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Secretary's Message

January 2, 2018

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Happy New Year and welcome to the first weekly letter for 2019! I hope that the holiday season was a relaxing time for each of you and was spent in the company of family and friends. Now that the New Year is upon us, I hope you take this opportunity to reset and look ahead to new possibilities and changes in the upcoming year. But before we say goodbye to the holidays, I hope you will read the stories below of our staff and stakeholders’ holiday festivities as well as the other events and activities of our DJJ team. Thank you all for making this holiday season so bright and for continuing our mission of providing the very best care for Florida’s youth and families.                                              


                                                                                                                                                      Interim Secretary Timothy Niermann

DJJ Staff Celebrate Festive Fridays

As the month of December came to close, DJJ wrapped up our Festive Fridays with some fun events. On December 14, DJJ held a “Bowl of Winter Warmth” cookoff where we asked each region and circuit to participate. The cookoff held at DJJ Headquarters in Tallahassee was judged by Chief of Staff Heather DiGiacomo, Human Resources Director Dodie Garye and former DJJ Secretary Christy Daly Brodeur.

On December 21, the agency held “Sip N Socks,” where we asked staff members to show off their favorite holiday socks while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.


As part of Festive Fridays, DJJ also encourage staff to get into the holiday spirit by decorating their doors and HQ held a door decorating contest. The door decorating contest was judged by Chief of Research and Data Integrity Mark Greenwald, Director of Staff Development and Training Cina Wilson-Johnson, Human Trafficking Director Katherine Gomez and Human Trafficking Coordinator Elena Simonsen. Out of the many entries, Operations Review Specialist Warren Garrison from the Bureau of Monitoring and Quality Improvement was declared the individual winner, with the Bureau of Finance and Accounting taking home the group prize. A big thank you to everyone who participated! 

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center’s recent Employee of the Month recipients: July- Maintenance Mechanic Eriberto Perez, August -Eddie Fletcher, September- Patricia Nordstrom, October- Emilourde Exantus Jeune and December Tyra Williams

Detention Youth and Staff Celebrate the Holiday Season

Staff members from the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center worked with Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Coordinator Sarah Blumberg to bring special guest Ricky Roberts III to the facility. Mr. Roberts is a local author and motivational speaker who shared his story on how he overcame obstacles to achieve his goals. Mr. Roberts also donated a copy of his 5th book “Just For Youth” to every youth and staff member. He also took the time to speak with each youth and sign their copy with a personal message. Special thanks to Director Gray, Major Wilson, Sgt. Lesley Roberson, and all staff who helped make this event a success.

The staff from the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center also came together for some fellowship which included a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. One of the real joys of the holiday season is the opportunity to say thank you and to come together to wish each other the very best for the new year.

The Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center hosted its second annual Chimney Contest where youth partake in a friendly competition of chimney building to see who will prevail. The judging was conducted by Assistant Chief Christina Ash, Juvenile Probation Supervisor Tiffany McGriff, and Juvenile Probation Officer Zack Stackhouse. They unanimously declared D/E mod the winners, with Bravo mod taking second place followed by Alpha mod taking third. The winners earned pizza, wings, and cupcakes generously donated by Publix.

It’s never too late to shine.... youth from the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) celebrated Thanksgiving with their families and staff. All youth enjoyed a festive meal with items from our very own garden.

Following Thanksgiving the youth and staff switched gears and decorated the facility for the final season of the year...Christmas. On December 13th the youth, detention staff, volunteers, probation, public defender’s office, education department and Circuit 15 judges enjoyed a wonderful evening with music from our talented youth and group dance choreographed by our youth and very own officers, Officer Littles and Sgt. Brown. 

Special thank you goes out to Friar Leo, the Palm Beach RJDC Advisory Board, Publix, the public defender’s office, and everyone that made this night possible.

The youth at Palm Beach RJDC are also busy writing cards to send to their parents and volunteers that consistently come to the detention center to support them. 

The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center and partners worked hard to make the season bright for both staff and youth. The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center received a special visit from Santa Claus (Corporal Joshua Deleonardo) and his elf (Officer Tevon Jones) who handed out donations to the youth.

The donations were provided by the Orange Women’s League of Voters and the Rail Family from Idaho. Each youth at Orange RJDC received candy and a message from Santa.

