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Secretary's Message

December 3, 2018

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter! I am proud to share the stories and events that encompass what we do here at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. I hope you will take a moment to read about the ways our DJJ staff, providers, and partners are working to improve the lives of Florida’s youth and families and how we are working to make our communities even better.

To share even more of our great work and all that we are doing, please send in your successes and accomplishments both on and off the clock so we can feature them in our next weekly letter. Please send your good news to news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon.


Interim Secretary Timothy Niermann

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Circuit 17 Secretary Specialist Tricia Almestica who was recently recognized by the Dan Marino Foundation for her dedication and assistance with two of the youth in the program. The Dan Marino Foundation is a non-profit organization that creates programs for individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities. Ms. Almestica took the lead with these two youth as they worked in the South Services Center and learned invaluable job skills to assist with gaining employment. 

Congratulations to Sridhar Kati for being recognized as the Information Technology (IT) Employee of the Month for October 2018!  Each month, IT recognizes an employee using a peer nomination process. Being nominated by their peers speaks volumes to their work ethic and dedication to this agency. 

Pictured above: Dennis Hollingsworth, Chief of Information Technology (left) and Sridhar Kati, Software Developer

The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) congratulates Leonard Herbert, a teacher with the Orange County Public Schools, who was recognized as the facility’s November Provider Employee of the Month. Mr. Herb (as he’s known around the facility) is responsible for the beautiful garden project installed at Orange RJDC. His efforts in getting the garden up and running are greatly appreciated. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Dr. Christopher Smart – Lead Teacher, Mr. Leonard Herbert – Teacher, and Major Adrian Mathena.

Congratulations to Corporal Cawanis Leonard from the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was named the facility’s November Employee of the Month. Corporal Leonard is known around Orange RJDC for the professional demeanor that he constantly displays. Corporal Leonard is a model juvenile detention officer and a great representative for the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer II UlaKay Phillips from the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was named the Central Region Employee of the Month. Officer Phillips was recently awarded this recognition by Major Ariel Veguilla.

Congratulations to Kameika Bonner, April Walker and Lisa Arent from the Central Regional Office of Detention Services who received their years of service bands. Each star on the band represents five years of service to the state of Florida.

Congratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer II Pamela Durant from the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center for being named the facility’s October Employee of the Month. Officer Durant is a nine year employee and a valued team member who is dependable, reliable and dedicated to our youth. Officer Durant works hard to keep the youth engaged in activities and finds creative ways to make sure something positive is learned.  

Congratulations to Dennis Hunt from the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was recently promoted to the position of assistant superintendent. Captain Hunt can be seen left receiving his badge and pin from Major Dedilia Finlayson.

Shop With the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation This Holiday Season

The Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF) has teamed up with Amazon Smile to provide a convenient and philanthropic way for you to support FJJF every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop through AmazonSmile at http://smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to FJJF.  Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations.

Simply go to AmazonSmile  anytime you want to make a purchase on Amazon and search “Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation” in the search box as your charity. The proceeds from your purchase will go to FJJF and benefit our children who are in need. Add a bookmark to AmazonSmile to make it even easier to return and start your shopping at AmazonSmile.  It’s convenient, charitable and the perfect way to shop for the upcoming holidays.  Thank you for supporting an important cause and making a difference in the lives of our youth!

Probation Youth and Staff Work With Local Nonprofit Organizations

DJJ youth with AMIkids Tampa recently visited Feeding Tampa Bay, a local organization aimed at ending hunger in the Tampa Bay area. The youth participated in a service learning activity where they learned how to pack different food and hygiene items to help the homeless community.

DJJ youth from AMIkids of Clay County made a recent tour of Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville. The youth learned about the hospital’s animal therapy program, emergency triage,  and how the hospital teams work together.

The BAYS Florida Circuit 4 Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP) team recently volunteered with Hunger Fight to help combat childhood hunger in Jacksonville. They measured and filled nutritional meal kits to be distributed to families in need. Hunger Fight is working hard to respond to this basic need for youth and families and BAYS JDAP team members were eager to do their part. The event was covered by a local television station, and you can view their story here.

While receiving transition services through Project Connect in Circuit 2, Youth Z.A. had an individual goal of obtaining employment.  Project Connect established objectives for Youth Z.A. to obtain that goal which included receiving employability skills, social skills, job interviewing skills and demonstrating interview techniques.  Youth Z.A. was excited when she obtained employment with a nearby Zaxby’s restaurant.  Since that time, Youth Z.A. has flourished. Her social, employability, and communication skills along with her own dynamic personality have gotten her promoted from prep cook to customer service representative in just 3 short weeks!  She is doing a great job and is very happy with her employment opportunities. 

