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Secretary's Message

May 3, 2017

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter

Last week was a productive and busy time for DJJ staff, our providers, and our stakeholders, as we continued our work in bettering the lives of Florida’s children and families.  I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our agency staff, our colleagues, and the youth in our care. 

As a reminder, don’t forget that I am always looking for opportunities to showcase the work you all do – on and off the clock – to enrich our communities. I know there is even more going on than what I report here, so I would like to encourage each of you to keep the weekly letter in mind and remember to share your good news. It’s easy – email news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon. 


Christina K. Daly

Residential Facilities Compete in Inaugural Pinewood Car Challenge

Director of Education Julie Orange and Northeast Education Specialist Renette Crosby served as judges during the inaugural Pinewood Car Challenge between the Marion Youth Academy (MYA) a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 19, which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, LLC., and Challenge Youth Academy (CYA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 18, which is operated by Eckerd Kids. The young men at both facilities did a tremendous job designing and building their cars and behaved beautifully during the event. Congratulations to Challenge Youth Academy and its students for winning the inaugural Pinewood Car Challenge!

Pictured above (from left to right): Northeast Education Specialist Renette Crosby, MYA teacher David Ulmholtz and Director of Education Julie Orange. 

The Pinewood Car Challenge was an extremely successful event thanks to the organization, cooperation, and planning of Joey Nice, from Eckerd, and Robert Alexander, MYA HBI instructor.  A special thanks goes to MYA Facility Administrator John Fletcher and to CYA Facility Director Tracy Emery and their respective staffs for their support of this event, as well as Dwan Thomas, alternative learning program manager for Marion County Schools, who arranged transportation for the MYA staff and students. 

The biggest thanks goes to the students in both programs. These young men did a tremendous job in designing and building their cars and were all gracious and humble during the competition.  Both programs should be very proud of their students. While ultimately a winner was chosen, it was a successful event for all involved as the process and learning opportunities were the ultimate reward for each of the youth. 

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Celebrates 25 Years 

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) is celebrating its 25th anniversary and last week I along with our staff were in attendance at their Inter-Site Conference in Orlando. While you may know that Florida took part in JDAI in 1992, it was detention reforms in Broward County that inspired the creation of JDAI.  From 1987 to 1992, Broward County combined interagency collaboration with research, objective screening procedures, non-secure detention alternatives and faster case processing to reduce its detention population. Following that effort, five nationwide sites joined JDAI’s demonstration phase in 1992.

JDAI’s roots began in Florida and I’m proud that our state is continuing this reform work to this day. The momentum behind JDAI is possible in large part to DJJ’s JDAI staff that work in collaboration with our local stakeholders to achieve the great successes we have seen. Thank you to our JDAI coordinators Gina Gibbs, Karin Popkowski, Minnie Bishop, Randi Taylor and Vicki Burke (pictured left) for serving as the JDAI experts within our agency. Your efforts have moved our juvenile justice system forward and I am excited to continue our work that began so many years ago right here in our state. 

Prevention Update

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims and Delinquency Prevention Specialist Marie Boswell attended a Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) in Fort Lauderdale on April 12. During the meeting, youth and officers from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department (FLPD) broke into groups to identify top priorities and challenges faced in the community, as well as to discuss misconceptions on both sides. The groups then met as a whole to review their findings. The officers provided feedback on what to do when someone is stopped and explained the rights of citizens when it comes to searches and arrests. The atmosphere was positive, as well as the interactions, creating an inviting environment for some youth who were hesitant to open up to law enforcement.

Assistant Secretary Sims traveled from Tallahassee to support this effort and presented each youth with a certificate of participation. Special thanks to Officer Lockwood and the rest of the officers from FLPD who were present, for participating and engaging youth in these conversations and coming up with solutions to create positive interactions. More than 75 people attended, including 36 youth, 11 law enforcement officers, faith partners, providers and DJJ staff members. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Rev. George A. Hardy, Alice Sims and Minister George Ellis.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Dionne Anderson and Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson coordinated a Bridging the G.A.A.P. conversation with the Federation of Families of Central Florida and Wraparound Orange on April 19. The conversation hosted law enforcement officers from the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The moderator, an 18-year-old who has been involved with the DJJ system and turned his life around, provided encouraging words to the youth. He encouraged them to respect their parents and reminded them that change comes from within. He also shared the benefits of turning his life around. Topics of discussion included the consequences of going deeper into the juvenile system, respecting one another, and how economic status can affect juvenile decisions in life. Officers shared their life struggles growing up and encouraged the youth that they too can become successful despite what negative things may encounter.    

