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Secretary's Message

July 10, 2017

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter 

I hope that each of you had a happy and safe Independence Day and spent the holiday celebrating with friends and family. Even with a shortened work week, our DJJ team was hard at work serving Florida’s youth 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

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Circuit 20 Administrative Assistant Mary Jane Wright was recognized as the Circuit 20 Employee of the Quarter for the second quarter of 2017 during a recent circuit management team meeting. Mary Jane came to the Office of Probation last year after a 35-year career with the Department of Children and Families. She has a wealth of knowledge in the area of human resources and worked independently to complete hiring packets, purchasing, inventory and a host of other tasks. Mary Jane is the consummate professional and always has a great attitude. Without her hard work and dedication, the circuit wouldn’t operate as functionally and smoothly as it does. Congratulations Mary on receiving this honor!

Volunteers Help Paint Murals at DJJ Detention Facility 


Members of the Junior League of Fort Myers generously donated their time to paint superheroes and positive affirmations on the walls inside the Southwest RJDC. The project, which concluded on July 1, took several months to complete and really sets off the newly painted walls, curtains and new furniture in the multipurpose room. Thank you to the Junior League of Fort Myers for helping to give back to our detention center. 

Detention staff from the Miami-Dade RJDC coordinated a baby shower for an expectant mother who was staying at the facility. The youth and the female staff members wore pajamas and enjoyed a fun filled day of activities. In addition to the baby shower games, the party guests enjoyed a lunch of pizza, fried chicken and other delicious goodies. After lunch, the expectant mother opened gifts which were generously given by our detention staff members. I want to thank our Miami-Dade RJDC detention staff for going above and beyond for this youth and making sure that she felt cared for during her stay at the center. 

The July 4th holiday gets everyone who works for DJJ in the patriotic spirit, and it was no different for Food Service Workers Marian Topakian and Stephanie Shirley from the Pasco RJDC. The pair celebrated the holiday by baking a pull apart cupcake flag cake for all of the youth at the facility to enjoy. 

Prevention Staff Attends Tallahassee Youth Summit 

Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady, Legislative Affairs Director Meredith Stanfield and Prevention Specialist Onazina Washington III attended the Florida Youth Summit’s Rally to Tally at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tallahassee. Rally to Tally, conducted by the Close Up Foundation, brought students from Palm Beach County for a four-day program that focused on exposing youth to higher education opportunities and empowering them to become more civically engaged. Throughout the week, students researched state and local community issues, generated policy proposals, developed a Youth Agenda for Action, and met with public officials to share their agenda.

Pictured above (from left to right): Verla Lawson-Grady, Onazina Washington and Meredith Stanfield. 

Meredith, Verla and Onazina served on a panel before 49 high school students and sponsors.  The students presented proposed solutions to the issues they face in their communities.  Following a three-day investigation of a variety of pressing statewide issues, the students developed a set of policy proposals to address concerns that they felt affected their communities.  The Agenda for Policy Action consisted of recommendations to the Florida Legislature.

The panel addressed the youths’ questions and provided recommendations as to how they should proceed.  Students were encouraged to work closely with their parents, providers and community partners to identify resources which would benefit their needs and work closely with their teachers in relation to contacting legislators in their area.

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims served as the organizer and meet director for the 2017 AAU National Junior Olympics Qualifier on the campus of Florida State University. Assistant Secretary Sims has organized the event for nearly 20 years, and the meet was hosted by the Visit Tallahassee/Sports Council and The WAY Ministries of Tallahassee, Inc. Over 650 athletes from 9 different ages groups competed in track and field events to qualify for the Junior Olympics to be held in Detroit, Michigan July 31 - August 1, 2017. The meet was very successful and athletes from across Florida set personal records and will represent our state well at the Junior Olympics in August.

Over 100 volunteers contributed to the success of this great event and young people had an opportunity to view Florida State University, Florida A & M University and other college campuses. Other DJJ staff attending were Deputy Chief Marcus Smith and Financial Coordinator Cheryl Howard

Pictured above: Marcus Smith (left) and Alice Sims

The Beulah Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Gretna, under the leadership of Senior Pastor and our own Prevention Deputy Chief Marcus Smith began hosting a six-week summer camp and enrichment program for more than 30 area youth. The summer camp is a collaborative effort with local non-profit agencies, the Shadetree Group and North Florida Freedom Schools (NFFS).

Among the exercises that will be featured at the camp, youth will be encouraged to continue reading and learning during the summer months while school is not in session. Activities will include the “DEAR” program where young people are encouraged to Drop Everything and Read. The camp will operate through July 28.

Pastor Smith has served the 250-member Gadsden County congregation for nearly five years. In 2015, he was appointed to the Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council by Governor Rick Scott. The goals of the Council are to enlist, enable, empower and expand the work of volunteer faith-based and community-based organizations. The Council is tasked with providing annual recommendations to the Governor and Legislature that will encourage the government and the faith-based community to work together to improve social services for Floridians.

Probation Officer Receives High Praise from a Parent

I am pleased to share the following letter that was sent to Circuit 20 JPO Supervisor Tracie Foss from a parent in regards to JPO Kira Harmeling whose son is one of her probationary youth. It reads:

Dear Mrs. Foss,

I would like to take a moment to send you an email in regards to my son’s probation officer; Mrs. Kira Harmeling.

As you can imagine this past year has been a nightmare for us as a family, dealing with my son’s poor decisions. We have learned things, been put in positions and had experiences we never thought we would have to endure as a family. In our time with the court system we have had many, many dealings with people in all departments of the juvenile system. 