DJJ youth and their mentors with the Eckerd Connects Project Bridge program from across Central Florida recently came together for their inaugural Turkey Bowl. The event highlighted teamwork and competition as youth from multiple counties across Central Florida came together as a display of unity and respect. Circuit 6 youth Davious Haywood earned the MVP and all were treated to a holiday feast at the end of the game.

Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Andrea Conner and Juvenile Probation Officer Diana Clarke from Circuit 10 participated in the Convoy of Hope event in Highlands County. Convoy of Hope is a faith-based nonprofit organization founded in 1994. They are known for their international programs of feeding and otherwise helping those in need. At this event, various agencies & organizations gathered in one location, Donaldson Park in downtown Avon Park, to provide information on resources, food, haircuts and health screenings. The DJJ team provided various pamphlets to those that had questions about the juvenile justice system.

The Circuit 1 Probation Office recently received a thank you letter from a very grateful parent. Thank you to Juvenile Probation Officers in Terry Baxley and Jessica Madril for the excellent customer service they provided to this parent and family during their initial encounter with the Department. They went above and beyond to show compassion, care and guidance to this very distraught parent.

Detention Facilities Host Thanksgiving for Staff, Youth and Families

The Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center hosted a Thanksgiving luncheon for the youth at the facility and their family members. The food preparation was organized by Captain Robert Loyd and Food Service Director Cole Alfred, who smoked 15 turkeys, a large ham and cooked various side dishes. Corporals Sandra Griffin and Latosha Welch-Johnson hosted the event and seated 25 family members and 19 youth. During the luncheon, staff members could come in and talk with the youth and their families. The youth and their families enjoyed all the food and the time spent together. Staff members at Alachua RJDC also had the opportunity to partake in the Thanksgiving lunch.

The Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center held an inaugural meeting for their newly formed facility advisory board. The board is very excited and eager to be able to advocate for the needs of the youth and staff at Hillsborough RJDC and we want to thank them for their participation!


Pictured above (seated from left to right): Marlow Blair (JPO, Cir. 13), Brandon Selph (Public Defender’s Office), Freddie Barton (Safe & Sound, Hillsborough), Sean Bevil (State Attorney’s Office), Lesley Roberson (Hillsborough RJDC), James Verble (Tampa Police Dept.), Frank Jones (Crossover Church), David Jones (CDC of Tampa), and co-facilitators: Karla Edwards (Central Detention Regional Office), and Sarah Blumberg (JDAI Coordinator).

The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center celebrated Harvest Day in their newly formed garden. Captain Louise Quick coordinated with Dr. Christopher Smart from Orange County Schools to take the young ladies out to pick green beans in the garden. It was a beautiful, chilly morning in Orlando and the girls had an educational agricultural lesson in picking green beans.  Once again, thank you to Orange County Public Schools for this fun and educational project.

Major Adrian Mathena, Captain Reginald Allen and their families met at the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center on Thanksgiving morning to bring staff members breakfast during their shift change. The breakfast included muffins, coffee, orange juice, breakfast casserole and freshly baked pecan pies. The management team and their families wanted to express their appreciation for the dedication and hard work that detention staff at Orange RJDC show every day.

Major Ariel Veguilla from the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center participated in the Great American Teach-In at Largo Middle School. Major Veguilla shared information with the youth about career opportunities, educated them on actions that might get them detained, and the detention admission process. Major Veguilla was well-received by the youth and he enjoyed speaking with them.


Staff members from the Bay Regional Juvenile Detention Center continue to work while their facility is undergoing repairs from the damage sustained by Hurricane Michael. Staff from Bay RJDC are assisting at the Leon and Okaloosa detention centers throughout the week. We are so thankful that our staff members are safe and continuing their work serving our youth.

The Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center hosted a field day on Thanksgiving for all of the youth at the facility. Activities included a jump rope competition, egg race, bouncy house, basketball competition, 50-yard dash, freeze tag and sack race.  Escambia RJDC topped off the day with a separate meal of hotdogs, baked beans and frozen dessert cups.

The Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently hosted their 4th annual Thanksgiving luncheon. All youth, parents, facility staff and community stakeholders were invited to come and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The menu consisted of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn, string beans, cranberry sauce and every type of delicious dessert imaginable. Everyone who came out had a great time and left with a full stomach. Food, fun and laughter filled the luncheon.

Level three youth from the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center gathered together to build gingerbread houses to celebrate the holiday season. The youth enjoyed the team-building exercise and welcomed more holiday spirit to the detention center.

