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Secretary's Message

January 10, 2018

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter 

Happy New Year! I hope that each of you had an exciting but also restful holiday and are just as eager as I am to begin this new year working hard for Florida’s children and families. Please enjoy the stories below of how our dedicated staff helped to make the holidays bright for some of our youth who were away from their families. I am always amazed by how compassionate our team is, especially during the holiday season when many youth are unable to celebrate with their friends and family. I am also so thankful for our team members who give back to and spread holiday cheer throughout their local communities.  Thank you all for making this holiday so wonderful for so many.

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

Congratulations to Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims on her induction into the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame last Friday at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. Assistant Secretary Sims was inducted into the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame along with four (4) other Florida track and field champions.  For more than 40 years, the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame has been recognizing individuals in the sport for their outstanding commitment, dedication and community service.  Recipients of this prestigious recognition exemplify true leadership in the sport of Track and Field in the state of Florida. 

For more than 40 years, Assistant Secretary Sims has been involved in track and field as an athlete, coach and administrator and is currently the Florida AAU Track and Field Association Chair.  She has a passion for the sport and continues to serve youth by hosting and organizing local and statewide track meets serving young people ages 5-18. 

During her career at FSU, Assistant Secretary Sims was a two-time National Champion in the 4 x 100-meter relay and a 7-time All-American in both the long jump and relays.  She is still in the record books at FSU after competing nearly 40 years ago.  She was recognized by Governor Rick Scott with the Champion of Service award for mentoring and impacting young people through the Capital City Christian Cruisers (CCCC) Track and Field Club.  The CCCC is a component of The WAY Ministries, a community-based organization dedicated to meeting the spiritual, social and physical needs of young people and their families, and has served thousands of local at-risk youth since its inception in 1994.

Pictured right is Ms. Sims with her family celebrating this exciting honor!

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer Charlie Hill (left) who took home Juvenile Detention Officer of the Year Honors from the Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center last month. Hill was honored during the facility’s holiday meeting as was Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor Kelvin Walker (below), who was recognized as the facility’s Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor of the Year.


Congratulations to Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Megan Wild who was named Circuit 19 Probation’s Employee of the Year during their circuit-wide meeting last month. Megan joined the Department in October 2016 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Criminology from Florida State University. In ten short months, Megan was promoted to senior juvenile probation officer in August of last year, and she takes that responsibility very seriously. Megan’s leadership, strong work ethic, perseverance, dedication and personality are true assets to her unit and the Department.

Probationary Youth Work with Veterans During a Recent Camping Trip

DJJ youth from Eckerd Connects Project Bridge in Circuits 9 and 18 participated in an overnight camping trip at My Warrior's Place in Ruskin.  My Warrior’s Place is a Retreat Center for veterans, military service members, first responders, and Gold, Blue & Silver Star Families.  The site was founded by Kelly Kowall, whose son Carey gave his life for our continued freedom.  It was a great opportunity to partner once again with veterans and gives the youth & staff a chance to hear their stories and work hand in hand with them.  The youth and staff spent Friday evening enjoying pizza and making s’mores over a nightlight fire pit.  On Saturday morning, the youth and staff worked hard to help build a docking station for their roundabout boats.  Youth and staff enjoyed some time to engage in conversation with veterans over lunch and took photos at their photo booth provided on site. 

Eckerd Connects Project Bridge Transition GED students and staff attended a tour of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Ft. Lauderdale. Two students from Circuit 17, Tashiana and Anthony, are seen here standing next to the animated representation of the founder of the library, Samuel Morrison. The animation is quite realistic, and staff and students at first did not realize that they were looking at and listening to a rather well dressed and informed animated object!

The students are looking forward to returning to the library in early 2018 to complete part two of the library tour, which includes activities designed to help youth understand how to use the many tools the library has to offer. After spending more than two hours at the library, they were treated to a pre-holiday lunch. An academic experience out of the classroom always helps contribute to our students’ growth and development!

Teamwork is defined as “the combined action of a group of people, especially when effective and efficient.” Eckerd Connect’s Project Bridge youth, staff, and mentors from Circuit 12 and Circuit 20 not only had the opportunity to watch the Florida Everblades work together as a team as they played at the Germain Arena, but they also had the chance to “team up” and enjoy an outing with each other instead of as a single group.  Many of the youth, and even the adults, in attendance had never been to a hockey game and reported that they had a great time and liked getting to try something new. 

