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Secretary's Message

January 24, 2018

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

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Sargent Nacoyia Sproles from the Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) who was recognized as the facility’s Employee of the Month for the month of November. Sargent Sproles has been with the Department for the last six months and has provided exceptional leadership for her staff and mentoring guidance for the youth at Leon RJDC. 

Detention Facilities Welcome Chicago Delegation to Florida 

DJJ’s Office of Detention Services in the South Region welcomed a contingency of administrators from the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago on a tour of both the Broward and Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Centers (RJDC). The tour was led by South Regional Director Kevin Housel, Major Steve Owens from the Miami-Dade RJDC and Major Daryl Wolf from the Broward RJDC. Team DJJ welcomed these administrators into their facilities and during the tour noted the improvements made throughout the buildings. The delegation from Chicago stated that it was a very positive meeting and a promise was made by all to continue this professional relationship. 

Major Marcus Wilson and Captain Deborah Caldwell from the Hillsborough RJDC hosted a tour of the facility for several stakeholders from the Circuit 13 Judicial Circuit. The tour was one in a series that was set up by Chief Probation Officer Judy Roysden for new judges and members of the judiciary. The tour also included stops at the Hillsborough County Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) and Hillsborough Girls Academy. The RJDC tour gave our officers a chance to showcase the detention center. Facility Administrator Rebecca Glen from Hillsborough Girls Academy had one of the girls give the tour of the residential program and answered lots of questions regarding the “Kids and Canines” program. Jennifer Cristiano from the Hillsborough JAC explained the screening and booking process.

Pictured above (from left to right): Erin Potter Judicial Assistant Division A, Marcus Wilson Superintendent, Judge Scionti Division A, Judy Roysden Chief Probation Officer Circuit 13, Deborah Caldwell Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor, Barbara Coleman State Attorney Division Chief, Julie O'Toole SAO's office.

Juvenile Probation Officer Featured in UNF Journal and Probationary Youth Shadows for His Dream Job

Congratulations to Circuit 4 Juvenile Probation Officer Anna Santiago who was recently the featured cover story for the Winter 2018 edition of the University of North Florida Journal. The article outlines Santiago’s humble beginnings and how the love and support of her family allowed her to achieve her current success. Now, Santiago is paying it forward by working with our youth at DJJ and showing them that they have the potential to succeed in life. Santiago graduated from the University of North Florida in 2016 with a degree in Criminal Justice and during her last semester interned with the DJJ. She realizes that she can have a direct and positive impact on the youth she serves and embraces the right to do so.

Meet Henry, a bright young man working with Eckerd Connects Project Bridge in Circuit 9.  Henry had a once in a life time experience on January 10 with the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. On this date, he participated in a job shadow day with the Carnivore Team. He worked with cheetahs, leopards, cougars, otters, clouded leopards, kinkajous, and fossa. Henry loved his day and was so appreciative of the experience. This is all due to our amazing partnership with Dream Jobbing which helps connect youth with their “Dream Job.”

Circuit 9 Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson recently attended the Courageous Conversations: Reentry, which was sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida. The purpose of the conversation was to discuss issues that directly affect an individual’s reintegration to society following incarceration. In addition to a panel discussion, there were group discussions on best practices and ways to eliminate barriers that exist to successful reentry for individuals to return home and back into the community.

Pictured above:  Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson (left) with KUSAO Reentry and Outreach Specialist, Khaliah Escalera.

Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Rickayle Zanders and Juvenile Probation Officers Melissa Tramutola, Krystal Deleon and Teresa Perez from Circuit 13 teamed up with members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in District 3 to conduct ride-along curfew checks. These curfew checks were for youth who are on home-detention, absconders or failures to appear.

Pictured above (from left to right): SJPO Rickayle Zanders, JPO Melissa Tramutola, JPO Krystal DeLeon and JPO Teresa Perez.

 Prevention Youth from PACE Center Use Sewing as Art Therapy 

DJJ youth from the PACE Center for Girls of Hillsborough County experimented with using sewing as a form or trauma-informed art therapy at their facility in Tampa. Donna Gustavson, retired partner and associate professor in Apparel Design at Rhode Island School of Design, volunteered her time at PACE Center for Girls Hillsborough by sharing something she loves, while truly making a difference for the young ladies she served: Art Therapy through Sewing.