During the Christmas Eve visitation at Orange RJDC, the young ladies from the G1 Mod put on a holiday performance for the staff members at the facility. The performance was spearheaded and directed by Corporal Bridgett McClellan. Captain Louise Quick also created a gift basket that was raffled off to parents visiting the center.

Finally, on Christmas Day, Chaplain Sirmons donated a wonderful Christmas dinner for the youth and staff.

The Orange RJDC also recently received a visit from Emily Kieffer from Adapt and Transform Behavior. Ms. Kieffer treated the young men from the B5 honors mod to a movie and a facial.

Juvenile Probation Officer Takes Part in Community Outreach Event

Circuit 13 Juvenile Probation Officer Mary Garza participated in a charity outreach event in coordination with The Lord’s Light House Ministries and the Church of God in Wimauma. The event provided meals and toys for families. DJJ participated in the event by providing nonperishable food donations and toys contributed by clients in exchange for community service hours. Every family who attended was provided a meal bag and toys for their children for the holiday season. The gratitude was greatly expressed by the families.

Pictured above (from left to right): Pastor Cordillo, JPO Mary Garza and Cecilia Aguirre

I am pleased to share the following letter that was sent to Circuit 9 Chief Probation Officer Johnny Alderman and Reform Specialist Melinda Wesley-Nelson from Gena Richardson from the SNAP program in Orange County. The letter praises Ms. Wesley-Nelson for helping to bring SNAP to the youth in Orange. It reads in part:

Ms. Wesley-Nelson genuinely believes in the importance of prevention and how services such as SNAP, are greatly beneficial in assisting our at-risk children/youth within our communities.

She demonstrates professionalism, compassion, and a positive disposition in interacting not only with her colleagues, but with families/clients as well.

She is a valuable asset to any team that she is a part of, and we are honored and greatly appreciative that she continues to volunteer her time to assist us; not because she has to, but simply because she believes in prevention services and is willing to go above and beyond to see children/families impacted for the better.  

One of the greatest gifts a juvenile probation officer (JPO) can receive, especially during the holidays, is to hear how their work has made a positive impact on the life of a child and their family. Circuit 18 JPO Katrina Philpot received such a gift last week in this letter of appreciation from a parent below. It reads:

Good afternoon Officer Philpot hope things are going well for you. I am writing this to thank you for all that you have done to help guide and direct A in his completion of his probation. You have made such a positive impact on him and thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know your job is not an easy one by any means, but you went above and beyond on several occasions on his behalf. Attending his graduation meant a great deal to him and myself as well. You are great at your job and can tell you truly do love what you do to assist in bettering a wrong. I know what ever path your life takes you will be great at and do well as you put your whole heart and being into it. Hope your boss is aware of the great affect you make on our youths that will someday take control. Hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year. Thank you. You also helped me in many ways as well.

Prevention Staff Spread Good Cheer As Holiday Carolers

For the second straight year during the holiday season, Prevention HQ staff donned their bright red Office of Prevention Services’ polo shirts and entertained their DJJ colleagues with holiday carols at DJJ Headquarters. Festive team members shared such holiday favorites as “Up on the Housetop,” “Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “We wish you a Merry Christmas!”

With Contract Liaison Travis Ligon on keyboards and Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady directing the merry band of carolers, they entertained HQ staff who were also enjoying hot soup during the lunchtime cooking competition.

The Prevention carolers included Assistant Secretary Alice Sims, Policy Chief Marcus Smith, Administrative Assistant LaTonya Hill, Operations and Training Director Yvonne Woodard, Operations & Training Specialist Shanteria Randall, and Prevention Specialist Jashett Omeally.

Also joining the carolers to make a joyful holiday sound were State and Federal Director Eugene Morris, Federal Specialist Gloria Gatlin; and Federal Program Liaison Jackie Singleton.

Other holiday carolers included: Budget Manager Brent Musgrove, Financial Coordinator Cheryl Howard, CCC/PMM Coordinator Jean Hall, Procurement Specialists Whitney Thomas, and Derrick Crawford, and Prevention Assistant Anna Harley.

State and Federal Director Eugene Morris, Florida State Advisory Group (SAG) member Tony Jones, North Region Justice Reform Coordinator LaMone Gibson and South Region Justice Reform Coordinator Randi Taylor attended the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s (CJJ) National Disproportionate Minority Contact National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Florida delegation joined more than 300 juvenile justice practitioners from 46 other states and various territories to address disparities at the local, state, and national levels. The conference focused on ways that youth, their communities, law enforcement, court officials, advocacy groups, and SAGs can work together to combat racial and ethnic disparities (RED).

