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Children’s Champion Renata Hannans

July 13, 2015

United Way of Northeast Florida’s prestigious Sherwood H. Smith Children’s Champion Awards in Advocacy and Service recognize outstanding community members whose personal or professional work improves the quality of life for children in Northeast Florida. The 2015 Award in Advocacy was given to Renata Hannans, whose call for juvenile justice reform is giving life back to youth who need a second chance.

Renata Hannans - Sherwood Smith Award Winner
The world told Renata Hannans and that her choices as a developing adolescent were going to have lifelong negative consequences, and that her opportunities were limited as a teen parent and a college dropout.

Believing that all youth deserve the chance to change their lives and overcome systemic disadvantages, Hannans is telling the world something different.

She went back to college and graduated from Jacksonville University in 2010, and now works as a case manager and youth advocate with Communities In Schools Jacksonville, a United Way partner agency in education.

In addition to her career as a case manager, Hannans makes weekly visits to the Duval Regional Detention Center to mentor female youth and encourage them to see their potential.

Through these personal interactions, she has also become a tireless voice for juvenile justice reform and dedicates her time to humanizing children and adolescents, whose future is stripped away by a sentence that sees a mistake instead of a possibility.

As part of her advocacy, Hannans captured the personal portraits of ten youth in the juvenile justice system in her book P.S. Never Give Up Hope. Published in 2013, this collection of stories helps educate key decision makers on the lifelong impact of harshly sentencing youth as adults.

“All children are at risk of making one bad decision,” said Hannans, who asks policymakers and members of the justice system to seriously consider if harsh punishments that effectively eliminate the chance of a productive life are fitting for youth and beneficial to our communities.

Hannans believes that many youth are unfairly tried as adults, often as a result of plea deals that are more concerned with statistics than changing the status quo. As more and more youth serve lifelong sentences, the social cost compounds.

Advocating in Tallahassee and across the state, Hannans contributed to successfully appealed sentences that have led to giving youth and young adults real chances at changing their lives.

“She equips youth at risk of entering the juvenile justice system, and those already well within its grasp, with the encouragement needed to build their self-worth,” said Schanna Speight-Johnson, a teacher at PACE Center for Girls.

“They are empowered to make more productive choices for themselves.”

This component of Hannans service is especially important, as her advocacy is most concerned with effective sentences, rehabilitative services and preventative action will actually reduce crime long-term by breaking counterproductive cycles.

As a volunteer, a dedicated agency worker and a deeply compassionate child advocate, Renata Hannans is an exemplary recipient of the 2015 Sherwood H. Smith Award in Advocacy. Her example of redeeming personal experiences to advance the common good embodies United Way’s spirit of overcoming personal obstacles and helping others help themselves.