DJJ youth from the AMIkids of Gadsden made a visit to the Riverchase Healthcare Center of Quincy over the holidays to spread a little cheer for the senior citizens at the center. Dressed in Santa hats and carrying lots of gifts, students and staff visited more than 120 residents at the center and gave each resident a holiday gift. Bags of holiday candy, hand-made ornaments and other gifts were hand delivered to every room and to every group setting!

The holiday cheer didn’t stop there as the group from AMIkids Gadsden also made a special visit to the Simon Scott Senior Citizens Center in Havana. Seniors of all ages were celebrating the holiday season when staff of AMIkids Gadsden entered the room with holiday cookies, CDs, and plenty of holiday cheer. In addition, each senior and their guests received a holiday gift from AMIkids Gadsden. 

Finally, DJJ youth from AMIkids Gadsden had the unique opportunity to tour the Florida State University football program. The tour was arranged by athletic staff member Jerry Johnson, who played for the Seminoles from 1995-99. The youth could view how the program trains and develops top athletes, and the tour consisted of the indoor training facility, the weight room, trophy room, and other key areas. The highlight of the visit was a chance to meet Florida State’s new football coach Willie Taggart. Coach Taggart is the first African-American head coach in Florida State football history. 

The Circuit 4 probation team recently hosted a community service event for the youth on their caseload. Youth were given community service hours for creating holiday cards for the residents of the Brookdale Senior Living facility in Jacksonville. These handmade cards were then distributed to the assisted living facility by Juvenile Probation Officers Rose Sanon, Megan Brady and Melissa Przybylski

DJJ youth with the Paxen Community Connections in Pasco County participated in a community service project to support the Volunteer Way Food Bank of Pasco County. The youth boxed up canned goods which were then distributed to families in need in their local community. Our youth learned valuable life lessons during this project and learned to give back to their community by supporting local non-profit organizations. 

Education Students Use Virtual Program to Earn Operational Certificate 

The Broward Youth Treatment Center recently initiated a virtual program that trains participating residents on the operations of fork-lifts. This program, which stresses safety and proper driving techniques, enables students to earn operational certificates for these machines. We are so happy that our students can use this highly valuable tool to obtain career placement in the fields of employment in which fork-lifts are a vital operational component, including in areas such as manufacturing, warehouse and storage.

In addition, both the Broward Youth Treatment Center and the Pompano Youth Treatment Center have become active participants in the Broward County School District’s debate initiative. Through their involvement, both programs are represented by select residents to join other school-aged appropriate youth from throughout the district to participate in this series outside of their respective programs. The importance in this involvement is that it not only re-integrates the youth back to the community, but affords them the opportunity to learn research skills, organization of ideas, effective communication skills and self-esteem. These skills not only build better students but also builds better college candidates, better employees, and moreover better citizens. 

Miami Youth Academy, in partnership with and assistance from the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS), unveiled Google's G Suite applications in their education department. This platform, utilized by Chrome Books, enables both teachers and students to collaborate and personalize their projects using writing, drawing, presentation, and calculation tools that are cloud-based. Students will enjoy having ownership over their creative work and teachers will see an increase in student engagement. Pictured left are students assigned to create a multi-level action plan using prompts and clues on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. This exercise, which was inspired by the television show “The Walking Dead”, teamed students in groups and demanded that each team create housing designs and needs, establish defensive measures, and escape routes from the imagined ghouls.

Detention Staff Members Compete in Chili Cookoff and Adopt a Therapy Dog

The Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) hosted their third annual chili cookoff and holiday party for staff members. The cookoff was judged by North Regional Director for Detention Services Colette Antozzi, Staff Sargent Christopher Ford from Eglin Air Force Base, Equine Therapist Narissa Jenkins from Heeling Hoofs Steps, and Connie Baldwin from the Leah Nash shelter house. Congratulations to Sargent Allison Stanton (pictured below) who took home the first-place prize!

The youth from Okaloosa RJDC also welcomed one of their mentors, who owns a local photography company, to the facility to conduct a professional photo shoot. The pictures will be printed out on glossy paper and will be sent to their loved ones as a holiday card. The youth were lit up with big smiles as this was their first professional photo shoot and were all grateful for the opportunity. 

The staff from the Pasco RJDC came up with a very cool way for the youth to spend Christmas Day while in secure detention. The youth baked Christmas cookies and made gingerbread houses, decorating them all with icing and sugar. Several of the youth expressed their gratitude and said that this was the first time they have participated in this holiday tradition. 