During the sessions with Ms. Gustavson, the girls were encouraged to design their own bags and were given parameters from start to finish to see the project through.  Girls participated in problem solving, increasing confidence when doing something new and unfamiliar, and came to appreciate the importance of planning ahead.

The girls learned how to construct fashionable purses which included: choosing the elements of the design, preparing the materials, and using their personal creativity. They first learned how to sew buttons on and were then acquainted with the sewing machines.  The finished products included fully functional bags designed with buttons, rhinestones, various embellishments and even pockets.

The PACE Center for Girls of Broward County conducted a holiday choir performance at Wilton Manors Rehabilitation Center. Our girls were exceptional in their love and care for the residents. The choir gave their hearts in every song and put a smile on every resident’s face. One resident stated, “you have made this holiday extra special for me as it is sometimes hard during this time of year”. The girls showcased a set of holiday songs and choreographed dances and skits that highlighted the importance of various ethnic and cultural traditions. The choir was met with rave reviews and a request to return next holiday season. The performance came as a part of the PACE holiday open house, where the girls worked diligently to bring cheer to parents, fellow PACE girls, and the Broward community.

Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady recently attended a ceremony for the 33rd graduating class of the Florida Challenge Academy (FLYCA) at the Thrasher Horne Center for the Arts in Orange Park. The graduation included two youth from Tallahassee, Tyler Williams and I.S. Pastor Gary Montgomery of Living Stones International was in attendance as well. He served as Tyler’s mentor during his tenue at FLYCA. Since graduating from FLYCA, Tyler has enrolled in Tallahassee Community College. The Class theme was “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me” and there were 158 graduates in total. The guest speaker for the event was Assistant Adjutant General Brigadier General Trey Chauncey. 

Pictured above (from left to right): FLYCA graduate, Tyler Williams and Pastor Gary Montgomery, from Living Stones International, who mentored Tyler while he attended FLYCA.

Residential Youth Participate in Canine Therapy and Tour a Local Chocolate Factory

Youth from Orange Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 21, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, were selected to participate in a supportive counseling group session focused on interaction with Companions for Courage therapy dogs and their handlers. Clinical Director Byars lead a brief review of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and related pet ownership to the concept. The youth processed how having healthy relationships with pets can fulfill some of the needs outlined by Maslow. They completed a worksheet in which they mapped their perceptions of how pets (dogs specifically) can help us meet our needs. The youth took turns handling the therapy dogs with the support of their handlers. They learned about the proper way to approach a dog and how they can read a dog’s body language to help interpret what a dog may be thinking or feeling at the moment. The youth concluded the session by providing feedback on things they may want to learn by working with the therapy dogs in the future.

As the Christmas holidays were approaching, the youth at Crestview Youth Academy, both the secure and non-secure programs for boys, operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, participated in a mod-décor contest. The youth were responsible for decorating their mod and making it as festive and creative as possible. A majority of the youth participated and the mod hallways were decorated with Christmas trees, presents, and snowmen. After each mod was fully decorated, the staff voted on which mod was the most festive and creative. The decision was made that the Bravo (secure) mod was the winner! 

In addition to the holiday festivities, the Alpha (non-secure) mod went on their first big outing into the community. The youth chosen to participate in the outing have displayed positive attitudes and behaviors, have received no behavior reports, and are also in higher levels in the program. Some of the youth chosen are also in the transition phases of the program, so this gave them the opportunity to participate in activities outside of the program. We began the outing at the Marquis Cinema here in Crestview. The youth chose the movie “Daddy’s Home 2” and were able to get popcorn and a drink to enjoy along with the movie. The movie was funny and the youth really enjoyed their time. Following the movie, the group went to a restaurant called Azteca. This restaurant primarily serves Mexican cuisine, however, is known to have some of the best hot wings in town! The youth are definitely looking forward to the next outing event!