Pictured above (from left to right): Randi Taylor, South Region Justice Reform Coordinator; Eugene Morris, State/Federal Director; LaMone Gibson, North Region Justice Reform Coordinator; and Tony Jones, SAG member and Gainesville Police Chief at the CJJ 2018 DMC Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

This year’s conference theme was “Claiming the Future: Uniting to End Disparities.” The conference addressed changes that can be made at the system’s front end to reduce disproportionate minority contact; how youth advocates, law enforcement, attorneys, the judiciary, and community leaders can work together to combat the crisis; and the role that data collection plays in eliminating RED and how data collection can be improved.

Speakers included: Administrator Caren Harp from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Honorable Steve Teske, DJJ National Chair; CJJ Executive Director Naomi Smoot; and Director Shay Bilchik from the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University.

The PACE Center for Girls of Pasco County welcomed guest speaker Melissa Dohme Hill to speak about domestic violence. Ms. Hill, a domestic violence survivor herself, works for Hands Across the Bay’s Teen Dating & Domestic Violence Prevention & Awareness Program, providing anti-violence presentations in the community to educate, inspire and raise awareness. She willingly shared her traumatic story with the PACE girls, taking the opportunity to reach out to them in an impactful and meaningful way. Her testimony was very well received by the young ladies at PACE and really made a difference.

DJJ staff from various program areas participated in the sixth annual MY Fest Florida event in Tallahassee.

Mayor Pro Temp Curtis Richardson and Judge Nina Richardson opened the My Fest event with greetings and best wishes to a successful day. My Fest is a FREE music, art, entertainment and youth empowerment festival designed to inspire and empower young people while sharing information and resources which can help youth and families overcome challenges and achieve their goals and dreams. 

Verla Lawson-Grady served as the volunteer coordinator and Jashett Omeally served on the steering committee and assisted with giveaways for attendees. An extra special thank you is extended to Circuit 2 Chief of Probation Rico Cooper and staff. Chief Cooper assisted with the morning set up and manned the DJJ display table along with Reform Specialist Michael Byrd. Other staff on duty were JPOs Orlando Mendonca, Heather Hawkins, Brianna Jones, Felicia Fowler, Kenya Clark, and Specialist Jashett Omeally assisted with serving attendees lunch and manning the DJJ table. Selena Gilmore of Human Resources assisted throughout the day by providing coverage for the DJJ display and providing technical support as needed and Corey Hayes of Contract Management volunteered for shutdown duty.

Pictured above (from left to right): front row: Jashett Omeally Prevention Specialist, JPO Intern Heather Hawkins, Michael Byrd Reform Specialist, Selena Boles HR Recruitment Back row: Verla Lawson-Grady, Statewide Community Engagement Coordinator, Chief Probation Officer Rico Cooper & JPO Orlando Mendonca

Our DJJ team was awesome and provided much appreciated support volunteering throughout the day from set up, covering the DJJ display table, serving food and shutting down at the end of the day. There were approximately 200 attendees throughout the day.

The PACE Center for Girls of Pasco County recently devised a unique way to learn about plant cells. PACE’s science teacher (Ms. Wendy) had the girls brainstorm on how organelles work within a plant cell. At first, the discussion revolved around chloroplast and mitochondria and then eagerly expanded to creating a work of art within the classroom, in the form a cell maze. The girls worked for several weeks on this project while learning all about the function of this cell. Once completed, the girls also provided tours through the cell for other students to enjoy. The project was a tremendous success.

The DJJ Office of Health Services and the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency recently conducted a holiday self-care training at DJJ Headquarters. In an attempt to assist DJJ staff to cope with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Dr. Tracy Shelby and RN Joyce Rolle conducted a session on how to be well during the holidays. Topics included: avoiding colds and flu, exercise, diabetes, stroke, first aid, sleep schedules and circadian rhythms, sleep hygiene, stress and protective factors, and stress responses. Other topics discussed were: the link between thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and coping skills to include progressive relaxation, guided imagery, and stopping negative thought.