Let’s Talk About God (LTAG), a group that provides spiritual guidance for youth in juvenile detention, hosted a holiday luncheon for the youth at Pasco. The food was catered by LTAG and the family members who attended this event were in awe of the delicious food and took time to take pictures with their children. LTAG provided spiritual guidance for the kids and their families and even provided cards with goodies to everyone in attendance. 

The St. Lucie RJDC hosted a Christmas party for the youth at their facility, which included a visit from good ole Saint Nick. The youth could take their pictures with Santa and enjoyed the food and drinks that were provided. This year’s Christmas party was sponsored by Public Defender Diamond Litty and her office, which provided the food and drinks. Assistant Chief Probation Officer Dorothy Malik and her staff also donated food and gifts. In addition, WE LEAP, Women Inspire Yourself, and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office provided gifts for each of the youth.

St. Lucie RJDC also welcomed professional hair stylist Tunisia Hill to the facility. She volunteered her time to make the girls at the St. Lucie feel good about themselves over the Christmas holiday. The girls were very appreciative of their new looks. 

On Christmas Day, the Collier RJDC held a holiday visitation for the family members of youth in our facility. The parents who attended were provided gingerbread houses to build and decorate with their children during the visitation. Later that evening, the youth enjoyed a delicious Christmas dinner that was prepared by the staff members at facility. Each staff member brought in a dish to share with everyone. Each of the kids were grateful that the staff took time out of their lives to prepare a wonderful Christmas meal. 

The Bay RJDC has been working with their local humane society to foster Nico, a lab/pit mix puppy who was set to be euthanized until our facility came forward. Nico will be used as a therapy dog at Bay RJDC and already enjoys spending time with our kids with his playful personality. The youth at Bay RJDC have shown him great affection and are already teaching him commands. 

The Leon RJDC is thankful for their strong partnership with the New Bethel AME Church of Quincy who distributed Christmas cards to all of the youth at Leon RJDC on Christmas Day. The cards were distributed by Senior Pastor and Leon RJDC volunteer Reverend Charles Morris from New Bethel, and were filled with uplifting spiritual quotes glued inside them along with Christmas wishes. The youth were happy to receive a personalized gift on a day away from their families. 

The Manatee RJDC hosted a birthday party for two of their youth who are celebrating birthdays in the months of December and January. Each youth was given a Christmas stocking for the holidays, and enjoyed pizza and birthday cake for their evening meal. 

Youth from the Hillsborough RJDC built gingerbread trains and houses on Christmas Day and decorated them with icing. The staff at Hillsborough RJDC found that this was a great way to keep their minds off the fact that they are away from family and friends over the Christmas holidays. 

Prevention Youth with PACE Center Volunteer with Local Non-Profit

The PACE Center for Girls of Palm Beach County recently took part in an impactful volunteer project with the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council and CROS Ministries. The girls packed food kits to be distributed at CROS Ministries food pantries in Palm Beach County. The girls packaged over 1,000 pounds of rice which is enough for 600 meals.

The project was extremely successful, and the girls have been asked to participate in an upcoming harvest gleaning. The volunteer project was an excellent opportunity for girls to increase self-esteem, improve their communication skills, build relationships, acquire valuable job skills, and develop a sense of social responsibility. CROS Ministries serves the hungry in Palm Beach and Martin counties through community collaborations. CROS Ministries workers believe that to be successful in addressing hunger, the community must come together.

Pictured above: Back Row – PACE girls Yolanda, Jasmine, and Kaiya; Front Row – PACE girls Rolna, Yanimar, Katherine, and Sabrina, Women’s Leadership Council volunteers

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Dionne Anderson and Circuit 9 Juvenile Probation Officer Crystal Harris donated school supplies, books, bookbags, clothes and evening gowns to the PACE Center for Girls Orange. During a recent site visit, Operations and Training Director Yvonne Woodward showed Dionne and Crystal that PACE Orange had a shop for the girls. This shop was for the girls who earned enough points due to good behavior and allowed them to go shopping. Some of the items in the shop were clothes and school supplies. Dionne said she was also advised that PACE wanted to host a prom for the girls. But some of the girls could not afford gowns to attend, and the gowns they had already did not fit some of the girls attending their program. “So, the good Lord put it on my heart to donate my old high school gowns,” Dionne said, “because I understand the frustrations of being a curvy young lady myself.” She added that her son had extra school supplies that she also donated to the PACE girls. The PACE girls were grateful for the donations. Thank you to Dionne and Crystal for going above and beyond for these young ladies!