J. C., a former Duval Academy resident and graduate of the Haven Horse Ranch recently initiated contact with the program to advise that he is doing well and now living in California. Youth J. C. shared his appreciation with the program for helping him turn his life around through horse therapy. He stated the program was so effective that he is trying to locate a similar horse ranch in California with hopes of seeking employment. The touching commentary provided by youth J. C. is a true real-time testament of the value of the Duval Academy Haven Horse Ranch partnership and their desire to have a positive impact on the lives of youth. Thanks goes out to Albert Chester with Duval Academy and Haven Horse Ranch Owner Ric Lehman and his entire Haven Horse Ranch staff for a job well done!

During the college football bowl season, youth from Jacksonville Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had the opportunity to attend the 73rd annual Tax Slayer Bowl. The youth were in for a treat! This year’s showdown hosted 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson along with his ACC Louisville Cardinals vs the SEC’s up-and-coming team, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After a hard-fought battle in the 46- degree weather, Mississippi State pulled off the victory.

Earlier this month, 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, took five youth to the Whetstone’s Chocolate Factory to participate in a tour. The youth sampled several different types of chocolate, learned how chocolate is cultivated from plant to what we eat, and saw how the factory processes chocolate daily in order to sell. One youth noted that he wanted to work there because you get free samples every day. At the end of the tour each youth got a frozen hot chocolate to enjoy.

During the recent cold and rainy weather, Hastings and Gulf Academy chose to improvise and create indoor recreation activities for the youth. A poetry contest was held amongst the youth and the criteria for participation was simple: the youth could write on any subject, the material had to be clean, and the youth’s name was not included on the poem so that judges would be impartial. Youth E.P. was selected as the winner and asked if he could recite his poem to his peers. Youth E.P. was rewarded a pizza for his win! 

Kissimmee Youth Academy (KYA), a secure program for boys, ages 14 to 21, operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, hosted a graduation ceremony for one of its youth. Youth Z.N. arrived at KYA with some lofty goals and immediately began pursuing them. The first goal was fully engaging in treatment and repairing his strained relationship with his family. Secondly, he made a commitment to earn his high school diploma while at KYA. Lastly, youth Z.N. wanted to start preparing for a secondary education in the field of Computer Technology. With assistance from the KYA treatment team and Osceola County Schools, Z.N. was able to accomplish his first two goals. In addition to fulfilling his first two goals, he was able to begin applying for admission to various schools to pursue his last goal. Special thanks to Beth Rattie and all the teachers at KYA as they completed the year with 3 high school graduates and two youth obtaining their GED. Three days after obtaining his high school diploma, youth Z.N. reunited with his family and exited KYA with a bright smile, sense of accomplishment, and renewed spirit for his future.

Pictured above (from left to right): KYA teachers Mr. Marsh, Ms. Margret, Ms. Tanner, Ms. Hernandez, Ms. Walker, Ms. Marti and Facility Administrator Sumpter James

In addition to graduation, Kissimmee Youth Academy (KYA), celebrated their annual “Holiday Bowl” flag football extravaganza! The “Holiday Bowl” games consisted of four teams that competed in a one game elimination tournament. The KYA young men recently competed in the KYA Thanksgiving Holiday Bowl in November to help prepare for December’s Christmas Holiday Bowl. They practiced weekly, developed playbooks, and exhibited great peer-to-peer interaction on the field. They were honored to host Brevard Group Treatment Home (BGT) for December’s bowl festivities. BGTH brought a talented and competitive team to partake in the event. The flag football tournament helped the young men understand comradery, sportsmanship, and the importance of teamwork. Each of the youth that participated in the bowl were awarded a custom KYA jersey for the day. Their performances were nothing short of spectacular and they put forth a tremendous effort on the field. The game ended in a tie and the programs will be scheduling a tie breaker game in the near future. This was an event for the youth that will be remembered for years to come. Kudos to the KYA and BGTH staff for making this a special day for the youth! Pictured is KYA Facility Administrator Sumpter James with the KYA youth wearing the gold and black jerseys.

Education nonprofit organization, City Year Miami, hosted its 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Eight youth of Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure residential program for males, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, volunteered to spend half a day with hundreds of volunteers to transform Miami Dade County Public Schools’ Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Historic Overtown, Miami.

There was lots of work to do and encouragement was evident. The project began at nine in the morning with wrap-up and project completion ending at noon. The youth did a wonderful job giving back to their community.