The Miami-Dade RJDC would also like to thank HOPE Murals who created the beautiful artwork on the outside of the center’s walls. This organization has completed several murals at the detention center. HOPE Murals utilizes local artists to work with youth at the detention center to develop concepts and bring the murals to completion.

The St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently welcomed guest speaker Milton Spence to the facility to speak with the youth. Mr. Spence is a former juvenile detention officer who resigned in July to pursue a career in teaching. Mr. Spence returned to encourage the youth to never give-up, work hard, make better choices, to believe in themselves, and to follow their dreams. 

In addition, the youth from St. Lucie RJDC participated in making their own personal Thanksgiving cards.  Each youth had the opportunity to create, design and state what they were thankful for. Some of the cards were mailed to families and given out during visitation. 

Finally, Major Dedilia Finlayson from St. Lucie RJDC prepared breakfast for her ‘A’ and ‘C’ shift and dinner for her ‘B’ shift on Thanksgiving. The staff was grateful and thankful for the food, dessert and drinks prepared and provided by the Major. This is something Major Finlayson does to show her appreciation to the staff at the detention center.

Prevention Staff Host Bridging the G.A.A.P. Conversation

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Dionne Anderson and members of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office recently held a Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) discussion in Kissimmee. Local school resource officers choose youth from their assigned schools to participate in the Bridging the G.A.A.P discussion. The youth and deputies spoke about negative perceptions, social media, and the effect news media has in relation to youth and law enforcement. They discussed the roles each play in their communities and their schools and discussed positive ways that attitude and behavior can determine how to approach each other.

After the Bridging the G.A.A.P discussion was held, the Osceola County Sheriff deputies and youth were given the opportunity to have a one on one conversation while kayaking at a local lake near the Sheriff’s Office.  The youth and deputies enjoyed talking one on one with each other, while working together to get moving across the lake.  Not only were perceptions changed, they came together as a team to accomplish their goal of getting to the other side of the lake and making it back safely. Each student expressed their excitement and how much they enjoyed this experience with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and wanted to participate again during the next G.A.A.P. Discussion. 

Statewide Circuit Advisory Board Coordinator Tina Levene recently attended the Circuit Advisory Board (CAB) meeting in Circuit 12 to show appreciation to outgoing board chairperson Kim Wiles. Ms. Wiles was also presented a service award for her four years of dedicated service. During the meeting, they also recognized incoming chairman Mike Moran, who also serves as a Sarasota County Commissioner. We at DJJ would like to thank former Chairperson Wiles for her commitment to the youth we serve. 

Pictured above (from left to right): Commissioner Moran, newly elected CAB Chairperson, Kim Wiles, retiring from the position of CAB Chairperson and Tina Levene Statewide Circuit Advisory Board Coordinator.

The PACE Center for Girls of Hillsborough County recently hosted their family engagement night, which gave families the opportunity to connect with teachers, counselors and PACE staff members. Parents and guardians experienced “A Day in the Life of Their Daughter.”

The event provided families with information on various community resources and focused on the importance of financial literacy.  Machelle Maner, vice president of community development for Wells Fargo, spoke to 33 family members and girls about the importance of financial literacy.  She emphasized that money and finances are something that the entire family should discuss, not just the adults.

In addition to financial literacy, families obtained information on high school diploma options, pacing guides and requirements for testing while at PACE. The night concluded with dinner and a raffle drawings for four lucky parents and two PACE girls!

Residential Youth Participate in Coat Drive and Compete in Spelling Bee

Crestview Youth Academy, a program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, is proud to announce that one of their youth not only completed the program but has received his GED! They are so proud of this young man and everything he has accomplished. He has worked hard and made plans to become a future real estate agent. They honored this youth and celebrated him by throwing him his own graduation ceremony.  As his peers and staff shared their experiences and gave encouraging words, the youth sat at the front of the dining hall feeling proud and accomplished. Congratulations and good luck to this young man as he goes on to accomplish great things.  

Lifepoint Church of Crestview hosted a coat giveaway at the beginning of November.  Life Point Youth Leader Josh Bugby provides bible study services at Crestview Youth Academy every week. The young men of Crestview Youth Academy assisted with preparation of the coat drive by helping move and separate clothing, shoes and coats. The youth were happy to help with the coat drive.

Hayrides, basketball, jousting, and Tug of War! These are some of the many activities included in Crestview Youth Academy’s Fall Family Day. Crestview Youth Academy staff, youth and their families enjoyed a nice day outside filled with fun. The fall festival, which was coordinated by Lead Case Manager Courtney Salahuddin, lasted the entire day. After the event, everyone enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving feast put together by the program’s very own kitchen staff. It’s safe to say everyone left feeling Happy, Thankful, and FULL!