Pictured above: Dionne Anderson (left) donates clothes and other items to the PACE Center for Girls.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee recently attended a forum entitled, “Leadership Stand-Up for Character” that educated on the need for youth prevention training. In addition to recognizing business professionals that mentor and volunteer their time to make the program such a success, the workshop was an opportunity to educate and bring the needs for supporting youth and families. Character GPS, who hosted the forum, has provided prevention and intervention training for youth for almost six years starting at the Boys & Girls Club in Sulphur Springs in Tampa.  Currently, they are providing classes at Eckerd Kids and the YMCA funded by the DJJ Prevention “Invest in Youth” Grant for Pasco County.

Character GPS, which uses a trauma-informed care approach, helps youth overcome any challenges they face by building strong self-esteem and a true confidence to persevere with a “can-do” attitude. At their GPS program graduation, the youth received 7 “dog tags” (1 for each of the 7 adventures they complete in the GPS Program), reward prizes they’ve earned, a “Hero in the Mirror” plaque, and a graduation certificate that celebrates their accomplishments.  With their families and friends cheering them on, they each shared their hard work to set and pursue “SMART” goals that keep them on their “Journey to Success” to become our future leaders. 

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Onazina Washington III attended the Levy County Prevention Coalition “Mentor-Mentee” Day in Williston. The day was filled with different activities that the youth participated in with their mentors. It was a fulfilling and educational day for the youth, who had the opportunity to learn about arts and crafts and culinary skills. The youth gathered in the dining hall and were divided into groups with their designated mentors. The youth got the chance to make Christmas ornaments, bake cookies, and make gingerbread houses.

In addition, local law enforcement gave a demonstration in which they provided the youth rides on their police all-terrain vehicles and had their police boat on display. The youth really enjoyed the day and learned some new skills along the way.

Residential Youth Learn about the Stock Market and Volunteer with a Local Non-Profit

On Thursday, December 15th, Palm Beach Youth Academy, a secure program for boys, ages 15 to 21, which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, hosted the graduation ceremony for their residents that had just completed a 10-week financial literacy course. Over the past 10 weeks, the residents have been working with a team of bankers and financial investors from various local financial institutions educating them on many financial related topics. As part of the class, the youth participated in a contest in which they simulated investing in particular stocks to determine if their initial investments were profitable or not. The winners of the stock competition were awarded $50 dollar prizes in addition to other awards and certificates of accomplishment they received.

The 10-week course was a huge success and proved to be very beneficial to the residents, not to mention the contacts they have established and will be able to maintain with individuals in the wealth management field. One of the highlights of the evening was the awards that were presented to the youth as a result of having participated in this course. Courtesy of the Cre’Von LeBlanc Foundation, all youth received a cash prize of $150 that will go towards opening their own savings account or E-Trade account. Additionally, because of the generosity of the Suits for Seniors Program, all youth participating in the program will be fitted for and receive custom designed suits for them to receive when they are released from the program. Lastly, thanks to the Cre’Von LeBlanc Foundation, the valedictorian of the class received the grand prize: in addition to all the prizes, our program resident was awarded an all-expense paid trip for him and his parent to New York City. While in New York, he will get to visit the New York Stock Exchange and see firsthand all the things he has been learning about during the course. He will also get to visit the Statue of Liberty, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and other popular city destinations. While the first session just completed, we are already working towards putting the next one together.

Just before Christmas, the Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment program and the Gulf Academy, both of which are non-secure programs for boys and are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had their annual staff holiday lunch for the youth. The staff did an excellent job coming together and making sure the youth had a large variety of food, drinks, and desserts. The youth feasted on turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, rice, chicken, and a variety of cookies and cakes. There was so much food that all the staff could eat and they were able to have food for dinner. It was a day of food and fellowship.

Hastings and Gulf Academy also joined with the Jacksonville Youth Academy in a few philanthropic activities for the holiday season. First, the facilities adopted a local family in Jacksonville who has fallen on rough times to ensure that they were able to have a wonderful Christmas. The family includes a single mother with 2 children. The facilities teamed together to make sure that they had plenty of gifts under the tree. Second, the facilities worked with the Salvation Army to donate stockings for children. Each stocking was filled with toys, grooming products, and art supplies. As Christmas approached, it was an important lesson for the youth to learn that the meaning of Christmas is not what you get, but the joy that you can give to others. 