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Lydia Breaux-Davis and CPO Paul Wallis from Circuit 1 attended a Youth Success Recognition Ceremony hosted by the Santa Rosa Juvenile Justice Council at the Locklin Vocational Technical School in Milton. The Honorable Ross M. Goodman was the keynote speaker and he spoke to the youth on the importance of setting goals and implementing strategies to reach them. Judge Goodman congratulated the youth on their accomplishments and encouraged them to continue on their successful paths.

Santa Rosa Juvenile Justice Council recognized 14 youth with certificates and gift bags. Members of the council  are Jessica Walker, Chair; Robin White, Vice Chair; and Brittany Williams, Secretary. Refreshments were also catered by students in the culinary program at Locklin Vocational Technical School. 

Probation Update 

Staff and youth in Circuit 19 had the opportunity to participate in the Saint Lucie County Sheriff Pop –Up Park Party.  This event is held to support youth in the community as well as encourage communication between residents. This event also provides them with the opportunity to meet with local law enforcement. Dorothy Malik, assistant chief probation officer, was also in attendance and was glad to see Project Bridge youth participating this event. Youth enjoyed hotdogs and a few games of basketball with local law enforcement.

In recognition of the importance mentors play in the lives of young people, Eckerd Kids Project Bridge celebrated National Volunteer Week with a series of events in the community. Circuit 12 hosted the First Annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at the Desoto Housing Authority in Arcadia on April 20.

Project Bridge youth and staff set-up and decorated for the evening and designed hand-made gift baskets for the event. The youth and mentors had the opportunity to enjoy dinner and dessert and in addition, the youth received words of encouragement from their mentors as they were presented with certificates of appreciation for their service to Project Bridge.

The youth then showed their appreciation by thanking the mentors, at which time youth AE relayed that “Many of us have done things we aren’t proud of and have already hit the bottom of the barrel and most people have given up on us. We are thankful to have people like you who have given us a second chance.” 

As a result of the JDAI Conditions of Confinement Facility Assessment work in 2016, one exciting and ground-breaking project has recently been implemented. Dr. Mikah Owen, a University of Florida pediatrician, identified the need for a continuum of health care for youth in our juvenile justice system. As a result, Dr. Owen and his team have opened several community-based medical homes for DJJ youth and their siblings, until they reach age 26. An MOU was recently signed by the DJJ Circuit 4 Chief Probation Officer Donna Webb and the Agape Community Health Center, Inc. The medical homes will address all aspects of health care services including medical, mental health, vision, dental and housing. This is an excellent way to help fulfill DJJ’s mission to serve our youth by improving their physical and mental health.  

Pictured above (from left to right): JDAI Coordinator Vicki Burke, Kristin Murray, DBW Policy Center; Dr. Owen; Betsy Dobbins and Rob Mason, Circuit 4 Public Defender’s Office       

Circuit 6 Reform Specialist Adrienne Conwell participated in the Missions Expo at the Anona United Methodist Church in Largo on April 23. This special event was developed to bring awareness of the volunteer opportunities available as well as the wide array of services that are available in the community of Pinellas County.   

Adrienne was able to share information about the Department’s vision, services provided as well as disseminate a variety of brochures. With April being National Volunteer Month, it was wonderful to have half a dozen people inquire and sign up for volunteer opportunities with DJJ. 

Circuit 13 Reform Specialist Sandra Pinkney teamed up with Khalilah Daniels from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida to host a screening of the documentary film “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opioid Addict.” The screening was followed by a panel discussion, which featured panelists from the judiciary, law enforcement and community professionals who talked about heroin and opioid prevention, enforcement and treatment. The panelists included: Daniel Baeza, assistant U. S. attorney; Sergeant Rick Landry, Tampa Police Department; Antoinette Hagley, DACCO; and Alicia Divico, Chrysalis Health.

The Circuit 20 probation team came together for their first ever annual team-building day at Lakes Park in Fort Myers on April 21. The team-building focused on staff getting to know everyone within the five county circuit. There were team-building exercises promoting teamwork, decision-making and working together as one team. 

The Circuit 20 management team recognized Mary Jane Wright, Arie Fuller and Joe Dinda on Administrative Professionals’ Day on April 26. The management team applauded all three of our support staff members for their tireless work and dedication in providing assistance to the probation staff in Circuit 20.

