like the cards had already been stacked against him. MY LIFE provides a consistent message that he and his peers have the power and support to create a future different from their current reality.

And then there was Mike with his boundless energy. He may never lose that energy, which could either lead him down a path that is damaging to himself and others, or one that honors his strengths and abilities as he contributes to society. MY LIFE has helped him set upon the latter path. His future can now be one where his energy is directed into developing his leadership skills, pursuing higher education and a meaningful career, despite the challenges he might face at home or at school.

MY LIFE is just one way Magellan is supporting young leaders to help make our communities stronger.

*Mike is not this individual’s real name.