At the beginning of November, Shelletta Baker visited Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, for an award ceremony in her honor. She has been coming out and tutoring youth at the program to help them pass their GED tests. She has been a big help to the youth and they wanted to thank her and give her flowers. It was a nice ceremony and the program is grateful to have wonderful volunteers like Ms. Baker!

Pictured above (from left to right): Mr. Renardo Boyd (teacher), Mr. Darrius Baker, Ms. Patricia Richardson (teacher), Ms. Shelletta Baker, Mr. James Campbell, Ms. Sharon Hunter, Mr. Charles McInnis, Mr. Cecil Williams

St. Johns Youth Academy, a secure program for boys operated by Sequel, in conjunction with their community partners have been focused on a restorative justice project. Community partners for the program include Lowes, Compassionate St. Augustine, Flagler College, and the Impact of Crime group. The youth participated in building a chicken coop and developing a garden. They spent weeks discussing how they could be involved in a project that would help restore a community. The youth settled on the idea of housing hens at the program and having a garden. The youth in the group are solely responsible for taking care of the six hens and the three boxed gardens. The gardens are comprised of vegetables that will be harvested and provided to a local market that serves the homeless population. The eggs will be donated to the program and a local food pantry. Lowes provided the materials and the volunteers to come and assist with the building of the coop and garden. Flagler’s college group, INACTUS, donated time and educational information on a weekly basis to the youth, teaching them how to take care of the hens, care for the garden, and other entrepreneurial opportunities. The youth are extremely excited about the hens and the entire egg producing process. It has generated a lot of interest around the facility and we want to send a big thank you to all involved with the project. 

Last week, Daytona Juvenile Residential Facility, a secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, hosted its inaugural Spelling Bee. The education department's event mirrored the Scripps National Spelling Bee, including the youth's requests to "use the words in a sentence." The youth have studied for almost three weeks to take on the title of Mr. Spelling Bee, with the anticipation of representing the facility at TrueCore Behavioral Regional Spelling Bee.

The youth eagerly welcomed the challenge to compete in the Spelling Bee, they were especially excited about the level of difficulty they faced during the competition. Fifteen youth took on the challenge, but it came down to the final two youth: S.S. and R.W. Youth S.S. spelled the words: license and origami correctly.

At the end of the event, two community guest judges, Flagler County School Principal Dr. Terence “TC” Culver and Vice President of Quality Assurance for Stewart Marchman Act Behavioral Healthcare Dr. Chester Wilson, awarded the winners with medallions and spoke words of encouragement to all the youth.

Facility Administrator Ryan Montgomery added, "We have intelligent young men who participated today and some who did not. Some of them have never participated in such activities in their communities. So today was exciting for them, today was a day of making scholastic memories. I am excited to have an education department that does not mind going the extra mile for our youth.”

Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, celebrated with full pomp and circumstance the graduation of one GED recipient, Graduate E.C.; and one high school diploma recipient, Graduate A.T

Lead Educator Dan Wynne reminded the graduates and audience that, "Earning a high school diploma is traditionally one of the markers of the transition of childhood to adulthood and it is a celebrated event for families and youth alike. For students adjudicated to juvenile justice programs, that rite of passage is often an elusive goal that escapes the grasp of the youth.” Youth A.T. is the newest graduate, a continued testament to the strong relationship between TrueCore, Miami Youth Academy and Miami-Dade County Public Schools – Office of Alternative Education. 

Graduate Titans E.C. and A.T. were presented with a cap and tassel and each adorned a graduate gown. As a graduate, each left a motivating message on the "Believe You Can" wall.

Special thanks to Miami Dade County Public Schools education team for their dedication to helping every youth. Youth A.T. remains focused on transitioning to seeking college acceptance for Spring 2019. 

Once again, the Okeechobee Youth Treatment Center and the Okeechobee Intensive Halfway House, received an opportunity to give back to the community in Okeechobee. Both programs are non-secure programs for boys, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions. Eight youth assisted the food bank of the Treasure Coast with their monthly event of giving back to people in need.

While working, they all had different jobs: greeters, packers, cleaners, well-wishers, and they all enjoyed every minute of this event.  The youth passed out groceries, holiday supplies and kind words to over 350 families at the Okeechobee Agriculture Center.

This is the second month this year the program took part in this initiative with the food bank. They plan to continue helping while also teaching the youth how to interact with and support their community in ways that will impact others positively.