The reason I am writing you is I would like to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude on behalf of my family for Mrs. Kira Harmeling. She has shown my family the uttermost respect. She has ALWAYS given us accurate information, she has gone the extra step to be sure my son, husband and I understood what was going on at all times. She has meet with us in her office to explain things, emailed me to clarify issues and always shown professionalism. In a time of very rough waters and uncertainty. Kira was always there to be sure our family was able to make an informed decision. As a parent it is so very difficult to face these situations and know whether or not you are making the right decision for your child. This is made even more difficult if you feel lost and don't understand what is going on. Kira has become the only person that my family can trust WILL always give us the correct information and make us feel informed.  She is beyond competent which is hard to find nowadays, unfortunately. You can tell she truly cares about what she is doing and also cares about the children.

If there's a possibility of a promotion or raise in her near future she is definitely someone who deserves it (just saying) she is competent, caring and reliable. 

Probation staff from Circuit 20 and Office of Research and Data Integrity staff hosted a farewell luncheon in honor of Data Integrity Officer Kelli Mukaddam. Kelli is leaving the agency to take a new position in Alabama. She began her twelve-year career as a JPO before serving as a Senior JPO and JPO Supervisor. For the last five years, she has served diligently as part of the Research and Data Integrity team.

Kelli has positively impacted the lives of our youth and their families as well as the probation staff members, providers and stakeholders. She will be greatly missed and we wish her luck in her future endeavors! 

Residential Youth Learn Job Skills, Celebrate World Oceans Day, and Honors Recent Graduates 

Through an arrangement made by Facility Administrator Orvando Freeman, the Saint John’s Youth Academy (SJYA), a high-risk program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, LLC, has a partnership with the Jacksonville-based Ready4Work program for qualified young men in residence to participate in the Fresh Start Program.  Facility staff accompany the participants each day, Monday through Friday, as they learn employability skills over a four- to six-week period.  The students obtain certificates in customer service, warehouse management, and forklift operations through the Fresh Start Program. Upon completion of the curriculum, the young men are assisted with job placement.  To date, SJYA has sent five residents through the program, during which each was a role model for good behavior and academic success.  In fact, youth DH was selected as the Ready4Work Student of the Week even though he was the youngest person on campus!

The students in the Home Builders Institute programs at the Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment Program and the Gulf Academy, both of which are non-secure programs for boys and are operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, are working on an art project to be displayed permanently on the campus.  HBI Instructor Oliver Rodriguez said, “The kids wanted something that would be eye catching and would show guests of the facility a glimpse of their hard work.” 

The students also constructed a multi-faceted chair that transforms into a table.  The youth look forward to displaying their work so that all visitors can see the skills they have learned. 

Recently, Les Peters Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, had the largest graduating class in its history: four students earned their high school diplomas, which they received from the program’s education department and Hillsborough County Public Schools.  All four initially had a difficult time adjusting to the commitment program, but each one overcame those struggles, going on to achieve academic success and making outstanding progress in their treatment plans. 

They participated in GED® preparation classes and scored well above the required score.  One youth scored college-ready in all four subjects; one youth—who is only 15 years old—scored college-ready in three subjects; and one youth scored college-ready in one section. Two of the graduates have completed their applications for community college and are prepared to start in August.  The entire education department was invited to attend the graduation ceremony as well as the families of each graduate. Everyone in the program celebrated with a field day and party.

A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival.  In conjunction with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, the staff and youth from Columbus Juvenile Residential Facility, a non-secure program for boys, ages 10 to 18, which is operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, participated in the annual World Oceans Day.  It was a unique opportunity to learn about, help protect and conserve the world’s oceans by helping to remove 2.09 tons of litter and debris from our waterways. The event was a volunteer effort where the staff and youth worked along the shorelines of various waterways, picking up plastic debris and litter and emptying trash cans.  

As part of the weekly incentive, 15 residents of Spring Lake Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 15 to 18, which is operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, were acknowledged for consistently displaying outstanding behavior.  These boys demonstrated exceptional conduct, remarkable regard for authority, superb acts of self-discipline, and exhibited positive attitudes during the prior week.

Without prior knowledge that they would be recognized, the youth gathered in the dining hall and their excited anticipation filled the room.  Interim Facility Administrator Michael Slayton praised them for their positive behaviors, participation in facility activities, and for their courage to do the right thing in trying situations. He then distributed soda and a large pizza to each boy.

Elaine Larsen and crew visited Melbourne Center for Personal Growth (MCPG), a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 18, which is operated by AMIkids, Inc.  Elaine is co-founder of Larsen Motorsports and a 20-year veteran drag racer, who holds the 2014 and 2015 International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Jet Dragster World Champion title.  

She brought with her another driver, Kat Moller, and Miguel Quiles, her painter. Miguel showed the youth an automotive pin striping technique and the crew talked to them about a career in car racing. 

Last week, the Melbourne Center for Personal Growth (MCPG), a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 18, which is operated by AMIkids, Inc., began a foster care program for two cattle terrier/hound mix puppies in partnership with The Pixel Fund.  The three-month-old puppies are named after the Greek gods Apollo and Zeus. Fostering the puppies will help teach the youth about how to care and be responsible for a living creature.  In addition, the puppies serve therapeutic roles in the boys’ treatment plans and serve to help relieve their stress. There’s nothing like a puppy to cure a person’s bad mood.

For the June graduation at MCPG, State Representative Randy Fine, Legislative Assistant Angelique Ronaldi, and MCPG board members Don Herndon and Terri Dingman were honored guests along with the guest speaker for Coastal Mechanical Services Foreman Christian Garnett.

On June 30th, the youth of Jacksonville Youth Academy (JYA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18 which is operated by G4S Youth Services LLC, participated in a team building drawing contest. The youth were given chalk and tasked with drawing a positive picture which would be judged by administrative staff. The winners are listed below.


Pictured above (from left to right): 1st place winners I.O. and N.W; 2nd place winners J.B. and D.T.