(WSVN) - A South Florida organization is helping teens keep the faith and leave their troubled pasts behind. Karen Hensel has an inside look at the important mission in tonight’s 7 Spotlight.

Teenagers Rory, Twan and Charles have all been in trouble with the law.

Rory: “We’re all here for the same purpose, like committing a crime.”

Twan: “So me just trying to carry a gun to protect myself, and I end up getting caught by police.”

Charles: “I was at the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time. I shouldn’t be there, but I regret it, though.”

The three spent time locked up at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, but now they are trying to change the direction of their young lives.

Charles: “Don’t never let nobody tell you that you can’t be better in your life.”

That better future is becoming possible with the help of an organization called Youth for Christ Miami.

Rory: “They they teach us, like, the stuff we need in, like, the future, how to change and be a better person.”

Ronnie Lillard, Director of Juvenile Justice Ministry (talking to teens): “They say bad company corrupts good character.”

The faith-based organization has teams that go into detention centers. They are also there for the teens when they get out.

Ronnie Lillard: “This program initiated because we saw kids in jail who were always coming back to jail, and we said, ‘OK, so how do we do something that helps them when they are released that prevents them from coming back?'”

Ronnie Lillard: “Who remembers what we talked about last week?”

Ronnie Lillard is Youth for Christ’s Director of Juvenile Justice Ministry.

Ronnie Lillard: “I’m one of these kids. You know, I grew up as a kid in trouble.”

Ronnie and other adult role models help guide these teens onto a better path.

Ronnie Lillard: “To try to impart all our life lessons that we’ve learned ourselves onto them in a short amount of time. To say, ‘Hey, look. This is your window of opportunity to make a change.'”

And this is the room where that happens.

Ronnie Lillard (talking to teens): “Say, if I want to change my life.”

Teens: “If I want to change my life.”

Ronnie Lillard (talking to teens): “I gotta make some steps.”

Teens: “I gotta make some steps.”

Ronnie Lillard (talking to teens): “I gotta change some behaviors.”

Teens: “I gotta change some behaviors.”

They learn, share and play sports together. They also pray together.

Angel Terrero, Youth For Christ Miami: “In the name of Jesus, and all of God’s people say amen!”

Twan: “So he’s like a father figure I never had.”

Charles: “It’s just how people treat each other here; everybody got love for each other here.”

And that love and leadership, Ronnie says, has led to success stories.

Ronnie Lillard: “You get a phone call, ‘Man, thank you so much. I’m a father now, and I got a job, and I’m working steadily, and that whole life is behind me.’ And sometimes you see the exact opposite. We’ve had kids in this program over the last year. We’ve had over four or five kids be shot at or murdered.”

Cairi McNear was one of them. Police say the 17-year-old was gunned down in May by another teen during an argument at an apartment complex.

It is a heartbreaking example of the challenges Ronnie and his group face.

Ronnie Lillard: “That’s the poverty in this community. That’s the trauma in this community. It’s never-ending, but what we try to do is, for the moment that we can, do as much as we can for at least one or a few to try to make that change.”

Youth for Christ Miami is helping make that change in ways that go beyond their juvenile justice program, working with more than 3,000 kids and teens a year. If you would like to volunteer or donate, click here.

Karen Hensel, 7News.

If there’s someone or something you think we should feature, send us an email at 7spotlight@wsvn.com.

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