Pictured above (from left to right): Charles Corley, Health Services Administrator; Dr. Tracy Shelby, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse; Joyce Rolle, Registered Nurse; Alice Sims, Assistant Secretary, Prevention & Victim Services; and Andrew Harrell, Senior Behavioral Analyst.

Office of General Counsel Staff Make Holiday Donation

For the eighth consecutive year, staff in the General Counsel’s Office in Orlando made a donation to a worthwhile cause in lieu of exchanging gifts. This year, the staff each donated money to support Canine Companions for Independence. This year’s donation was made in honor of DJJ’s therapy dog, Justice.

Pictured above (from left to right): Matthew Gripp, Natalia Kirchner, Jenny Crevier, Kywa Hammond, Joe Luzzolino

Residential Youth Celebrate the Holiday Season and Take Part in Jump Rope Competition

Celebrating the holiday season in a different way, JoAnn Bridges Academy, a non-secure program for girls operated by Rite of Passage, extended their service by having community involvement. Ten youth were taken off campus to a local church to extend community service. Six of JoAnn Bridges Academy youth performed a praise dance routine and two of the youth dressed as an Elf and Santa Claus.  The youth did a wonderful job with the dance routine and serving the members and visitors with a fruit bag.

The students received a lot of verbal praise from the church members and visitors. The students left the church feeling very enthused about the service provided and also had a better outlook on how to give back to the community. 

Okaloosa Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Gulf Coast Treatment Center, is excited to announce that through the hard work of one of the youth and Assistant Program Director Peoples, the young man was able to secure employment at the local Hardee’s. He will begin a regular work schedule and be transported to and from work by program staff. This employment opportunity will begin to teach him how to maintain gainful employment, and will assist him in the re-entry process. Okaloosa Youth Academy is extremely grateful to Hardee’s for giving this young man a chance to change his life!

Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center and Cypress Creek Treatment Center, both secure programs operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, conducted a jump rope contest. Youth D.S. won by a large margin with a whopping 436 jumps in a row!! Second place goes to Youth H. with 350 jumps. Third place is held by Youth F. at 336 jumps. The three youth were winners of their individual dorms, who then battled each other for the championship.

During the challenge, Recreation Therapist Terrance Clark educated the youth by providing information on the benefit of jumping rope including how the activity can improve cardiovascular health, develop stronger joints, and help with speed and agility. 

Kissimmee Youth Academy, a secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, facilitated their quarterly family day. The theme for this family day was “Wakanda” featuring staff super heroes throughout the facility.

The families enjoyed reunification by participating in various activities throughout the day. The event had a game room, creativity room, karaoke room and outdoor kickball. The families were able to enjoy time together while having a great lunch of barbeque chicken, baked beans, hot dogs, and hamburgers, catered by KC’s Cooking Company. It was a wonderful time for everyone!

Kissimmee Youth Academy recently organized another Florida Licensing on Wheels event inconjunction with the Department of Motor vehicles. The event enabled 18 youth to secure a Florida ID card. Kissimmee’s goal is to ensure that all youth be granted the opportunity for success by providing them with adequate education, skill development, on site job training, and the appropriate standard ID documentation. This a major milestone for Kissimmee and they will continue to provide these opportunities for the youth as they prepare to transition back into their respective communities! Special thanks to Ms. Garvin and Ms. Merritt for spearheading this event. A special thanks to the FLOW mobile assistants Ms. Barbara and Ms. Axia for their assistance with the youth. 

Dade Juvenile Residential Facility and Dade Youth Academy, both non-secure programs for boys which are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, held their quarterly family day and fall festival celebration. Families enjoyed a barbeque meal with sides and drinks. During the celebration, each family was allowed to leave behind a message on the facility’s mural wall. Each family took home a family portrait taken in front of their artistic creation. There was an array of activities that the families enjoyed during the event including, tug-a-war, horseshoes, basketball, bobbing for donuts, painting, coloring, decorating cupcakes, a How Well Do You Know Your Child challenge, dart challenge and trivia games. Most of all, families were afforded the opportunity to meet with treatment team members to further gain insight on the importance of family involvement in the treatment process.

Three youth from Pompano Youth Treatment Center, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, recently engaged in a restorative justice activity of collecting canned goods for delivery to the Miami Rescue Mission – Broward Outreach Center. The youth were proud to give back to the local community in the effort to help feed the homeless.