Over the last month, the Hastings and Gulf Academy programs have been blessed with many different contributions from our more than generous volunteer community. One such contribution was from a local group which donated several footballs, basketballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls to the programs (shown below). In addition, the youth have received dinners, candy, body wash, deodorant, shampoo, and sporting equipment. The youth wanted to make sure that our volunteers know how special they are to them and how appreciative they are for all the gifts that they have received by making thank you cards for them. While they wish it could be more, it is a small token of gratitude from our program to our volunteers.

Thank you to our volunteers and all their invaluable contributions to the facility! 

Just before Christmas, Jacksonville Youth Academy (JYA) a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, combined its annual volunteer Christmas party with the quarterly Family Day Celebration. What a turn out it was, the youth were given new Nikes, bibles and toiletries from JFJ ministries and Mr. Self from Evangel Temple Church. We also celebrated with good ole back woods BBQ. The day was great and families left with memories for a lifetime. 

Continuing on in the spirit of the holidays, the JYA staff celebrated the holiday by wearing Christmas sweaters and decorating their office doors (shown left). Staff members at JYA also sponsored 12 kids from the Salvation Army Angel Tree. Staff purchased gifts for the children in need and the youth participated by wrapping the presents.

JYA also recently attended a basketball game of the three-time ABA champions, the Jacksonville Giants. The Giants faced off against the Mobile Bay Bears. The Giants defeated them by 40 points. The youth had a great time watching high powered, high flying basketball.

On Christmas Day, Cypress Creek JOCC, a secure program for boys, ages 15 to 21, which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had youth participate in creating gingerbread houses. Afterwards, the youth enjoyed eating their creations.

Central Pasco Girls Academy, a nonsecure program for girls, ages 13 to 18 which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, took two youth for a special Christmas event. The youth attended the Wiregrass Mall Christmas Light Show with REC Therapist Vazquez and FA Roberts. They even got the chance to ice skate which was followed by a special treat at McDonalds. This was the first time either of them had ever tried to ice skate. While neither of them would bring home the gold medal, they had a lot of fun trying to get the hang of it.

Also happening at Central Pasco Girls Academy, three youth along with staff Bates and REC Therapist Vazquez volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries just before Christmas. The girls enjoyed themselves preparing meals for the residents. One of the youth rapped as she and her peers worked and taught Chef Chris a thing or two about the current lingo. This was the first outing for all three of the youth. They enjoyed being able to serve the community and to contribute to ensuring the homeless had a hot Christmas meal.

Seven youth from Orange Youth Academy and Orlando Intensive Youth Academy, both non-secure program for boys, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, were given the opportunity to attend a movie off-site. The movie event was organized by Recreational Therapist Tavarius Roberson. The seven youth were chosen by staff members to attend a movie outing for exhibiting positive behavior. This included having good grades in school, showing positive behavior on and off the dorm, and maintaining a clean room on the dorm. The youth really enjoyed going to the movie theatre and were very appreciative.

During the month of December, Lake Academy, a non-secure program for girls, ages 12 to 19, which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, celebrated the joy of giving to others. The program had numerous activities to show how much they really appreciate their floor staff and Lake Academy team. These activities included a  cocoa and pasta bar, different dress down holiday attire, and a bake sale. While this work environment can at times be challenging, the team at Lake Academy recognizes that it is important to take time out to enjoy the festivities during this joyous time with one another.

Youth from Bartow Youth Academy (BYA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, along with Community Case Manager Levert Threats and Clinical Director Stephanie Westrate, donned their Santa hats and paid a visit to the Bartow Church Service Center to spread some holiday cheer. The youth met with a ministry worker who gave them a brief explanation of how the ministry works and whom they serve. The youth were given a tour to see the operations of the ministry and learn about the many ways the local community is served. Youth also toured the thrift store that serves as an income base for the Bartow Church Service Center. The youth also toured the emergency food pantry where they would be providing donations. They learned about the process to obtain emergency food assistance for families in need. Bartow Youth Academy was ready to deliver food donations collected through a staff Spirit Week food drive. While the boys were on site, the staff at the Church Service Center took advantage of having some muscles around and asked the boys to move some large objects. They invited BYA youth to return to earn some much-needed community service hours. BYA looks forward to forming a partnership with the Church Service Center to serve the community together.

All youth at Fort Myers Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, had the opportunity to become a member of the Lee County School district library system. The library system’s “Bookmobile” came on campus giving the young men a real-life experience and the opportunity to speak with a librarian and see firsthand how library systems work. The youth were able to select one book per youth and ask questions about membership. The experience was very exciting for the youth and staff at Fort Myers Youth Academy.