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Secretary's Message

December 10, 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

JPO Class Provides Care Packages for Those Affected by Hurricane Michael

The Juvenile Justice Probation Officer (JPO) Class 87 from the Florida Public Safety Institute prepared care packages as a part of their community service project for juvenile probation officers in Circuit 14 that were affected by Hurricane Michael. Thank you to these juvenile probation officers for remembering and helping those affected by this devastating storm.

Recently in Circuit 5, with the help of Transition Specialist Erin Miller, Youth A.R. diligently searched for a job and conducted several job interviews until he achieved his goal of employment. Understanding that reliable transportation is key in maintaining steady employment, Ms. Miller knew that Youth A.R. would need to solve this problem as well. Ms. Miller immediately reached out to her friends and family via social media to see if anyone happened to have a bike that they could donate to an unnamed youth who needed the assistance. The response was astounding! Ms. Miller received many shares of her post and many people were willing to help out to try to find a bike for this youth. Within only a few hours, Ms. Miller heard from an old family friend, Kenny Stanley of Ocala, who was willing to donate an old bike that he did not use anymore. Ms. Miller obtained the bike and drove it to Youth A.R.’s house where he was waiting and extremely grateful. During this holiday season, it’s great to know that there are so many good people in the world willing to help out if given the opportunity.

Probation staff from Circuit 2 recently provided three families in need with baskets to spread some joy around the holiday season. In addition to turkeys, the families received wonderful baskets filled with lots of fixins and sides including green beans, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes and gravy. These families were extremely thankful for these bountiful gifts.

Pictured above (from left to right): JPO Kenya Clark, JPOS Tiffany McGriff, JPO Heather Hawkins, JPO Blair Dodson, Youth I.F. and his mother, SJPO Felicia Fowler and JPO Brianna Jones

Probation staff from Circuit 4 participated in the recent McKenzie’s Run 5K in Jacksonville. The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation, which created the McKenzie’s Academic Resource Centers (MARCs), provides after-school mentoring and tutoring programs to over 300 students living in two local communities. Globally, the Foundation has built three homes at the Okoa Refuge Orphanage in Uganda, Africa, which provides medical care, food, shelter, and education to over 75 children. This was a great way to spend the morning together and all while contributing to a great cause!

Pictured above (from left to right): ACPO Ashley Graves, JPO Dwayne Barton, SJPO Virginia Mahar, JDAI Coordinator Amy Read, JPOS Alisa Bishop, SJPO Donnell Malpress, and JPO Jenni Bell

Circuit 4 Reform Specialist Donna Collins participated in a panel discussion for the University of North Florida’s (UNF) Child Psychology Club. Mrs. Collins shared her career experience, including her work with DJJ youth and families, with UNC students who are majoring in Child Psychology. She was joined on the panel by Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Laura Hume, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Bill Kintz. Ms. Collins stated that it was a wonderful event and was happy to share work experiences with not only the students but with the other panelists as well. 

The Circuit 1 Probation team sends a big thank you to their community partners, TLC Caregivers, for providing a catered Thanksgiving lunch and dinner to the Pensacola Police Department this year to show their support of the officers serving our community this holiday season. In addition, the invitation was extended to DJJ night and overnight staff at the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center, intake and screening staff, and the juvenile assessment center security staff, all of whom worked on Thanksgiving. A bountiful feast was provided with turkey, ham, gravy, and lots of sides and fixins. Everyone was full and very thankful for the love shown to DJJ by TLC Caregivers.

It only takes a minute to let someone know how they have impacted your life. That’s what youth H.J. did by taking the time to send this letter to JPO Janice Rivera. Providing courtesy supervision in Circuit 18 for H.J., JPO Rivera assumed the supportive role she does for all the youth on her caseload. H.J. came to Brevard County with significant offenses that for many change their life’s path in a negative way, but H.J. chose to take the support and guidance offered by JPO Rivera and put it to good. The youth now has a promising future. Thank you, Officer Rivera, for everything you do. This story is truly a testament of your commitment to our mission.

Circuit 9 Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson served as the featured speaker for the Lambda Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Lambda Alpha Epsilon is a pre-professional criminal justice fraternity. Specialist Wesley-Nelson provided the group with information about her career with DJJ, an agency overview, available resources, DJJ reform initiatives, internship and volunteer opportunities, and answered questions.

Staff Development and Training Hosts CPM Systems Improvement Training Conference

The Office of Staff Development & Training held DJJ’s inaugural Certified Public Managers (CPM) Systems Improvement Training Conference on November 28-30, 2018. Over 55 CPM participants, both current and alumni, gathered at the Ocala Hilton for what has been identified as the first of its kind endeavor by a state agency. Chief of Staff Heather DiGiacomo welcomed the participants to the conference. The group was also fortunate to welcome Director Ben Green from the Florida Center for Public Management to the training. Director Green launched the two-and-a-half-day conference speaking on the status of leadership. The conference was a mix of breakout sessions to strengthen CPM skills, discussions around topics to move the agency forward, and shared time re-connecting. Breakout topics included: employee engagement, mentoring/coaching, strategic planning, effective communication, leading change, DJJ best practices/technology, program accountability, organizational cultural management, and succession planning. These groups were facilitated by a mix of external and internal facilitators. Motivational speakers included Dr. Gabrielle Gabrielli and our own Assistant Secretary for Prevention & Victim Services Alice Sims, who focused on different aspects of wellness. Special Projects Director Fred Schuknecht also briefly addressed the group. The conference concluded with a “Showtime at the Apollo”, where each breakout group made a ten-minute presentation to the total group, summarizing what they had learned and their next steps.