SJPO Takeria Peterson and JPOs Deon Wimberly and Loredana McKenzie participated in a joint probation and detention facility beautification project on the grounds of the Pinellas RJDC on April 19. These officers assisted with the clean-up and attended a barbeque afterwards which was organized by the staff at Pinellas.

Detention Update

Congratulations to Sergeant Alison Stanton who was recently named to the supervisory team at the Okaloosa RJDC. Sargent Stanton began her career at Okaloosa in 1998 and her dedication and expertise is essential to the team. Stanton is the current transportation coordinator at Okaloosa and has been an essential part of the transition at the facility and is always a team player. 

Maintenance Mechanic Alex Cochran from Okaloosa celebrated a milestone birthday on April 20 and Food Services Director Linda Smudzinski baked him a cake for all of the staff to enjoy. Cochran is a tried and true member of the Okaloosa team and does his best to keep the facility up to date and looking good.

Pictured above (from left to right) Front Row: FSD Smudzinski, ADS Preston, AA Mrs. Beck and MM Alex Cochran. Back row: DS Veguilla, JDOI Hackney and JDOI Vaughn. 

Congratulations also go to JJDOII Laketia Hafeez from Okaloosa who was recently named Employee of the Month for the North Region and was presented with a certificate and gift card from Chief Sheddrick Brooks. Officer Hafeez’s accepted this award for her constant team spirit and support to the Department’s mission. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Lt. D. Brown, AA E. Beck, DS A Veguilla,JJDOII L. Hafeez, ADS C Preston and Chief OPM S, Brooks.

The volunteer and mentoring program Okaloosa detention center has with Eglin Air Force Base continues to be a great success for the facility. The program was initiated by Staff Sargent Christopher Ford from Eglin and his airmen have dedicated their time to serve as role models for our youth at the facility.  Our seasoned mentors took time and shared their stories and testimony of what they have experienced thus far and everyone in the house signed up to make a difference.

On April 1, the volunteer core from Eglin helped to clean, organize and purge our records shed at the facility. Following the clean-up, the core began an evening basketball game with our youth. They continue to come out for a pick-up game regularly.

On April 7, Senior Airman Christopher Calloway and the Honor Guard from Eglin held a POW-MIA ceremony for our youth to experience. The youth really appreciated their dedication to our country and asked many questions. The core was eager to share their experiences and encouraged them to always have faith and hope.

On April 13, an additional 15 airmen from Eglin signed up to serve as a volunteer at Okaloosa. Superintendent Ariel Veguilla thanked each one of these new volunteers for their service to our country and service to our facility. We look forward to this new group and all they have to offer for our youth! 

The Marion RJDC recently welcomed Christian rap group Clean State Living to the facility. The group, which hails from New York, makes an annual visit to Marion each year. In addition, one of the volunteers at the facility provided free books for our youth to enjoy.  

The Pasco RJDC hosted a volunteer appreciation luncheon at their facility on April 25. This was a chance for Pasco staff to express their gratitude to the volunteers for their service to both the youth and staff. Assistant Superintendent Diana Francis opened up the luncheon and introduced the volunteers to Pasco’s new Superintendent Diana Newell. The facility awarded each of the volunteers with a certificate of appreciation and party favors which included a toy shovel and candy. The gift tag read, “Digging our volunteers for pitching in and making a difference in the life of a child. Thank you for your service.”  

The Collier RJDC held a badge ceremony for their newest juvenile detention officers who graduated from the academy on March 31. The ceremony ended with a luncheon for the new staff members which included a cake congratulating them for making it through the academy.

Congratulations to JJDO Eursula Harrison from the Leon RJDC who was named Employee of the Month for the North Region. Harrison was honored by North Regional Director Jeff Wenhold with a certificate and gift card for her outstanding work. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Superintendent Conrad McCray, JJDO Eursula Harrison, North Regional Director Jeff Wenhold and Captain Sherell Dancy 

The Duval County Public School System put together a Black History Program entitled “History is Now,” for the youth at the Duval RJDC. Mrs. Kimberly Hester, lead teacher, and Corey McNair, English/Language Arts teacher organized the special event and worked with the youth who participated in the program. The program featured guest speaker and local entrepreneur Stanley McClary who offered our youth encouraging words on how to move past their current situations and move on to a more prosperous life for themselves. 

Celebrating National Volunteer Month, Major Terry Carter from the Manatee RJDC has displayed pictures of his local volunteers and the work they do within the facility assisting and mentoring our youth. The poster display is designed to allow visitors to the facility see the work our volunteers are doing and recruit them to come volunteer themselves. 

