Cuban American singer Pitbull — who was recently recognized by non-profit Amigos for Kids in their gala in Miami— talks about inspiring at-risk youth and what helped him beat the odds against him and become Mr. Worldwide.

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Pitbull —a.k.a Mr. Worldwide— may have a tight work schedule, but that doesn’t stop the Cuban American rapper from doing charitable work. The 36-year-old was recognized by nonprofit Amigos for Kids, whose mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect through education, at a gala in Miami on Nov. 4 for his dedication to children’s causes.

“It’s a true honor to receive the Amigos for Kids Lollipop Award,” Pitbull tells PEOPLE CHICA about the Miami-based organization, which helps kids and teens from low-income neighborhoods like Little Havana, where the singer grew up. “When something comes full circle, it’s a blessing. I️ remember helping Amigos for Kids in one of my old Miami neighborhoods before there was a Mr. Worldwide. It’s been fun to see it grow.”

Armando Christian Perez (Pitbull)

Little Havana is also home to SLAM (Sports Leadership and Management), a public charter school dedicated to creating college-bound students interested in pursuing careers in sports industries, that Pitbull opened in 2013. “I️ lived there, I understand their struggles as teens, but I just shoot it to them real,” he says. According to the singer, SLAM provides “opportunities so that they’ll be able to overcome troubles, but more so, show students the positive things in life.”

The rapper, who’s something of an expert at “turning a negative into a positive,” as he sings on hit song “Give Me Everthing,” says that SLAM has now expanded to seven schools in Miami, Las Vegas, and Palm Beach, with a new one being built in Alabama.

Growing up in drug-ravaged neighborhoods in the Sunshine State and struggling with poverty in a single parent household run by his mom made role models especially important to him. “My teacher Hope Martinez saw talent in me when everyone else didn’t,” he says of his former high school drama teacher. “Hope helped me find my own talent which was music.”

FL: Amigos for Kids 25th Anniversary Gala
Credit: (Alberto Tamargo for Amigos for Kids)

Now, the performer —who told President Donald Trump to build more schools instead of a wall— hopes to continue being a beacon of light for younger generations. “It’s important to motivate youth,” he emphasizes. “A small tweak in someone’s life can change them from getting into trouble to getting accepted into college. Kids and teens are like sponges. We can help to mold them positively, to help them understand that there’s only winning, no losing. Life isn’t easy, but if they fall down they’ll be stronger when they get back up.”