This event is the brainchild of Staff Development & Training Director Cina Wilson Johnson.  A webinar is scheduled January 10th for all CPM individuals to discuss next steps moving forward.

Prevention Staff Serve as Guest Speakers For Mentoring Event

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims and Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady spoke during the K-Mentor Lunch and Learn Series at the Florida State University School (FSUS) in Tallahassee. Assistant Secretary Sims provided a very motivational speech to approximately 35 high school students who serve as mentors for youth in lower grades known as the K-Mentor (Keep Encouraging Youth) Program. Assistant Secretary Sims expressed how passionate she is about mentoring and how overjoyed she was to see so many inspiring young faces participating in such a dynamic mentoring program. She told the students that they were making a difference in the world and commended them for being a part of the K-Mentor Program at FSU. This program provides mentors to lower grades by mentoring, advising and coaching. This cultural development program was designed to enhance the academic progress of middle and high school students, thus increasing guidance and tools in the form of mentorship, student development and advisement. Sims’ background as a mentor provided an important clarity to the youth. Her passion, enthusiasm and excitement materialized in a very positive way. The students were eager to participate and ask questions.

Pictured above (from left to right): Michelle Hartsfield, A.S. Alice Sims, Statewide Outreach & Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady, Mr. Adolphus Henry, Mentor Coordinator & Coach Kevin Helms.

Additionally, Statewide Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady provided an overview of the Office of Prevention and the Departments initiatives. Ms. Lawson-Grady reviewed the Roadmap to System Excellence, Office of Prevention’s initiatives, G.A.A.P. Discussions, and Civil Citation. She explained DJJ’s reform efforts to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system through prevention and early intervention. This lunch and learn provided students a unique opportunity to network and learn from professionals in the community.  They witnessed firsthand professionals with a passion and compelling desire for youth today to be successful in the future.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Willie Smith III participated in an interactive discussion hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on the use of excessive force. This event was hosted with members of the Jacksonville community at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church through the FBI’s UNITED initiative. The FBI's UNITED initiative organized this event to connect community members and law enforcement through meaningful dialogue. An FBI special agent from the Washington, D.C. Civil Rights Division Office presented on statutes & rules which hold law enforcement accountable for excessive force, how they may be prosecuted, and the gray area between justifiable and excessive force. This event was very informative with excellent community participation.

Residential Facilities Square Off in Field Day Event and Youth Visit the Florida Aquarium

The staff from Cypress Creek, a secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, donated canned goods for a local organization. This year, the donations went to feed the community for the Community Thanksgiving in Hernando County. Receiving the donations is the Pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church.

Orlando Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, celebrated the departure of Physical Plant Manager Aristotle Span. Mr. Span has been providing maintenance services throughout TrueCore’s facilities for over the past 19 years. Mr. Span is moving on as a Regional Physical Plant Manager, outside of DJJ, and will be solely missed by TrueCore. True to Mr. Span's passion, he will continue to provide effective and efficient services up until his last day.

Youth from Orange Youth Academy recently visited the Florida Aquarium located in Tampa. The Florida Aquarium allows visitors an up close and personal look at many of Florida’s aquatic and terrestrial animals and ecosystems, as well as others from around the world. More than a must-see attraction, the aquarium is working to protect and restore our blue planet on many conservation fronts, including research and rescue efforts that help restore Florida’s sea turtle and coral populations and to ensure that sharks continue to swim our oceans. The youth were able to earn this incentive through the program's positive performance system, which is designed to teach alternative, pro-social methods of dealing with problems, utilizing both rewards and a system of progressive discipline.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, Palm Beach Youth Academy, a secure program for boys operated by Sequel, hosted its second annual Fall Feast with the ladies of Halle Place. Halle Place is a program within The Lord's Place organization that houses women who were formerly incarcerated in Florida jails or prisons and now find themselves homeless. The program opened the evening with a touching praise dance performance by some of the program’s youth. Afterward, the ladies and young men played the “Gratitude Game” and shared different things they were thankful for. The ladies of Halle Place told stories of how they turned their lives around and shared words of wisdom with the boys over a delicious meal of turkey, green beans, stuffing, macaroni and cheese and apple pie, all lovingly prepared by Palm Beach Youth Academy kitchen staff. The ladies enjoyed their meal and were excited to take extra plates back with them! Sharing similar backgrounds of obstacles and challenges, the boys enjoyed great conversation and learned life lessons from the Halle Place ladies. It was heartwarming evening filled with fall themed food and fun!