The St. Lucie RJDC hosted a volunteer luncheon on April 26 for those dedicated souls who graciously give their time and service to the facility. The youth at St. Lucie prepared cards for the volunteers to express how thankful they were for their service, and the administrators at St. Lucie purchased gifts for each of them. During the luncheon, St. Lucie gave special recognition to their dedicated volunteer, Betty Merricks, who has been with the facility for the last 26 years.  

The Hillsborough RJDC welcomed special guests from the Lowry Park Zoo who stopped by with a few of their furry companions to educate our youth about the animals in their care. The youth were able have an up close and personal view of the animals and really enjoyed learning about their natural environments. 

The Pinellas RJDC hosted a volunteer appreciation forum on April 26. Major Joseph Seeber handed our certificates of appreciation to all of our volunteers who were also treated to cake and refreshments. The volunteers shared their success stories with the youth in our care and discussed plans for future activities with staff.  All had a great time and seemed to have gained more energy for future volunteerism at the facility. 

The Detention Services Central Region Office held a regional personnel liaison training at the regional office on April 26. In addition to the training, each liaison was treated to lunch, flowers and other goodies in honor of Administrative Professionals’ Day. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Constance O’Brien (Brevard RJDC); Jill Jestes (Pinellas RJDC); Sandra Flament (Central Region Office); Mary Lardie (Central Region Office); Lisa Arent (Central Region Office); Sue Freiberg (Orange RJDC); Connie Dixon (Orange RJDC); Melody Chisholm (Central Region Office); Jaquita White (Hillsborough RJDC).

Residential Update

Select youth from Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida LLC., toured Jacksonville City Hall and visited the Office of Mayor Lenny Curry. The tour included the city council chambers and was very insightful and educational. The students learned from the tour guide about the inner workings of city government as they walked the halls where all the big decisions are made. The students came away inspired and with a better understanding of how city business is handled.

Later that week, eight residents visited Edward Waters College for an event held by Operation Save Our Sons. The youth entered a classroom with students from other schools and programs and Ronnie Mason talked to them about achieving their goals and making positive decisions. The event included student speakers who formed a group called EVAC, which meets with Jacksonville’s mayor and the state’s attorney to find ways to help young people succeed in life. The young men shared their thoughts on how to help today’s youth. They also enjoyed a game of basketball and lunch from Chick-Fil-A.  

The amazing week’s adventures weren’t over yet as six residents attended the Beta Alpha Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s 12th Annual Community Pearls Luncheon, honoring the “pearls” of Jacksonville and first responders including fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, and other emergency personnel. It was held at the Havana Jax restaurant where the youth assisted in directing traffic for parking before the event and assisted in serving water and cake during the luncheon. The luncheon included musical performances, dancing, videos, and guest speakers including the Honorable Angela M. Cox, Ken Jefferson, Dr. Victoria Bryant-Riggins, and many others.  

Knowing that no one likes to spend holidays away from home, the administrations and staffs of the Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center and the Cypress Creek Treatment Center, which are secure programs for boys, ages 15 to 21, and are operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC., try to make the best out of every situation for the boys in their care.  All of the residents had the opportunity to color Easter eggs, sharing laughs and taking part in holiday festivities. The residents from all of the living units and many different backgrounds worked collectively to color and decorate eggs.

Orange Youth Academy (OYA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, and the Orlando Intensive Youth Academy (OIYA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 12 to 18, which are both operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, are happy to have on-site the Companions for Courage Program.  This is a community outreach program of the South Lake Animal League, a non-profit organization in Central Florida.  The organization has a partnership with DJJ, G4S, OYA, and OIYA for the dogs to attend therapy groups on-site with the boys twice a month. 

Animal-assisted therapy provides a source of comfort, companionship, and a way for the boys to learn life skills.  The youth and staff members enjoy having the dogs attend group sessions. Most of the residents ask questions, pet the dogs, and gain knowledge about rescued pets and how important dogs are in the community. 

Last week, those who attended group sessions with the youth included Tavarius Roberson (G4S), DJJ Chief of Contract Development Penny Alsop, DJJ Residential Services Management Review Specialist Monica Webb (Central Region), Joanne Rittenhouse (Companions for Courage), and the Companions for Courage dogs, which included Karl and Maverick.  Animal-assisted therapy is one source of treatment for the youth in our care.