The Pompano Youth Treatment Center (YTC), a non-secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments hosted their rivals from the Broward Youth Treatment Center, also a non-secure program for boys, operated by Youth Opportunity Investments in a field day event. The two facilities competed in a series of events including dodgeball, 5-on-5 basketball and 5-on-5 flag football.

The day started with a lunch, graciously provided by Pompano YTC, and then the games commenced. The youth participated in three games: dodgeball, basketball, and concluded with football. The Broward YTC team was victorious in all three games and demonstrated great character, togetherness, and pride. 

All the youth showed sportsmanship by forming a line to shake the hands of their opponents. The youth demonstrated team work in all three games and displayed pro-social behavior. Youth from Pompano YTC were able to utilize the day as a teaching moment to understand what they need to work on collectively as a unit and will welcome Broward YTC for a rematch in the near future. It was a great time for all involved! 

The youth at Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, decorated Thanksgiving baskets with members of the program’s advisory board. Everyone worked to fill the baskets with canned goods and other non-perishable items. These baskets were then passed out to families and people in need of food for the holidays. The boys had a great time and the teachers picked three groups of winners for the best decorated boxes.

Duval Academy youth also participated in a Hazmat class and received their certificates of completion for the course. The certificate will enable them to find employment and is good for a lifetime if they attend the refresher course once a year. All the youth who took the test passed, with the lowest score being 88% out of 100%. The staff were so proud of the youths’ accomplishments and look forward to hearing how they will use the certificate to better their futures. 

Youth Receive Bicycles from Local Non-Profit Organization

Onbikes Pensacola, a non-profit organization that provides bicycles to at-risk youth in their local community, partnered with DJJ to provide bikes for youth. Captains Daryl Bolton and Sylvester Scott and Major Regina Berry from Escambia helped to transport the bikes in a rainstorm.

The bikes will be provided to youth to assist them in getting to and from school and work. We are very excited and thankful for the partnership with Onbikes Pensacola and look forward to continuing to work with them to build bikes for all DJJ youth in need. A huge thank you goes to everyone involved in the building, transporting, and donating.

The Rail family from Rexburg Idaho, in Orlando for vacation, stopped by the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) for the sole purpose of donating candy canes, a pair of boots and chocolates to the youth here at the facility in celebration of the holidays. They asked a few questions about the center, posed for a picture and headed back to Disney World. Thank you Rail family!

Educator Katheryn Ross conducted her first class with the youth from the Orange RJDC where she spoke with the youth on how to develop safe and healthy relationships. The topic of the day was “Deal Breakers: What is Acceptable and Unacceptable in a Relationship.” She placed cards in three sections of the classroom, gave a scenario and asked the youth to choose and stand by: acceptable, unacceptable or unsure. The youth truly enjoyed the class. Orange RJDC would like to thank Captain Louise Quick for setting up the class.

Prior to visitation last week, parents awaiting to see their children at the Orange RJDC participated in decorating a tree in the front lobby. Parents participated by hanging an orange on the tree to represent their youth. Seen left is Major Adrian Mathena with the fully decorated tree.

Also happening at Orange RJDC, the center recently hosted the faith-based organization Inmate Encounters to speak with the youth. The guest speaker from Inmate Encounters was motivational speaker and Guinness World Record holder James Henderson, who spoke about making a positive change in life. Henderson was honest and truthful in speaking about his hardships growing up and the bad choices he made leading to a 50-year sentence for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. While in prison he figured he had no hope of getting out, so he needed to make the best out of a bad situation. He made a positive change by finding religion while incarcerated and following the rules which later affected his life. After serving less than 18 months, he was released from prison to a work release center. Shortly after, he received a pardon from the state.

After the program, the volunteers separated into groups to speak to with the youths. Inmate Encounters inspired the youth by providing wisdom and to look at the positives even in the toughest circumstances. 

Finally, the Orange RJDC hosted their inaugural Orange Tough awards ceremony following a town hall meeting last week. The Orange Tough award is presented to staff at the detention center who best exhibits the following qualities: integrity, loyalty, decisiveness, leadership, and toughness. Anyone who works for the Office of Detention Services is tough, but staff who work at the Orange RJDC, the largest detention center, are “Orange Tough.” Six staff members were given the inaugural award, which features a pin that can be worn on the uniform that is unique to the Orange RJDC.

Major Ariel Veguilla from the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center hosted retired Circuit Judge Irene H. Sullivan and a group of her law students from Stetson Law School for a tour of the facility. Judge Sullivan also brought a copy of her book for the Major and wrote him a very nice thank you note for his time. We are proud of Major Veguilla for representing us so well. 

The Broward County School Board, in conjunction with the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center, is proud to announce that one of their youth has earned his high school diploma during his stay at the detention center. This youth has worked diligently while in the detention center to earn this important milestone. Congratulations to this youth and we look forward to hearing about all the great accomplishments you will have made in the future.